For this edition of the "Know Your Enemy" series, I called upon Curt Popejoy to help us break down the Pittsburgh Steelers perspective.
Curt is the Featured Columnist for the Steelers here at Bleacher Report as well as for the NFL draft. He's one of my favorite interactive follows on Twitter, and I encourage you to follow him @NFLdraftboard.
Also, I would suggest you read his game plan breakdown of this game. The X's and O's section is something I completely agree with and bears watching on Sunday.
What is Pittsburgh's biggest advantage against Detroit?
It seems the area the Steelers are going to look to exploit against the Lions is their secondary. The Steelers have tons of speed at wide receiver with Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and Markus Wheaton. They also have a big target at tight end in Heath Miller.
If the Steelers have a shot on Sunday, it will be by putting as many of these players in the route as they can and trying to flood the Detroit secondary. Force them to make decisions on whom to double and whom to let run.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has done a nice job this year recognizing where his matchups are and getting them the football.
The one thing these Steelers do well is throw the ball down the field. If the front four of the Lions defense isn't impacting Ben Roethlisberger, the secondary is really going to have its hands full. Big Ben is indeed smart enough to find the mismatches and exploit the coverage gaffes.
What is one thing the Steelers do well that doesn't get enough attention?
The play of the defensive line has been pretty underrated this year. A 3-4 base defense uses its line as cannon fodder in many cases. But this rotation has played well.
In particular, defensive end Cameron Heyward and reserve Al Woods have stepped their games up in recent weeks.
Linebackers get all the pub in this system, but the play of the guys up front has made that possible.
One of the first things I noticed when watching Steelers games on NFL Game Rewind was the major progress from Week 1 to Week 10 of Cameron Heyward. As Curt noted, he's really upped his level of play lately.
For all the talk about the age and lack of depth in its defense, Pittsburgh really does have some exciting young talent on the front. Heyward, Woods and Steve McLendon have all shown they're capable of making plays. Even Ziggy Hood has flashed a little as a pass-rusher.
They need to be good, however, because the play of the fellas behind them is not near the level you expect from Dick LeBeau's mighty Pittsburgh defense. Other than LaMarr Woodley rushing off the edge, the linebackers struggle to do anything consistently well.
What about the Lions worries you the most?
The easy answer here is wide receiver Calvin Johnson. There is no more significant matchup nightmare in the league than him against mere mortals in the secondary.
The Steelers have done well against some top wideouts this year, but as we saw against the New England Patriots, a tall athletic target is more than they can contend with. Especially when you figure he has an exceptional quarterback like Matt Stafford getting him the football.
I'm still not sure who is going to cover Johnson. The Steelers have used cornerback Ike Taylor in man on some wideouts this season, and against the Patriots they were finally able to slow down tight end Rob Gronkowski when Cortez Allen drew the coverage assignments. It will likely be a combination of the two depending on the situation.
My guess at Curt's answer when I asked him the question was that he would say the Lions' defensive line against an ever-changing Pittsburgh offensive line. The Steelers were swapping tackles like hockey line changes last week to try and find anything effective.
I agree that the Steelers do not have an answer for Calvin Johnson, but I worry that they will scheme to force Stafford to find other ways to beat them. My biggest worry is that Kris Durham and Brandon Pettigrew have bad days, making Stafford force the issue with Johnson. Keep in mind Johnson's knee is not 100 percent.
Who wins the game, and why?
I think the Lions have the advantage here.
Last week, I said that the Steelers playing at home against a rookie quarterback gave them a huge tactical advantage. This week, I don't see that.
The addition of a legitimate run game for Detroit has been such an upgrade. When the Steelers can make a team one-dimensional, their defense can torment them. I am just not sure they have that ability against this team.
On the other side of the ball, the Lions' defensive front is so strong and the Steelers' offensive line is so beaten up, so where the balance comes from on offense is going to be a mystery. Protecting Roethlisberger and creating lanes for rookie running back Le'Veon Bell has been a challenge all year, and this week might be the toughest task yet.
The game should be fun to watch as both teams are going to sling it down the field, but I'm giving the nod to the Lions to stay hot and the Steelers to cool off in a big way.
Well said, my friend! As long as the Lions offense isn't all about Calvin Johnson, I don't see Pittsburgh offering a lot of resistance.
The Lions have advantages on both sides of the line of scrimmage as well. Pittsburgh will have some offensive successes, but not enough. Detroit wins 33-21.
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