It’s the midpoint of the season, and the Pittsburgh Steelers are finally getting their first taste of prime time. Which, maybe for you local guys is not so great—and it has its downsides for me as well, forcing me to write late in the night. But at least I know that when they’re definitely going to be on tv, I’m not going to have trouble watching it live as an out-of-market guy.
Consequently, it’s also the Steelers’ first opportunity to play in prime time, during which they have historically been good under Mike Tomlin during his tenure. He often gets the best out of his players under the lights. That is going to have to continue tonight.
Offensively, it all starts with the offensive line. Alejandro Villanueva has been playing better in recent weeks, but will have to handle Ziggy Ansah today. Even if he is banged up, Ansah will still provide a test, particularly in the passing game.
The Lions have not been an easy time to run on, however. They currently rank seventh in rushing yards allowed per game, and have given up just 3.7 yards per carry, with only two explosive plays. That said, they have allowed five rushing touchdowns, which is tied for the most by any team who has already had a bye week.
On the flip side, they have been allowing nearly 25 points per game, with almost 250 yards through the air allowed, numbers that rank 28th and 22nd, respectively. They are a team who can be scored upon, and the Steelers have been relatively stingy—outside of the red zone, anyway.
Defensively, the Steelers are going to want to do everything to expose Brian Mihalik at left tackle, which I wrote about yesterday, making his first career start. This includes lining up a variety of different players across from him and tossing as many exotic stunts his way as they can think of.
Matthew Stafford is playing without rookie Kenny Galloday, and Golden Tate is expected to play, but will be at less than 100 percent. If they can get to him with the pass rush, they can force this offense into making mistakes.
You have to figure that the Steelers are going to want to continue to try to get Le’Veon Bell going on the ground. Especially going against a 4-3 front, I am anticipating a wide variety of run-heavy looks early, and a return to the tackle-eligible this week with Vance McDonald out.
With Martavis Bryant sitting on the bench, additionally, there is at least a vacancy for somebody else to get on the field. Both Eli Rogers and Justin Hunter will be active together. I would expect that they will split time, with Rogers getting the lion’s share, which would kick JuJu Smith-Schuster into a heavier rotation on the outside.