The Pittsburgh Steelers battled a driving rain, a 6-3 Detroit Lions team and a dreadful second quarter to pull out a 10-point win, 37-27. Pittsburgh came out in the second half and shut down the Lions offense, while cranking up the intensity in the passing game to the tune of a 17-0 second half.
This win makes the Steelers 4-2 over their last six games and right in the mix for the playoffs. No one would have guessed when this team went 0-4 in the first month of the season that they could climb back into it.
I'm not sure how many people gave the Steelers a shot against the Lions, but it was clear the Steelers didn't listen to all the critics. So, here are some takeaways from Sunday's big win.
All stats provided by ESPN.com.
It was nice in the second half to see wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Heath Miller, but once again it was wide receiver Antonio Brown who led the way. Brown finished with seven more catches for 147 yards and two touchdowns.
Brown now has 74 catches and 952 yards on the season. He was the focus of the offense early and sealed the deal late. Brown continues to show he was the right receiver to sign to an extension this past offseason. Brown can do a little of everything, but it's his ability to take a short throw and turn it into a big play that is invaluable to this team.
TribLIVE Radio Pittsburgh Sports Talk Host Ken Laird expounded on Brown's season.
Antonio Brown has 74 catches and 952-yds thru 10 weeks, both 2nd best all x #Steelers history (Hines '02 76 catch; Buddy Dial '63 961 yds)— Ken Laird (@Ken_Laird) November 17, 2013
The Steelers have a special one with Brown without a doubt.
It was great to see Steelers choosing to work out of the no-huddle offense during Sunday's win. Roethlisberger had to contend with a stagnant run game, mediocre protection and multiple drops by his skill players. All he did was go ahead and throw for 367 yards, going 29-of-45 and four touchdowns.
Going forward, the Steelers coaching staff has to understand that this team will go as far as Roethlisberger can carry it. Handing the reins of the offense to him in full is the right move, and the Steelers proved it on Sunday.
CBS Sports College Football & Steelers Broadcast Network Analyst Tom Bradley tweeted this about Big Ben's legacy.
With 2901 passing yds Ben has the most passing yds by a Steeler in first 10 games— Tom Bradley (@TomScrapBradley) November 17, 2013
Roethlisberger is easily on pace for a career year.
The Steelers defense surrendered 27 points in the second quarter of Sunday's game, and it was clear the entire unit was on its heels. Halftime couldn't come fast enough for this group.
However, the second half was a different story. Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau made some very subtle changes at halftime that made some huge differences on the field. Things as simple as the depth of the safeties at the snap, a few well-timed stunts up front and the Lions offense stalled out.
Broadcaster and former head coach Brian Billick gave a nice characterization of just how long LeBeau has been doing his thing.
The #Lions haven't won in Pittsburgh since 1955...Dick LeBeau was a freshman at Ohio State!— Brian Billick (@CoachBillick) November 17, 2013
I don't know how long LeBeau plans to coach, but he's going to be a tough one to replace.
Cornerback Ike Taylor was the scapegoat for the huge first half Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson had. Johnson finished the first half with six catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns. His biggest half in his career.
And when you watch the game, it seemed Taylor was the victim of all of Johnson's biggest players. However, on closer inspection, it was clear there were problems with communication and missed assignments by the rest of the Steelers secondary. The play of the Steelers safeties has been suspect most of the season, and that was no more evident than in the first half of Sunday's game.
In the postgame press conference, Tomlin talked about covering Johnson. When asked why there was only one player covering Johnson earlier in the game, Tomlin responded.
That was not the case. In many instances, we allocated two guys towards him. But like I said at the top of the week, we weren't reinventing the wheel here. There have been guys allocating him every week this year and his performances have been similar to that. So, we're like everybody else.
Coverage on Johnson was certainly a tale of two halves.
Over the course of the past month, the Steelers haven't had a better all-around player on defense than defensive end Cameron Heyward. He's been disruptive on a level the Steelers haven't seen from a defensive end in a long time.
Heyward racked up six more tackles and two big passes defended in route to a Steelers win. He continues to be the best player on the defensive line and might be the best player on the defense regardless of position.
Another week, another dismal performance by the Steelers' offensive line. I respect that the Lions' defensive front is very talented, but for the running backs to muster a miserable 2.0 yards per carry is awful. All Steelers fans should be thankful that this team's passing game can function even in the total absence of talent from the front line.
Moving forward, the entire offensive game plan is going to have to center on how to minimize the negative impact of this group. If this team continues to win, it is going to be in spite of this group. The one exception to this is guard David DeCastro, who plays some exceptional football while being surrounded by inept athletes.
Another wacky and wild week for the AFC North and the Steelers find themselves in a big 3-way tie second place in the AFC North lead and only one game out of the second wild-card spot.
At this point, all the Steelers have to do is just keep winning. They have four more division games, and their two matchups in-conference, against the Miami Dolphins and Green Bay Packers, look like games they can win. But, before we get too excited, Cleveland Browns analyst Tony Grossi offers some perspective in this tweet.
This just in from @budshaw: No AFC North team has won on the road in a division game this year.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) November 17, 2013
Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the conference.
Whatever happens going forward in terms of where the Steelers select, it's pretty clear the offensive line and defensive secondary are top needs. The prospects for these picks will vary greatly, depending on their position in the round, but if the Steelers can get an offensive tackle and either cornerback or safety with their first two picks, it will be a success.
And don't rule out a tight end at some point as well. The Steelers should be able to snag a high pick or two in compensatory picks, and if so, they can find another big target in the passing game to take the place of tight end Heath Miller.
But not everyone is excited about the win this week as it pertains to the NFL draft. The Twitter account of Steelers Depot had this to say.
This win is really going to hurt the #Steelers draft position.— Steelers Depot (@Steelersdepot) November 17, 2013
I would like to think this is sarcasm, because by the season's end, the draft order is going to go through many more changes.