Cheat Sheet: Steelers vs. Lions

How to Watch/Listen

  • TV coverage: Broadcast locally in Pittsburgh on FOX (WPGH-TV)
  • Steelers Radio Network - Game coverage begins at 1:00 p.m. ET; Pregame programming begins at 9:00 a.m.; Postgame coverage starts immediately following the game.
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Injury Update

The Steelers took the field at the UPMC Rooney Sports Complex, preparing for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.

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Series History

The Steelers lead this series 17-14-1. Starting in 1934, the Pittsburgh Pirates lost the first four meetings against Detroit. The Steelers also had a seven-game winless streak between 1950 and 1962. After that though, Pittsburgh lost their meeting in 1983 and fell in overtime in 1998, but otherwise have won every meeting since 1966 and are 13-2 in these past 15 matchups. The Steelers and Detroit have never met in the postseason and Pittsburgh is currently on a five-game winning streak with the most recent meeting going the Steelers way 20-15 in Detroit in October of 2017.

Game action photos from the Pittsburgh Steelers' Week 8 game against the Detroit Lions.

The season so far

  • The winless Lions are coming off their bye week. The Steelers are operating on a short week, but didn't have to travel, after their win on Monday night against Chicago.
  • Detroit's average game this year results in a 13.7-point loss, as they have been outscored 244-134 and the Lions opponents have scored 27 touchdowns against just 14 from Detroit. In their past three games, Detroit has been outscored by 70 points.
  • Detroit is trailing by four points or more for 71% of their snaps, which is the worst in the league.
  • Detroit's passing game is producing 6.5 yards per attempt. Detroit's pass defense is allowing 9.3 yards per passing attempt. The Lions are averaging 2.8 fewer yards per pass attempt than their opponent. That is the largest negative discrepancy in the league.
  • The Lions are being out-rushed this year 134.5 to 93.1 on average per game. In their most recent game, Detroit was outrushed 236 to 57 in a game in which the Eagles possessed the ball for 35 minutes.
  • This year, Ben Roethlisberger's average pass has traveled just 6.8 past the line of scrimmage, which ranks 35 out of 37 qualifying quarterbacks. Jared Goff's average pass travels just 6.3 yards past the line of scrimmage. That ranks 36th.
  • The Steelers and Lions average 5.1 and 5.0 yards per offensive play respectively. The Texans, Panthers, Bears and Dolphins are the only offenses worse. The Lions defense allows 6.2 yards per play. Pittsburgh's allows 5.7.
  • The Steelers are producing 2.8 sacks per game compared to just 1.8 for Detroit. But Detroit is allowing 2.9 compared to 2.2 per game that Pittsburgh allows. The Lions quarterbacks were sacked six times in their most recent game.
  • Only six teams have a worse turnover differential (-4) than the Lions. And only the Jaguars, Jets and 49ers have taken the ball away (7) less. The Steelers have turned the ball over just eight times. Only four teams have been better. But Pittsburgh has only created eight turnovers as well. Six teams have fewer turnovers created.
  • Since 2010, the Lions are 8-3 coming off their bye week.

When Pittsburgh has the ball

  • The Lions opponents are running the football at the highest percentage of any team in the league at 51.3% of the snaps. Detroit's opponents are also scoring points on a league-high 51.8% of their drives. The Lions red zone defense is also the worst in football.
  • Najee Harris now has touched the ball at least 25 times in the last four games and 20 or more times in six straight. He is on the field for 85.5% of Pittsburgh's offensive snaps, which is the highest amongst all NFL running backs. 64% of the touchdowns Detroit has allowed have been to running backs, the highest percentage in the league.
  • The Steelers offense has produced 23 completions this year of 20 or more yards, which ranks 26th.
  • The Lions defense is dead last in yards allowed per passing attempt (9.3) as well as yards allowed per completion (13.7).
  • Last week was only the second time this season that Diontae Johnson hasn't gotten at least 30% of the Steelers target share. Over the past three games, Chase Claypool has gotten 18.5% or less of the target share and has just nine catches over that stretch of games. James Washington hasn't had more than one reception in each of his past three games.
  • Detroit allows the second most yards per target (10.5 yards) to opposing wide receivers in the league as well as 15.3 yards per catch, which is the NFL's worst.
  • Claypool is the only Steelers player with more end zone targets than Pat Freiermuth, who has run a route on 64.9% and 76.5% of the pass plays the last two weeks. The rookie tight end has seen six or more targets in each of the last three games. The Lions have only surrendered two touchdowns to opposing tight ends but give up 9.7 yards per target to the position, which ranks 30th.
  • Detroit's defense has been on the field for 505 snaps this year. Alex Anzalone has played 501 snaps. Amani Oruwariye has played 491. No one else has played more than 431.
  • The Lions defense was on the field for 65 snaps against the Eagles in Week 8. Alex Anzalone was their only defender to play every snap and no one else played more than 57. In that game, the Lions rotated their defensive tackles with four players at this position playing between 27 and 44 snaps.
  • Of the Lions back seven defenders, only three players have rushed the passer more than 10 times. Anzalone has blitzed on 33 occasions, while AJ Parker and Jalen Reeves-Maybin have only rushed the passer 14 and 11 times respectively.
  • In his career, Roethlisberger has been sacked 534 times. That is the most in NFL history. Roethlisberger just passed Tom Brady for that dubious distinction. Brady has played 309 games compared to 241 for Roethlisberger.

