The Detroit Lions travel to Heinz Field on Sunday to play the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Lions (0-8) are looking for their first win at a place that they have never won. Detroit is 0-3 all-time at Heinz Field since it opened in 2001.
An even more depressing stat for Motor City fans is that the Lions have not won in Pittsburgh since a 31-28 win at Forbes Field in 1955.
Pittsburgh (5-3), on the other hand, is heading in a completely different direction. After starting off 1-3, they have reeled off four straight wins to get right back in the thick of the AFC North race and playoff contention.
They have done it with their defense, led by the play of linebacker T.J. Watt. He leads the team in sacks with 11.5 and is second in the NFL, behind only Cleveland’s Myles Garrett.
The Steelers give up an average of 21.1 points per game, which ranks 8th in the league. They have given up even less during their four-game win streak at 19 points per game.
On the offensive side of the ball, they will have to rely heavily on the ground game and rookie running back Najee Harris.
Starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was placed on the Reserve/Covid-19 list on Saturday, meaning he will miss this contest. Backup Mason Rudolph will start and be backed up by Dwayne Haskins. In 15 career games and nine starts, Rudolph has compiled a 5-4 record while passing for 2,089 yards, 15 touchdowns and ten interceptions.
He should rely heavily on Harris, who is having himself a season that should put him squarely in the mix for the Offensive Rookie of the Year He is tenth in the NFL, and first amongst rookies, in rushing yards with 541 yards. He has scored four rushing touchdowns while adding in 40 receptions for 289 yards and another two scores.
Harris could be in for a big game as the Lions have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL. They give up over 134 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 29th.
Rudolph could also rely on the likes of Diontae Johnson, Pittsburgh’s leading receiver. The third-year pro out of Toledo leads the team in receiving with 530 yards and is on pace to set career highs in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
Tight end Pat Freiermuth is coming on strong over the past three games as well. The rookie out of Penn St. has 16 receptions, 145 yards and three scores over his last three contests.
As for the Lions, they come into this game fresh off of their bye week. The week before that, though, may have been their worst loss of the season. At home, they got thrashed 44-6 by the Philadelphia Eagles.
Detroit is averaging a measly 16.8 points per game, which ranks 30th in the NFL. Aside from their 33-point outburst in Week 1, Detroit has not scored more than 19 points in any game and is averaging 14.4 points per game since Week 2.
Quarterback Jared Goff is 18th in passing yards with 1,995 and only has eight touchdowns to six interceptions.
He will likely lean on running back D’Andre Swift and tight end T.J. Hockenson. Swift leads all running backs with 47 receptions and is only second to Cordarrelle Patterson of the Atlanta Falcons in yards with 415 yards.
Hockenson is coming off a game where he set a career-high in receptions with ten and had 89 yards. He will look to build on that and improve on his team-leading 448 yards receiving.
Besides Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh will also be without wide receiver Chase Claypool due to a toe injury. The second-year wideout is second on the team behind Johnson with 433 yards and a score.
Detroit, meanwhile, will be without a few keys players as well. Kicker Austin Seibert (hip) was placed on IR while leading rusher Jamaal Williams (thigh) and defensive end Jashon Cornell (illness) are also out.
They may, however, get the services of left tackle Taylor Decker, who has been out all season with a finger injury.
This game pits two of the lowest scoring offenses against one another. The difference is one has a solid defense while the other does not. Goff has been sacked 22 times this season while Pittsburgh has 22 sacks on the year as a team. That is good for ninth in the NFL.
Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick should wreak havoc on this Detroit offense while Harris could have a field day against the defense.
Without Roethlisberger, this game could be an even lower scoring affair than normal. Pittsburgh still has the offensive firepower to score against bad defenses while Detroit has struggled to score all year. The return of Decker should help Goff and Co., but not enough to overcome all their deficiencies.
Pittsburgh should still win and improve to 6-3 while Detroit will fall to 0-9. Without Big Ben under center, Detroit’s odds of winning their first game of 2021 greatly increases. Anything is possible, but I think the Steelers still pull out a close one.
Steelers 20, Lions 14.
All stats are courtesy of ESPN.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com.