The Pittsburgh Steelers sit at 3-6 so far this season and obviously need to continue to win games to keep their tiny, tiny playoff hopes alive. Realistically, we all know the Steelers really should not make the playoffs in 2013, but that doesn’t mean we tank the season.
Over the next half of the season, we need to see which players shut down and which come out with everything they have. Mental lapses have been a recurring theme for the Steelers, and it showed this season against poor teams like the Raiders and Vikings, followed by the shellacking Pittsburgh suffered from the Patriots.
The Lions are a very strong team in 2013, and Pittsburgh needs to be fully prepared at the start of the game. The problem has been that the Steelers come out completely flat, and when facing weapons like Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, they could be down big early if that trend continues.
There is one area that I think all of us will be looking at—the injury riddled Pittsburgh offensive line vs. the Detroit defensive line.
Injuries along the offensive line have been a recurring theme for the Steelers in the past, and 2013 has been no different. Already without Maurkice Pouncey for the season, the Steelers find themselves with the entire offensive line on the injury report this week.
Every single starter and even Mike Adams appeared on the report, with the most serious being Ramon Foster with an ankle injury. Though the rest are expected to play, if Foster is unable to go, Guy Whimper would be put into the starting lineup. With guys like Ziggy Ansah, Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh on Detroit's defensive line, let’s just be glad if Ben Roethlisberger comes out of the game alive this week.
On the defensive side of the ball, it’s just a fact that Calvin Johnson is going to get his receptions. Johnson has shown that even when double- and triple- teamed, he can still go up and get the football.
Here are two key matchups I will be looking at on Sunday.
LB Vince Williams and LB Lawrence Timmons vs. RB Reggie Bush
You know going into a matchup with Reggie Bush that you need to worry about him in the passing game as much as in the run game. While I could see the team having Troy Polamalu spy on Bush for some of the game, Williams and Timmons are going to find themselves in that situation as well. Bush versus either of them would be a mismatch in favor of the Lions, and hopefully, they can hold up enough to not get completely burned.
The problem is that you can’t just focus on Bush’s receiving ability; he has been a more than capable runner with the Lions as well. If the defense can find a way to contain Bush, then they should have a great chance at winning the game.
Though these matchups and the countless others not mentioned here are important, the most crucial matchup is:
QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. QB Ben Roethlisberger
You could word this as Ben versus the defense or a specific defender, but honestly, I don’t see anyone who really stops Ben other than himself. This season, Ben has come under fire because of his poor play and the general disappointment with the 2013 Steelers.
I have even seen a lot of fans calling for the team to move on from Ben to see what they can get in the 2014 draft. Ben is still an elite quarterback in this league despite having a down year, which is why I have listed this matchup as Ben versus himself, as a lot of his early mistakes have been self-inflicted.
Ben has a tendency to try and force balls due to a lack of offense, and this season, he just hasn’t looked sharp to start games. The team runs as Ben does, so when he is not able to shrug off five defenders and still throw the perfect pass, the team crumbles. Throw in the offensive line's poor play, and you have really set your quarterback up to fail.
Just because I am a Ben defender, though, does not mean I’m letting him off the hook for his poor play. This season, with injuries mounting on the offensive line, Ben just hasn’t been able to carry this team.
I have full faith that Ben will not continue to throw interceptions at the rate that he has this season and that the offense will begin to come around. It helps when the offensive line can actually block, which is why we hope Ben can just finish this season. Fewer turnovers, whether interceptions or fumbles, would be nice, though.