Labriola on win over Lions

The tip-off to the kind of afternoon it was going to be should've come from the reality that in this mid-November meeting between the Steelers and the Lions it was the Detroit franchise in first place in its division and the Pittsburgh franchise fighting for relevancy.

Now that you've wrapped your mind around that, let's get down to it. Let's get down to explaining Steelers 37, Lions 27.

On a consistently-rainy, sometimes-windy, always wet afternoon, on a grass field that had hosted four football games in a span of 11 days, with one team's offense coming in with an admitted handicap when forced to play the sport outside of its comfy domed stadium and with the other team's offense averaging fewer than two touchdowns a game … of course, it was a shootout. Sixty-four total points, seven touchdowns, six touchdowns by passing, 849 yards of offense, 14 plays of 20-plus yards, 45 first downs.

This Steelers starting offensive line would be the fifth different combination to open a game in front of Ben Roethlisberger, with the changes necessitated by both injuries and poor performance, and it would be lining up opposite a Lions front four that employed three No. 1 draft picks and had accounted for 80 percent of the unit's sacks so far.

So of course, Roethlisberger was sacked only once and generally had sufficient time to make enough plays to convert on third and fourth downs, to get the ball into the end zone four times, to operate in a no-huddle, modified hurry-up offense throughout the entire game. When it was over, Ndamukong Suh had no tackles, no sacks, no pressures, nothing even to put him on the radar of the NFL's fine police.

Trying to explain things from the perspective of the Steelers' defense is no simple matter either.

With LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel both inactive because of injuries, the Lions seemed to have an advantage over a Steelers run defense that had allowed both Oakland and New England to put up 197 on the ground in back-to-back games. With that, and because Matthew Stafford's quick release had prevented him from being sacked on all but 10 of 383 pass attempts coming into the game, Reggie Bush figured to have the kind of day he used to have at USC against Washington State.

Also because of Woodley and Keisel and their combined seven sacks and 37 pressures being inactive, and with the defense's apparent aversion to taking the ball away, the manner in which the Steelers figured to deal with Calvin Johnson was by choking off the down-the-field splash plays and force Matthew Stafford to dink-and-dunk his way down the field.

That wasn't the way things turned out, either. Bush didn't have a run longer than 6 yards, and he averaged 2.6 per carry on an afternoon where he managed all of 54 yards combined rushing and receiving. Johnson, on the other hand, was adding to the legend of Megatron, that physically superior machine-like receiver who does whatever he wants whenever he wants against whomever happens to be unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity. For one half, anyway.

There wasn't much to go according to script last Sunday at Heinz Field, and so the plan now is to abandon any attempt at explaining things. Describing them might be more appropriate.

What the Steelers showed against the Lions was an offense capable of becoming the team's dominant unit, and a defense that finally was more opportunistic than stingy.

This description is precisely what the Steelers need themselves to be through what's left of this 2013 season if they are to avoid a TKO in their ongoing fight for relevancy.

Maybe letting Roethlisberger operate things exclusively from the no-huddle is the way to go, because there was a nice mix of instances where the ball was out of his hand quickly and plays that he extended before getting it to an open receiver. Maybe fast and loose is the best tempo for the defense because it provides more opportunities to make the kind of splash plays that have the best chance of actually impacting the outcome.

It's not the optimum situation for the Steelers to be finished with their 10th game of the regular season and still be involved in the process of finding themselves.

What does offer them some hope though is that what they found in the victory over the Lions can be put to good use.

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