Detroit Lions at Pittsburgh Steelers: Preview by the Numbers


Nov 10, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) gives the ball to a fan after the Lions beat the Bears 21-19 at Soldier Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Lions lead the NFC North after 10 weeks of NFL action, and they’ve put the Chicago Bears squarely in the rear-view mirror with a season sweep.

Now they have to face their greatest enemy yet. No, not the Pittsburgh Steelers. I’m talking about playing as frontrunners.

The Lions have played relatively well under Jim Schwartz when they’re able to apply the “go earn some respect” mindset. When expectations are low, they surprise people. That’s what they did in 2011, and to a large extent this year. But when they go into games (or, say, the 2012 season) as frontrunners… well, they surprise people in a different way.

Whether the Lions can maintain (or ideally, improve) their current level of play enough to pull away in the NFC North is something that goes beyond what basic statistics can tell us. That’s part of what makes the NFL so enjoyable. But assuming the Lions (and Steelers) do maintain their current trajectories, this is what we have to look forward to this weekend.

Detroit Lions’ NFL Rankings

The Lions should have relatively little trouble moving the ball on offense this weekend, as they outclass the Steelers defense across the board. That being said, while the Steelers defense may currently be a mockery of what it once was, there are still enough pieces to command respect.

That said, the Steelers’ pass defense looks formidable by stats alone. But compare it to one of the league’s worst run defenses, and you have to wonder if maybe this is more a reflection of the 3-6 Steelers’ tendency to give up leads early, allowing the opposition to shift into a run-heavy, conservative game for most of the second half.

The Lions continue to maintain the best third down defense outside of Kansas City, as it has been since Week 5, when they moved down from first. They’ll need to continue that this week, because despite a porous offensive line, the Steelers can move the football.

Surprisingly, the Steelers are a top-half team when it comes to offensive yardage, but they’re much worse at actually turning those into points. To explain that, look no further than their -11 turnover margin, second-worst in the NFL this season next to only the New York Giants. Turnovers are a very good way to turn offensive yards into no points.

If you want a matchup to look out for this week, try Steelers rookie running back Le’Veon Bell against the Lions’ resurgent run defense. After an initial explosion, Bell has been frustrated, being held to 155 yards on three yards per carry in his last three games. In the same time span, the Lions’ run defense has gone from 29th in the NFL to 8th. Will those trends continue?

Lions Fantasy Corner

Dec 11, 2011; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) throws a pass to tight end Brandon Pettigrew (87) during the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber- USA TODAY Sports

Pleasant Surprise

I’m not sure anybody from last weekend qualifies as a “surprise,” in what was a generally modest game statistically. Let’s go with Brandon Pettigrew here. A five-catch, 70-yard day for him is a lot better than what he’s accomplished most weeks this season.

Bitter Disappointment

Technically, Kris Durham only caught one pass for five yards this week, but it was a touchdown, so that tempers the disappointment a bit. Kevin Ogletree was nowhere to be seen, but guys with no expectations can’t really be that disappointing. Meanwhile, Joseph Fauria hasn’t caught a touchdown since his monster game against the Browns in Week 6. All of the core fantasy guys performed reasonably well, so you were probably only disappointed this week if you tried to get cute and start one of those sleepers.

Sleeper Pick for Week 11

It seems like Nate Burleson keeps creeping closer and closer to returning to the team. If you’re in a deep league and need WR help, now is probably a good time to grab him and stash him. He’s not back yet, but color me shocked if he doesn’t get there by the Tampa Bay game in Week 12.

Random Numbers

Rather than focus on random numbers, I figured this week I could focus on just one number. Here’s a list of stats that figure out to the number three.

Three is the number of…

  • The last NFL week in which the Lions played a team with a record of .500 or worse (at kickoff)
  • Teams with a losing record the Lions have played so far this season by current standings (Minnesota, Washington, Cleveland)
  • Teams with a losing record the Lions have beaten so far this season
  • The largest final point differential in the Lions’ last three games (Bengals 27, Lions 24)
  • Touchdowns thrown by Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger in last Steelers-Lions matchup
  • Fumbles by Lions QB Daunte Culpepper in last Steelers-Lions matchup
  • Lions offensive players who will have played in both the 2009 game vs. the Steelers and this weekend (Dominic Raiola, Calvin Johnson, Brandon Pettigrew)
  • Lions defensive players who will have played in both games (Louis Delmas, DeAndre Levy, Andre Fluellen)
  • Combined playoff appearances by the Lions and Steelers since 2009