The Detroit Lions traveled to Pittsburgh for a date with the Steelers sitting at 6-3 and with all sorts of positive buzz. They were favored over the 3-6 hosts, with a great opportunity to terminate a 58-year-old losing streak on the shores of the Three Rivers.
Instead, the Lions played just one good quarter, and it was not enough to overcome three periods of some of the worst football of the Jim Schwartz era. Pittsburgh won 37-27, dropping the Lions to 6-4.
NFC North Division Standings
|Team||Win||Loss||Points For||Points Against|
|Green Bay Packers||5||5||258||239|
Detroit fell back into a tie with the Chicago Bears, who defeated Baltimore in overtime 20-17 after a prolonged rain delay at Soldier Field.
By virtue of Detroit's season sweep of Chicago, the Lions still hold first place. The Bears are part of a logjam of 6-4 teams competing for a Wild Card berth along with San Francisco and Arizona, as broken down nicely by ESPN.
The Vikings were outclassed by the Seattle Seahawks 41-20. It's a rough season for Minnesota after last year's impressive playoff surge.
The Packers and Vikings square off in Lambeau Field on the shores of Lake Michigan this Sunday. Rodgers' status is still uncertain, and if he doesn't play the Vikings do have an opportunity to play spoiler against their nemesis.
Chicago next travels south on I-55 to St. Louis for a date with the Rams in the Edward Jones Dome. Josh McCown will get the nod at quarterback once again for the injured Jay Cutler. He has played quite well in relief, but the Rams feature one of the most dynamic pass rushes in the league.
The Lions return to Detroit for the start of a string of four home games in five weeks. First up are the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, winners of two in a row after starting the season with eight straight losses.
Here is how the teams match up statistically:
|Rushing||Passing||Run Allowed||Passing Allowed|
The Lions held steady in the offensive rankings, remaining exactly where they stood heading to Pittsburgh. The run defense improved two slots after another smothering performance.
Detroit leads the all-time series with Tampa Bay 29-25. They were both members of the old NFC Central from 1978-2001.
The Lions have won three of the past four meetings. Detroit beat Tampa Bay 27-20 in the 2011 season opener behind 305 yards and three touchdowns by Matthew Stafford.
The last time these two met in Detroit was in 2008. Lions fans know what that means, as the Buccaneers contributed to the winless year by thumping Detroit 38-20. Calvin Johnson is the only non-offensive lineman from either team in that game who is still a starter in the NFL.
Detroit has opened as a 10-point favorite at Covers.com.
The Lions appear to have escaped the shoddy playing conditions in Pittsburgh without any serious injuries.
Coach Jim Schwartz was his typical vague self regarding injuries at his Monday press conference. He briefly touched on two players injured in Pittsburgh, safety Glover Quin and running back Joique Bell. As Kyle Meinke of Mlive.com noted:
Schwartz says Glover Quin, Joique Bell are day to day. Doesn't seem too concerned.— Kyle Meinke (@kmeinke) November 18, 2013
Burleson is close to returning from his broken arm. Schwartz mentioned "a big difference between practice and games" when discussing Burleson's status.
Ansah is also close to returning. As Paula Pasche of the Oakland Press noted:
Defensive end Ziggy Ansah tried to return on Sunday at Pittsburgh. He did some pre-game on-field tests and didn’t pass but was close.
Devin Taylor has filled in for his fellow rookie, though Taylor did little in Sunday's game.
There has been no comment or update thus far on Bentley, Hilliard or Owens.
What Needs to Improve
My personal take on the loss to Pittsburgh is that too many players had a bad day at the same time. Notable among those having "off" games are Stafford, Reggie Bush, Ndamukong Suh and Willie Young. It's hard to win when the impact players are not playing well—plain and simple.
The best thing the Lions can do is put the Pittsburgh game in a coffin and bury it. It was not a good game for the coaches or most of the players. The execution was poor on both sides of the ball.
Those kind of games happen, unfortunately. They happen far less frequently to good teams, and that's what the Lions aspire to be.
Stafford is not going to go 0-of-10 in the fourth quarter again. Bush will not face such sloppy field conditions again. It's hard to imagine the defense missing so many tackles again. Hopefully we'll never be subjected to those hideous bumble bee Steelers uniforms ever again.
Bury the dead memories. For three quarters the Steelers game was an absolute zero, an uncharacteristic sloppy performance. The Lions need to show resilience and demonstrate the ability to not let a bad game bleed into another one.
The 2011 team struggled with that concept. The 2012 version completely bombed in this aspect. Negativity pervaded, and the losses mounted upon one another. Once the snowball starts rolling down the mountain, it's tough to stop.
A strong opening drive from both sides of the ball would do wonders for Detroit against Tampa Bay.
On a more tangible level, the defensive line must get more productive. I've harped on the lack of sacks several times now, but it keeps getting worse.
Detroit now ranks 31st in sack percentage, both for the season and over the last three games per Teamrankings.com. As the Lions blitz infrequently, this falls on the defensive line.
Some of this can be attributed to not having Ziggy Ansah, the first-round pick who has not played since early in the win over Dallas. His ankle is healing, and the Lions desperately need his pass-rushing juice from the right side.
It goes beyond sacks, however. The front four is the centerpiece of Gunther Cunningham's defense, but they are not making plays. While the run defense is performing nicely, it isn't producing fumbles or batting down passes.
This defense needs more impact plays. Detroit has just one takeaway in the last four games. Take a gander at their "Team Games and Schedule" section from Detroit's profootballreference.com page. All those blank spaces are a recipe for failure.
In that respect, it's pretty amazing the Lions have won as much as they have. With scant turnovers and declining pressure on the opposing quarterbacks, it's no wonder the secondary is struggling.
The big boys up front need to help their back-end brethren. This week they face a rookie quarterback with poor mobility in Mike Glennon. Tampa Bay has suffered significant injuries at running back, having lost Doug Martin, Mike James and Jeff Demps to injured reserve.
This is a week for Suh, Nick Fairley and the rest of the front line to apply consistent pressure and make some plays.
Hopefully a return to Ford Field will bring back the fighting spirit and better execution for the Detroit Lions in the next two weeks. The Lions still control their own playoff destiny, and the games against Tampa Bay and Green Bay are both eminently winnable.