The Pittsburgh Steelers visit the Detroit Lions in Week 8 of the 2017 NFL season. PFF previews the top player matchups of the game.
Coverage by: Mike Manning
Matchup: Pittsburgh Steelers offense versus Detroit Lions defense
- WR Antonio Brown vs. CB Darius Slay – The always reliable Brown has yet to drop one of his 52 catchable passes this season but his passer rating of 82.6 when being targeted would be a career low for the Steelers’ wide receiver. A season after leading the league in deep (20 or more yards downfield) receiving touchdowns, Brown has yet to catch one this season, even with his deep target percentage at a career high of 25 percent. Slay may be a matchup that Brown can take advantage of deep, two of Slay’s three touchdowns allowed have come on deep passes this season. The Lions’ corner back has shadowed an opponents’ No. 1 receiver in four of the six games in 2017, allowing no more than 56 yards in any of those games. A matchup with Brown, the highest-graded receiver in the league at 93.4, would seem like a prime opportunity for Slay to shadow again.
- WR JuJu Smith-Schuster vs. CB Quandre Diggs – Smith-Schuster, the youngest player in the league, has earned a game grade of 70 or higher in three of the past four weeks. That’s a claim that only Smith-Schuster and Brown can make in the Steeler’s receiving corps. He’s shown his consistency by being targeted at least three times every week since his first game action in Week 2. The rookie has made a living between the numbers, as 58.5 percent of his targets have in the middle of the field. He leads the Steelers in routes run from the slot which means he will be seeing a lot of Diggs across from him. Diggs has covered the slot receiver in 150 of his 156 coverage snaps this season entering Week 8. He has only given up 0.78 yards per coverage snap from the slot, good enough for 10th in the league among cornerbacks, but has also allowed two touchdowns to slot receivers.
- TE Jesse James vs. LB Tahir Whitehead – With Vance McDonald out, Jesse James will be the tight end that the Lions will have to worry about in this game, however maybe they shouldn’t worry too much. James only has 0.78 yards per route run this season, 37th out of 40 qualified tight ends. Whitehead has only allowed a reception every 11.2 coverage snaps in 2017, the sixth-best for a 4-3 outside linebacker. His 75.0 coverage grade is the highest by a Lions linebacker this season.
Coverage by: Brett Whitefield
Matchup: Detroit Lions offense vs. Pittsburgh Steelers defense
- WR Marvin Jones vs. CB Joe Haden – With Golden Tate’s status for this game in limbo, the Lions will likely rely on Jones in the passing game more than ever. Jones has been near average this season, earning an overall grade of 66.1 that ranks 63rd among receivers. Overall, he has been relatively unproductive but has had some success on deep targets, hauling in five of 11 20-plus yard targets for 156 yards and two touchdowns. Jones will likely draw Joe Haden in this matchup, who has performed well with his new team, earning an overall grade of 80.5, the 37th highest grade among 112 qualifying cornerbacks. Despite giving up nearly a 64 percent catch rate, he has been stingy overall, surrendering just 0.77 yards per cover snap. He has done a good job keeping everything in front of him and has allowed just 44 yards after the catch on 14 receptions allowed.
- T Brian Mihalik vs. Edge T.J. Watt – It appears the Lions will be down to their fourth string offensive tackle this week on the left side in Mihalik, who has played just 27 snaps this season. Mihalik relieved both Rick Wagner and Greg Robinson in the Lions’ Week 6 matchup versus the Saints and surrendered four pressures on just 24 pass-block snaps including one brutal sack. In that game, Mihalik earned a pass-block grade of just 27.6, one of the lowest for a tackle this season. He will draw T.J. Watt this game, who has been impressive at times during his rookie season. Watt’s 78.2 overall grade ranks 37th among edge defenders. He has generated a pass-rush productivity of 9.3 on 99 pass-rush snaps. This key matchup could be a deciding factor in the Lions ability to move the ball via the passing game.
- TE Eric Ebron vs. LB Ryan Shazier – With the previously mentioned absence of Golden Tate, the Lions could look to get Ebron more involved in the passing game. Ebron has been disappointing this season so far, earning an overall grade of just 53.6. On a per-snap basis Ebron has not been productive, producing the second lowest yards per route run at 0.62 among 46 tight ends with at least 10 targets. He draws an incredibly tough matchup in Shazier who has been one of the best cover linebackers in the league this season, as he has earned the fifth-ranked coverage grade of 85.9. On 37 targets into his coverage he has been very stingy, allowing a passer rating against of just 74.9 which ranks sixth among 81 qualifiers.