When Detroit has the ball

  • After scoring 33 points in Week 1 against San Francisco, the Lions offense has scored a touchdown on just 14.7% of their drives in the last seven games, a terrible number.
  • Detroit has scored 45.5% of their points in the fourth quarter of games this year-always trailing on the scoreboard. That is the highest percentage in the NFL.
  • Goff is last in the NFL in air yards completed per pass at just 3.7 per completion.
  • The Lions are above league average with their usage of 11 Personnel (1 RB/1 TE) at 70% of the snaps and 21 Personnel (2 RB/1 TE) at 11%. The league average is 59% for 11 Personnel and 7% for 21 Personnel.
  • Fullback Jason Cabinda has seen the field for 12% of the Lions snaps.
  • Tight end TJ Hockenson (448 yards) and running back D'Andre Swift (415) are Detroit's leading receivers. The Lions don't have a wide receiver with 335 receiving yards yet this year. Hockenson has been on the field for 311 Lions passing plays and has only stayed in to block on 14 of those snaps. Hockenson's target share over the past three games has been a whopping 28.2%, 28.1%, and most recently, 34.4%. He has received eight or more targets in six of eight games this year. But he also has a career low 9.3 yards per catch in 2021 and hasn't found the end zone since Week 2. Only two tight ends have more targets than Hockenson though and only one has more catches even though he has already had his bye week.
  • Even though the Lions have now had their bye week, Swift still has the most receptions and targets of all NFL running backs.
  • 10 different Lions receivers have accumulated 40 receiving yards or more. But only six have 15 receptions or more in 2021. Hockenson, Swift, Raymond, and Cephus each have two receiving touchdowns. No one else has caught a touchdown pass.
  • Matt Nelson and Jonah Jackson were the only Lions offensive players to see the field for every snap in their most recent game in Week 8. The remaining starting offensive linemen, Penei Sewell, Evan Brown, and Halapouilvaati Vaitai, each played 58 of the possible 62 snaps in that game, as did Jared Goff.
  • Nelson and Jackson also lead the Lions offensive players in total snaps for the season, both having played 545 of a possible 547 snaps. Sewell, Vaitai, and Goff are right behind those two with 541 snaps played.
  • Detroit's snap leaders at wide receiver against Philadelphia were as follows: Kalif Raymond (49), Trinity Benson (45), and Amon St. Brown (45). For the 2021 season, Detroit's top wide receivers in terms of snap count are Raymond (412), St. Brown (355), Quintez Cephus (212), Benson (183), and KhaDarel Hodge (158).
  • Jamaal Williams has missed one game this year, but he trails D'Andre Swift in snap count 381 to 167. Swift has run 210 pass routes compared to 60 for Williams, but Swift only has 19 more carries.
  • Detroit's offense generally plays at a fast pace. Only four teams are snapping the ball per minute of play more than the Lions.

Special teams

  • As a team, Detroit is averaging 50.4 yards per punt, which is third in the NFL. The Steelers average just 43.9. Only four teams are worse than Pittsburgh. In terms of net average punt yardage, the Lions are first in the league. The Steelers are 24th.
  • The Lions punt returners are producing .7 more yards per attempt than Detroit is allowing. The same is true in the Lions favor on kickoff returns, where they have a 4.3 yards advantage over their opponents.

The Advanced Scout Podcast

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Matt's Most Memorable Moment: November 26, 1998: Lions 19, Steelers 16 (OT)

This is the famous "Coin Toss Game". With the entire country watching on Thanksgiving Day, the Steelers fell in Detroit after referee Phil Luckett asked Jerome Bettis to call the overtime coin flip in the air. Bettis called "Tails", Luckett thought he called "Heads", the coin came up tails, Detroit took the football and proceeded to drive down the field and kick a Jason Hanson field goal for the win. This game was a field goal fest with the Steelers only touchdown coming on a Kordell Stewart touchdown pass to Will Blackwell. Detroit's lone touchdown was a 21-yard touchdown reception by Herman Moore…thrown by Charlie Batch. Pittsburgh came into that game with a 7-4 record while the Lions were at 4-7. The rest of the 1998 season didn't go so well for the Steelers, as Bill Cowher's squad finished the year at 7-9.

Facts from NFL Research

  • The Steelers are 13-2 vs the Lions in the Super Bowl era; 0-2 on Thanksgiving, 13-0 in all other games.
  • The Steelers have won their last 5 matchups vs opponents off a bye week, including a 20-15 win in Week 8, 2017 at Detroit.
  • Ben Roethlisberger is 4-0 against the Lions in his career; 1 of 3 teams he is undefeated against.
  • The Lions have allowed the 2nd-most points per game in the NFL this season (30.5).
  • D'Andre Swift and Najee Harris lead all running backs in receptions this season.
  • T.J. Watt's 6.0 pct sack rate this season is the highest since 2016, minimum of 150 pass rushes.
  • Watt's next closest in his career was 3.4% in 2020.

Key Matchups

  • Lions TE TJ Hockenson vs. Steelers SAF Terrell Edmunds-The Steelers are allowing 7.9 yards per target to tight end. That ranks 22nd in the league and Cole Kmet just racked up 87 yards on six catches against Pittsburgh on Monday night. Hockenson is already an excellent tight end that is heavily targeted every week. And he is only getting better. Limiting the damage Hockenson will do doesn't fall entirely on Edmunds, but Pittsburgh has used their strong safety quite a bit on opposing tight ends over the last few years. That being said, expect the Steelers to vary their coverages and get a lot of bodies near Hockenson.
  • Steelers Interior Offensive Line vs. Lions Defensive Tackles-Pittsburgh's interior offensive line, most notably Kendrick Green, struggled on Monday night against the Bears powerful interior defensive tackles. We know the Steelers want to run the ball up the middle with Najee Harris. They must do a better job getting movement this week against a variety of Lions defensive tackles. Michael Brockers is an accomplished interior force but keep an eye on Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeal. After selecting Penei Sewell with the seventh overall pick in this past draft, Detroit doubled down on defensive tackles Onwuzurike and McNeal with their next two selections. Those two rookies show a lot of promise.