Steelers D tames Lions in the red zone, team limps into bye in prime playoff position

The score: Pittsburgh 20, Detroit 15

The bottom line: Between Pittsburgh missing on three easy touchdowns and Detroit failing to score any touchdowns despite a million trips into the red zone and 482 yards of offense, a game that could have been played in the 40s, ended with one final Steelers goal line stand, one final Steelers flub (this one a sure Pick Six dropped by Ryan Shazier) and one creative Steelers play call, a third-down shovel pass to Fan Favorite JuJu Smith-Schuster that resulted in a critical conversion, a sloppy win and an ugly, ugly 6-2 record heading into a much-needed bye week.

It was over when…: When Shazier failed to take advantage of the gift score Matthew Stafford offered up on a fourth-down desperation pass with just under 2:00 remaining, the specter of a last-second Lions touchdown still loomed very large with the Steelers taking over deep in their own end and Detroit still possessing three timeouts. To their credit, Pittsburgh did not go into a shell and leave it to the defense, throwing twice on the first series and putting the game away with what might just have been one of those “top secret” two-point conversion plays Mike Tomlin used to talk about. With Le’Veon Bell split as a sidecar left, Antonio Brown reverse motioned the same way, taking most of the Detroit defense with him, allowing Smith-Schuster to drag behind Brown, accept the shovel pass from Ben Roethlisberger and turn it up field to secure the win.

Play of the day: Smith-Schuster, the gregarious rookie from USC, was everywhere Sunday night in Detroit, including on the receiving end of the longest pass play for a score in Steelers history, a 97-yarder in the third quarter that turned the momentum in the game. The play followed perhaps the worst pass of Ben Roethlisberger’s career, a ghastly overthrow of a wide open Jesse James. But again to their credit, Roethlisberger was right back throwing from the end zone on 3rd-and-9, recognizing Smith-Schuster had man coverage with a safety and hitting him in stride to get the team out of an offensive hole, Smith-Schuster took the play from good to great, first showing a burst of speed he was never known for coming out of college, then stepping out two final tackle attempts at the Lions 30 and 5 to get the score.

Player of the game: Sean Davis had perhaps the best game of his young career, highlighted by several goal line stops and strong support on the Lions screen game. We really worry about Davis’ long-term health, though, as he plays a brutal style that results in four or five head shots a game for him. .

Hot topics:

+ For the second straight week, the Steelers did just about everything they could to allow an opponent to steal a win and got away with it. It started this week with Eli Rogers dropping a sure and simple touchdown pass on the game’s first drive. It continued with Ben Roethlisberger air mailing a sure and simple scoring pass to Darius Heyward-Bey and concluded with Ryan Shazier booting a sure and simple Pick Six in the game’s final two minutes. That’s 15 sure points Pittsburgh failed to take. With the 2017 version of Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, it’s becoming increasingly apparent there will be little margin for error if the Steelers want to compete for a championship.

+ Despite ranking in the top five in the league in sacks, the Steelers sure appear to have a pass rush problem. Bud Dupree was invisible again for the entirety of Sunday night’s game as he was against the Bengals with the exception of two plays. Rookie T.J. Watt looked more like a rookie than a Watt this week and when was the last time you heard Anthony Chickillo’s name called? Entering the game, the Lions were one of the worst teams in the league in allowing sacks and the Steelers absolutely could not take advantage of that. Through it all, James Harrison sat on the Steelers bench, apparently relegated by Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler to emergency duty only. We’re not sure if that’s supposed to be some kind of stubborn message to Pittsburgh’s younger players (you’re not always going to have Deebo to bail you out) or what, but it’s going to cost them a football game before all is said and done and maybe a home playoff game.

+ We’re saddened by the fan backlash against Martavis Bryant, a talented but troubled you man who needs as much support as he can get in his life, be that from family, friends, teammates or fans. Although it was Bryant himself who set up this Martavis vs. JuJu narrative, we’re not sure why fans have latched onto it. It’s not an either/or situation. Justin Hunter is the receiver who was activate in Bryant’s place Sunday. He is not going to provide the kind of splash plays to the Steelers offense that Bryant can. We’re hoping a couple weeks off will allow Bryant to come out looking more like the “alien” athletic phenom he can be than the angry, confused young man he has been on social media.

In the booth:

+ Chris Collinsworth became the first color analyst this season to point out rightly that Ben Roethlisberger is no longer extending plays. It was just one highlight of another strong game for Collinsworth.

