ReFo: Lions @ Steelers, Week 11
Thomas Maney looks at the key performances in a back-and-forth game that saw the Lions lose to a Steeler team suddenly alive in the AFC North race.
ReFo: Lions @ Steelers, Week 11
It’s rare that a team can overcome three turnovers, and though the Lions came close, they were no exception, losing 27-37 on the road in Pittsburgh. It looked like a rout early when the Steelers took a 14 point lead late in the first quarter, but Detroit fought back and, with a monster second quarter effort, was able to go into halftime with a seven point lead. Ultimately, there was too much defense in the second half as the Steelers redeemed themselves after relinquishing their early lead and pulled the win out in a tough inter-conference matchup.
Now at 4-6, the Steeler’s are more than two games back in the division, but with four AFC North games remaining there’s still a chance of making a late push. For the Lions, the loss drops them to 6-4, but they’re still firmly in the playoff picture tied with Chicago atop the NFC North.
Detroit – Three Performances of Note
Matthew Stafford had a pretty good first half in which the team rallied from an early 14 point deficit to take a 27-20 lead into halftime. He made several impressive throws in the second quarter, including his two touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson (10:27 and 3:38), as well as a big third down conversion (0:52). However, he wasn’t all good, with a number of early overthrows and an awful miss to Reggie Bush (1Q, 10:25). He also received some big help from Ike Taylor on a pair of throws (2Q 2:31 and 0:14) that should have been picked, but weren’t.
In the second half, those breaks didn’t go his way. As we noted on our Week 11 Reaction Blog, he didn’t complete a single pass in the fourth quarter, though a pair of drops on good throws at 4:36 and 2:20 (really great throw) make that statistic slightly misleading. It wasn’t all on his receivers though, as Stafford gifted the team’s third turnover to Will Allen with a bad force at 4:28 of the fourth, which proved to be too much to overcome.
Though it was in a losing effort, Detroit got a pair of big performances from its starting linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch. Levy allowed five receptions for 61 yards in coverage, 43 of them coming on a second quarter pass that Le’Veon Bell took 43 yards. Otherwise, he was very solid against the pass, including an outstanding stretch in the third quarter where he came away with two pass defenses in a span of three plays (12:18 and 12:12). He also collected a stop on five of his seven tackles. It’s a testament to how well Levy played that he still finished at +2.6 despite three missed tackles (though none of them were particularly bad).
Tulloch also missed three tackles (two of them missed tackle for loss), but like his teammate, he more than made up for his blunders. He finished the day with eight tackles and four stops, including a pair of tackles in coverage short of the sticks on third down. His pass defense near the goal line (2Q, 8:21) also helped hold Pittsburgh to a field goal, keeping the game within two scores. Tulloch performed on two snaps as a pass rusher as well, pressuring Ben Roethlisberger on both blitzes.
Unfortunately, Detroit didn’t get the same level of play from another pair of defenders, Don Carey (-4.6 coverage) and Chris Houston, with the two combining to miss five tackles. As evidenced by his grade, Carey had the worst day in coverage; he allowed nine catches on 10 targets in primary coverage, with his worst play being a grave breakdown with Rashean Mathis; at 2:35 of the fourth with Detroit needing a stop down three on 3rd-and-5 in the red zone, both Mathis and Carey bit hard on Pittsburgh’s screen fake to Markus Wheaton, allowing Jerricho Cotchery to slip past for a wide open, back-breaking touchdown.
Houston fared slightly better in coverage, surrendering just four catches, and defensing a pass (2Q 3:22). Missed tackles will generally bring your grade down, though, and with three of them, Houston had plenty of negative plays. At 6:28 of the third, his miss on Antonio Brown (along with Glover Quin’s) turned what should have been a routine short gain on a hitch route into a touchdown.
Pittsburgh – Three Performances of Note
Making his Case
Cameron Heyward is another player who’s shown glimpses in limited snaps before, and is now showing what he can do and rewarding the team for finally getting him on the field more. In this game he was a force in the trenches, grading at +3.3, picking up two pressures as a rusher and two stops in run defense. Take a look at his TFSG at 3:52 of the first quarter, when he beat center Dominic Raiola to drop the RB for a one yard gain. He also came up with two big plays getting a hand on a pair of Stafford passes. The first play was just before the end of the half when, dropping into coverage (a rare occurrence), Heyward deflected a pass intended for Joseph Fauria in the back of the end zone to force a field goal. And on another third down in the third quarter (12:38), he ended Detroit’s drive with a batted pass.
Struggles at Guard
Although the Steelers didn’t often give up pressure, when they did it usually came from right guard David DeCastro. He gave up five pressures on the day, three of them to Ndamukong Suh, though given he pass blocked 51 times, that number isn’t terrible. His worst pressure (2Q, 10:40) allowed Suh to force a throwaway on third down in the red zone. Unfortunately, he didn’t fare too well in run blocking either; he let Suh inside at 11:57 of the second quarter to get in on a tackle for no gain.
Left guard was also a problem for the Steelers, where Guy Whimper (-3.1) had his hands full with Nick Fairley at the POA. Early on he was stood up to force a cut (2Q, 10:51), while later in the quarter he gave up a third down redzone sack to Fairley. Add to that a pair of holding calls – both of which came in a span of three plays late in the first half – and Whimper had a forgettable day as part of a unit that could only manage 1.5 yards per carry rushing (less than that when you take out Roethlisberger’s scrambles and kneels).
Taylor vs Johnson
Like his team in the game, Ike Taylor was up and down in his individual matchup with Calvin Johnson. Targeted nine times in single coverage vs Johnson, Taylor gave up five catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns. He did a good job forcing Johnson out of bounds on an endzone fade at 1:50 of the second quarter. And he did get his hands on two aforementioned passes as well, though couldn’t finish the play with a dropped interception on both. Outside of that he struggled with two coverage penalties (one declined) and the two touchdowns that helped erase Pittsburgh’s 14 point lead. Safety Ryan Clark didn’t do him any favors on the 79 yard touchdown at 10:27 of the second quarter, but Taylor has to make the tackle on that play. His miss allowed CJ to take the ball ~35 yards untouched into the end zone.
– TE Heath Miller saw a season-high 10 targets, which he turned into eight catches for 67 yards.
– Devin Taylor played a season-high 54 snaps for the Lions. He graded positively in run defense, but could only manage a single pressure in 34 pass rushes.
– Slot corner William Gay didn’t allow a single reception in primary coverage (six targets) for the first time this season.
PFF Game Ball
Though he had two drops late, Antonio Brown’s pair of spectacular first quarter touchdowns were enough to get him this week’s game ball.
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