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Pregame stretch:
Lions vs. Steelers

November 15, 2013 - Ray Eckenrode

Detroit Lions (6-3) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-6)
Sunday, 1 p.m. EST, FOX

Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Brian Billick and Laura Okim
Annoyance factor: Debatable. We get our first look at a Fox crew this season and it’s their rising #3 team, complete with sideline reporter Okim. Billick gets less annoying each year removed from his Ravens gig and seems to have found some chemistry with Brennaman. Most of Okim’s press involves her fake tannitude, but we’re keeping an open mind on her ability to add to our enjoyment of the game.
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Weather – or not?: Couldy, warm, 60 percent chance of showers, low 60s. We're at the point in the year when significant rain would significantly impact footing at Heinz Field.
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Referee: Walt Anderson
Competence factor: Confusing. This is Walt Anderson, the dentists from Texas, not Walt Coleman, the cow man from Arkansas, who did that Patriots debacle. Anderson had the white hat for the Steelers most-recent Super Bowl appearance. He and his crew are eighth in the league this year with 110.6 yard per game in penalties. They lead the league in illegal formation penalties and also call a fair amount of roughness fouls.
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How they rank
Detroit offense: 3rd passing, 21st rushing
Pittsburgh offense: 11th passing, 27th rushing
Detroit defense: 7th rushing, 27th passing
Pittsburgh defense: 29th rushing, 5th passing

The line: Detroit -1.5
Smarts say: The Lions opened as a 3-point favorite here so the public money push is back behind the Steelers. The over/under of 48 is the highest of the year for a Pittsburgh game and would mean something like Lions 24-23. With the low-scoring affair last week, six of nine Steelers games this season have come in under the O/U line.
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Key matchup:
David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams vs. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley
Because: The Steelers formula for winning this game includes pressuring Matt Stafford on defense and controlling the clock by running the football offensively. If that’s to happen, it means Pittsburgh’s young and improving right side, including “extra tackle” Adams, has to neutralize Detroit’s highly touted interior linemen. For his part, DeCastro is starting to look like the perennial All Pro the Steelers thought they were drafting and Gilbert and Adams have both always been better run blockers than pass protectors. See if you can train your eyes early to hang with these matchups. They could tell you early who’s going to win this game.

Long snap:
Almost a full week later, and there are still media people, mostly local Pittsburgh types, who are inaccurately recounting what was reported by Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network in regards to Ben Roethlisberger.
Part of the dynamic behind that is a “feud” that develops in every NFL city between the local beat reporters, who cover the team every week, and the hired national guns, who they perceive as swooping in occasionally for “big” stories. When the local guys get an opportunity to jab the national guys, they jump all over it, even if it means not exactly being accurate.
But that doesn’t leave the national reporting off the hook in this instance. Part of the issue here is that the NFL Network and Rapoport took a “no duh” story and gave it all the trappings of a huge scoop, which certainly contributed to it being overblown and misconstrued. This all led to a weeklong debate on that WASN’T actually reported instead of an honest assessment of what was reported.
So, one more time for posterity, here’s what was reported:
> Ben Roethlisberger is incredibly frustrated with direction of the team’s offense;
> A “Steelers source” expects Roethlisberger to seek a trade;
> The same source expects the Steelers will field trade offers;
> At least one team contacted Pittsburgh last April about a potential trade.
Here’s our reaction to those four statements:
> Duh.
> Virtually worthless information without the context of who the source is.
> Duh.
> Dun.
On the actual subject of trading Ben Roethlisberger, this is our position: If Pittsburgh has an opportunity to draft a player they believe is a franchise quarterback, they would crazy NOT TO CONSIDER trading Ben Roethlisberger to help fill the plethora of needs the team has. Without a clear path to a replacement they believe is a franchise quarterback, they would be crazy TO CONSIDER trading him.
Yes, there is a significant cap hit involved in trading Roethlisberger, but keep in mind that signing and drafting a franchise QB is not as expensive a proposition as it once was with the rookie salary scale. The last two No. 1 QBs (Cam Newton and Andrew Luck) signed 4-year, $22 million contracts compared to Sam Bradford’s pre-cap 6-year, $78 million deal.
Thursday night, Mike Silver of the NFL Network reported that the Steelers want Roethlisberger to become more studious. Again, that’s a no brainer, and it’s not a matter of preference, it’s a matter of age and investment.
Roethlisberger is 31. How many more years can he survive as a ramblin’, scramblin’ out-of-the-pocket behemoth? Two? Maybe three?
If you were getting ready to invest $11 or $12 million per year in such a player for a six- or seven-year term, wouldn’t you want to make sure you were going to get value for your money for the whole term of the contract?

Quick hits:
+ As much as it pains us to discuss and as unfathomable as it might seem, the Steelers are this close to being back in the AFC North Division race: Beat the Lions Sunday and hope the Browns beat the Bengals. If those two things happen, there’s a pretty decent chance the division leader will have a 6-6 record after Week 13. For Pittsburgh to have a 6-6 record after Week 13 would require beating the Lions and then the Browns and Ravens on the road. Unlikely? Yes, but stranger things have happened.
+ Speaking of stranger things: The Steelers and Ravens are both 5-9 in their last 14 regular season games, spanning 2012 and 2013. The Ravens, of course, sandwiched a four-game postseason winning streak and Super Bowl title between those two seasons.

The pick: The most obvious statistical mismatch in last week’s Steelers game – the Bills rushing offense vs. Pittsburgh’s run defense – went completely against what the statistics projected would happen, which provides a reminder about the NFL: It’s about talent matchups, not necessarily statistical trends. So when looking at this game, let’s consider each side’s primary talent. That’d be Calvin Johnson and Ben Roethlisberger. Whichever defense does the best job of neutralizing the other team’s X factor likely will win here. We think scheme is the key to neutralizing Roethlisberger, while talent is the key to neutralizing Megatron (meaning either you cover him or your blitz the quarterback and keep him from getting the ball out). We’re not sure the Steelers are equipped to pull either of those off for four quarters ... Lions 24-20.
Last week: When the Steelers defied logic (and statistics) and stuffed the Bills run, they also stuffed our two-game hot streak, leaving us at 4-5 straight up and 5-4 against the spread.

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