+ NBC did a gimmicky but cool graphic that came off great because the gimmick (two Pittsburgh incline trolleys) actually fit the subject matter of the graphic, showing that initially as the Steelers defense got younger, it got worse before gradually turning that around the past two seasons.

+ Barry Sanders, the most electrifying football player of all time, showed once again he’s anything but when it comes to interviews. We found out in his painfully awkward third-quarter stint in the booth that he spends his time mostly “hanging out” these days.

+ Al Michaels, perhaps the greatest play-by-play man of our time, is losing it, y’all. Old age remains undefeated.

Game mismanagement:

+ Once again, the Steelers were driving at the end of a half and hurrying when they should have been playing at regular pace. After Jesse James 30+ yard catch, Pittsburgh set up shop inside the Detroit 30 with about 1:30 remaining in the half. That’s enough time to run 10-12 plays. As soon as you get in that kind of situation, your internal clock has to flip from hurry up mode to making sure you don’t leave time for the opponent. But as is custom with Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh rushed to the ball and called a play at the line, saving :20 or so for the Lions, who almost used that time to score a TD after that rare Le’Veon Bell fumble.

+ Jim Caldwell played the percentages (we’re not sure he did it knowingly, though) by going for the first fourth-and-goal play in the third quarter. Those percentages say that even if you don’t score the first time, you often get the ball back in great field position and score on your followup possession. Of course, a 97-yard bomb (what are the odds of that?) turns that logic on its head.

+ Caldwell went against the percentages in the fourth quarter, opting for a field goal to make it 20-15, instead of going again. Those percentages say if you fail on one fourth-and-short play, you have a much higher than usual chance of converting on the next one.

Zebra hunting:

+ Hey, someone told John Hussey et al that the best way to become a highly rated refereeing crew is to not throw flags. The result was a physical game where a ton of potential holding and pass interference was allowed to slide. While you could accuse the teams and coaches of mucking up the game, that couldn’t be said of the officials.

+ Probably the closest thing to controversy in the game came on two Lions receptions in the second quarter where some portion of the ball touched the ground during the process of the catch. Both were allowed to stand and we were fine with that as we think too much emphasis is put on slow motion replays of catches that skew the reality (life is not in slow mo, if you haven’t noticed) of the play. That said, the league doesn’t apply that standard, or any standard, to such plays, even now with replay centralized in New York. For those two catches that were allowed to stand, there were two other catches Sunday with very similar circumstances that were disallowed.

+ The other play in question in the game was a fourth quarter hit on Ben Roethlisberger that would have been called roughing the quarterback in half of the games played Sunday, but it never, ever, ever called roughing in the game #7 is playing in.

Sweet tweets:

+ @Mel629_: Oh Ben, this hurts to watch. (Blogger’s note: There were four or five throws in that game by Roethlisberger that were just brutal to watch, made worse comparatively by Matthew Stafford throwing dime after dime on the other side. With an eight-game sample size, we don’t think there’s any doubt that the Steelers have to finally start thinking about their next quarterback. That doesn’t mean Pittsburgh can’t win it all this year with this version of #7 or that this necessarily is even his final year, but the end, as they say, is near.)

Next week: The Steelers get a much-needed off week next week in hopes of getting Marcus Gilbert and Stephon Tuitt healthy enough to contribute during the second half of the season. Pittsburgh returns against the 2-6 Colts at Indy on Nov. 12 and it appears almost certain now that Jacoby Brissett will be under center for the home team with new reports this week of continuing pain in Andrew Luck’s throwing shoulder. Brissett played well against the Bengals for most of the day Sunday before collapsing in the final quarter, throwing a game-changing Pick Six and taking numerous sacks late in the game where he hung onto the ball too long.

Blogger’s note: So, we’re taking wifey to Punta Cana for her 50th birthday to an 80’s weekend, featuring her favorite band of all time, Loverboy. If you have not gathered, the author of this blog is not the kind of person who might find himself at an 80’s weekend or at a Loverboy concert. The things we do for love. In any event, the Steelers just happen to play not once, but twice (of course), during the Nov. 11-18 festivities. We plan to get a pregame stretch up for the Indy game, but beyond that, all bets are off. You can follow @15MinutesBlog for all things Steelers and Punta Cana that week when our goal is to get a picture with Anthony Michael Hall (one of many 80’s celebs who will be on hand) and post it to social media with the caption: “Me and Farmer Ted.”


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