Pittsburgh Steelers Looking for Their First Road Victory

Vicki FarriesCorrespondent IOctober 9, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 1:  Running back Kevin Jones #34 of the Detroit Lions in action against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on January 1, 2006 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Steelers defeated the Lions 35-21.  (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

The Steelers snapped a two-game losing streak with a win at home over the San Diego Chargers last Sunday night.

The offense was balanced with Bruce Arians mixing the calls, 36 running plays and 34 passing. After an abysmal start this season, the offensive line put forth a great performance against an ailing defensive opponent.

The line, for the first time, was opening holes and blowing defenders off the ball. G Chris Kemoeatu had the best game of his career on Sunday.

Although sacked three times, QB Ben Roethlisberger was nearly perfect, completing 26-of-33 passes for 333 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 128.9 passer rating.

The rushing game struck with a vengeance, as RB Rashard Mendenhall had a breakout game. After a rough start to his second season, Mendenhall picked up 165 yards on 29 carries with two short touchdown runs.

The rush defense was on point, never giving the Chargers a chance to run. Chargers' RB LaDainian Tomlinson on 7 carries amassed 15 yards.

The downside has been pass defense. Once again, the defense gave up a big lead in the fourth quarter.

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This defense enforced their will on the Charger offense, shutting them down for nearly three full quarters. Then in a meltdown, the defense allowed QB Philip Rivers to complete 21-of-36 passes for three TDs and no interceptions.

The defense is not finishing out games. They need to protect leads and close the door on their opponents. Although sacked three times, Rivers finished the night with 254 passing yards.

The Steelers are a perfect 2-0 at home so far this season, but a very imperfect 0-2 on the road.

Sunday, the Steelers play the Detroit Lions looking for their first road victory, regain their equilibrium and take care of business. The last time the Steelers returned from a football game in Detroit was in 2005, when they brought the fifth Lombardi Trophy back to Pittsburgh. 

Prior to being hired by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2000, director of football operations Kevin Colbert was employed as an advance scout for the Detroit Lions and the Miami Dolphins. In 10 seasons with the Lions, Colbert’s work helped them make the playoffs five times with records of 12-4, 10-6, 9-7, 10-6 and 9-7.

Since his departure, the Lions had not had one winning season. Last season, they set a record for imperfection going 0-16.  

The Lions and new coach Jim Schwartz are trying to change the losing culture of this football team. The 2-2 Steelers will meet a 1-3 Lions who have vastly improved from last year.

Although their lone win thus far was against the Washington Redskins in Week Two, the Steelers cannot overlook what this team is building from.

Offensively, rookie QB Matthew Stafford and WR Calvin Johnson have been hot, especially in the first half against the Bears last week—when Johnson caught five passes for 119 yards.

However, the Bears adjusted in the second half, playing Cover 2 with CB Charles Tillman shadowing Johnson to limit him to three catches for 14 yards.So far this season, Johnson has 323 receiving yards, one touchdown and averages 15.4 yards per catch.

Steelers CB Ike Taylor will be matched up to follow Johnson if he plays, as he is listed day-to-day after taking a helmet to a quadricep in the Chicago game.

As starting cornerback since the 2005 season, Taylor has never been widely recognized as an All-Pro caliber player at his position. Regardless, we have to account for the way he is playing so far this season to help the Steelers win games.

Matched against his opponents' top receivers, Taylor leads the team with seven passes defended, causing an incomplete pass either by getting his hands on the ball or knocking the ball out with a hit on the receiver.

Stafford went 24-for-36 for 296 yards, a touchdown and one interception against the Bears until he was sacked by DE Adewale Ogunleye. Stafford suffered a partial dislocation of the right knee cap and is listed day-to-day.

Veteran QB Daunte Culpepper took the first-team snaps so far this week, and is expected start Sunday's game if Stafford is unable to play.

In the passing game, the Steeler defense has not been blitzing nearly as often to be effective, hence the sacks and turnovers are down from last year. Since the secondary is showing signs of struggle in the passing game without Polamalu, Culpepper could become a challenge.

Culpepper is looking for a chance to show he still has skills. He opted not to sign with the Steelers last year as backup to Roethlisberger and Batch because he wanted to start, hence he signed with Detroit.

The Lions’ rush offense was terrible last week, with RB Kevin Smith rushing for only 30 yards on 19 carries. He was stopped by the Bears’ decimated linebacking corps with Brian Urlacher, Hunter Hillenmeyer, and Pisa Tinoisamoa out.

The week before, the Lions had success over the Washington Redskins, rushing for 154 yards on the ground. The Lions’ offense will go up against the No. 3 defense in the NFL, which has not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season.

The Lions finished last in defense the past two years, but through four games this season they have improved their rank to 21st, with 361.5 yards allowed per game.

Although the defense has improved in pass defense since last season, they have allowed three quarterbacks to post passer ratings over 100. Redskin QB Jason Campbell was the only one under a 100 rating (97.6).

Roethlisberger finished last week with a passer rating of 128.9 against the 14th-ranked defense that allowed 214.8 yards per game.

He should do just as well against a defense has allowed their opponents 240.3 yards per game. The Lions rush defense is struggling against the run, allowing 121.3 yards per game.

Last Sunday, the Bears broke out against the Lions with 151 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. RB Matt Forte registered 121 yards on 12 carries, the biggest a 61-yarder in the first quarter.  

Last Sunday, RB Rashard Mendenhall lined up in the backfield in place of the injured Willie Parker and gave an impressive performance carrying the ball 29 times for 165 yards and two touchdowns.

Named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his performance Sunday, Mendenhall could be getting his second start against the Lions. It has been reported that Parker may be out for Sunday’s game.

Parker tried to run on his turf toe during Thursday’s practice and quickly backed off from the pain. It is believed that the injury is worse than previous turf toes he has had.

The Steelers' passing game is improving, with rookie WR Mike Wallace emerging as an excellent No. 3 receiver alongside Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes. 

However, on special teams, the Steelers took a turn for the worst when return specialist Stefan Logan fumbled a punt to help the Chargers get back into the game.

To make matters worse, the Chargers recovered a fumble by FS Ryan Mundy on an onside kick that went to another score.

K Jeff Reed redeemed himself by clearing a 46-yard field goal with 43 seconds left that sealed the win against the Chargers, after missing two in Chicago and one in Cincinnati.

Although the Steelers' special teams struggled last week, the Lions' special teams was even more of a disaster.

The Lions allowed Johnny Knox to return the opening kickoff of the second half 102 yards for a touchdown. They allowed the Bears' return unit more yardage (277) than the Bears' offense (276).

Could this be a door-opener for return specialist Stefan Logan? He has yet to return one to the house.

In addition, Lions' RB Aaron Brown muffed two kickoffs and his replacement, WR Adam Jennings, muffed one as well. The Lions were flagged for offsides on a field-goal attempt, giving the Bears a 4th-and-goal at the one-yard-line, and they scored a touchdown.

After a dismal special teams performance at Chicago, the Lions have made a move, releasing LB Darnell Bing and moving LB Zack Follett up from the practice squad.

Historically, the advantage goes to the Lions, who lead the overall series 17-15-1, including owning a 13-4 advantage at home.

Former Steelers and current Lions LB Larry Foote will be playing against his former teammates and was asked if his familiarity with the Pittsburgh defense will help Detroit.

"I shared a couple of words with our guys, but the Steelers defense is so exotic, you have to watch for everything," he said.

With the defense struggling, the offense seems to have taken the team on its shoulders for once. For years, it was the defense that saved the offense.

This should be another in the win column for the Steelers.

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