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Pregame Zone Blitz: Steelers at Lions

The Lions got off the schnide in Week 3 with a big win over Washington. Then they hopped right back on via a thorough whipping at the hands of Chicago in Week 4. New Look Lions? Maybe not so much, but former Titans defensive coordinator, now Lions head coach, Jim Schwartz has them going in the right direction. (Just look at what happened to Tennessee since he left) He's got a strong ex-Steeler, a multi-faceted defensive end and a promising quarterback. The PZB has nickname ideas, a look at our opponent's preparation and The Big Legursky.

Here's what our opponents are saying.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Pride of Detroit writer Sean Yuille gives a run-down of team notes, including an interesting tidbit about Bears WR Johnny Knox's controversial touchdown in Week 4 (he also calls for Tigers manager Jim Leyland's job. Ouch. Don't ever count the Twins out, Sean).

Pride of Detroit is breaking down Detroit's Red Zone efficiency, sponsored by Comcast's Red Zone Channel.

Fans posting on Detroit Lions aren't exactly optimistic with their chances Sunday.

The versatile DE/OLB Julian Peterson is studying, says Detroit Free Press writer Nicholas J. Cotsonika.

Ford Field is officially sold out for Sunday's game, which obviously means the Steelers are coming to town.

Last Game

"We never make it easy, it seems." - Willie Colon

What's easy? Almost entirely shutting down one of the better offenses in the game? The league's 27th-ranked rushing offense exploding for 177 yards? The fact the offense ran 73 plays to San Diego's 47? The fact Pittsburgh won the time of possession battle 40:20 to 19:40?

I could go on...5-for-5 in the Red Zone, 4.9 yards per carry, 8-for-12 on third downs...So Stefan "Joystick" Logan had a ball ripped out of his hands when the play should have been blown dead, and there's some work to do on potential onside kick situations. Other than that, it was as solid of a three-phase effort as Pittsburgh has shown over the past two seasons. As Coach Tomlin often says, they don't give out style points. Even if we insist on the idea of "closing teams out," 2-2 sounds a helluva lot better than 35-7 does.

Opponent Spotlight: LB Larry Foote

"We all know that (Foote's) a top-quality player and person, high character guy and great leader for those guys." - Mike Tomlin

I was at McGovern's in St. Paul, chomping on a brat at the Steelers Fans of Minnesota's annual pregame picnic in Week 2. The Vikings were playing the Lions, and a few of the purple faithful who invaded our bar took exception to the cheering from my table after former Steelers LB make a tackle for a loss, and did his Stomp Out routine.

Usually, the Steelers who leave Pittsburgh don't leave under the best circumstances. Joey Porter was ticked at the franchise for their lack of desire to give him $20 million guaranteed. Plaxico Burress was no different.

If Week 5's game was in Pittsburgh, I get the feeling Larry Foote would receive a boisterous ovation. A fourth round pick in 2002 - arguably GM Kevin Colbert's best all-around draft - and became a keystone of a foundation that won two Super Bowls. Probably not surprising to anyone, he leads the Lions in tackles through four games. While it probably comes as a shock to most people, Foote is leading a defensive unit that is aggressive, physical and what's worse for the Steelers, is growing in confidence.

They haven't quite learned how to put it together for an entire game, but in stretches, they've looked quite imposing.

Physical, confident, imposing...that certainly sounds like Larry Foote. If James Harrison and Troy Polamalu were the heart and soul of the Steelers defense in their most recent Super Bowl championship season, Foote was the mouth.

His teammates say they miss him. I'm sure the fans do as well. For the team, he's one of the guys who does things the right way. For the fans, he's a fearless, emotional sparkplug. I'll admit it, I'll be cheering the same way for him Sunday as I have since 2002.

He's a Steeler for life.

Steelers Spotlight: Rashard Mendenhall

"He had a good week's practice. I'm not going to take any credit for that." - Mike Tomlin, on Rashard Mendenhall

Whether we call him "Delicious," or "Runnin' Hard Rashard" or just "Mendy," Rashard Mendenhall's introduction to high production party Sunday night was a thing of beauty. Forget San Diego's suspect defense, the level of run blocking oftentimes is keyed off how hard the running back is playing. In turn, the running back is running as hard as the hogs up front are blocking.

Both were clearly dominant, and it was a joy to watch.

While he's holding down the fort in Willie Parker's absence, the offensive line will enter Week 5 with a large amount of confidence. Coming off their most dominant performance of the season, it gives them a week reprieve from the slings and arrows usually associated with their production. It wasn't that Parker didn't get the same level of effort, it's that Mendenhall had the same sizeable monkey firmly planted on his shoulder as each member of the line did. They clearly were taken to task the week before the Chargers game, and Mendenhall broke out of the gate, and neither he nor the line ever looked back. He was decisive, sharp and powerful.

Detroit isn't exactly going to take Pittsburgh to the shed defensively. All signs point to Mendenhall making his second start of the season, and the Steelers should use it as an opportunity to grow even stronger in the run game.

I See You

I see you, Doug Legursky. I see you, because according to Coach Tomlin, the decision to put you in at fullback on goal line situations against San Diego was more spontaneous than anything, and it was made largely due to the fact you made yourself available to do it. However you can get yourself on the field, whatever role you can fill, right? Fill that role, you certainly did. With FB Frank Summers regulated to the IR, and H-back/TE David Johnson out with an ankle injury, you blew out a hole at the goal line for Rashard Mendenhall - one of his two touchdowns on the game - and helped supplant confidence for anxiety in the Red Zone. Championships are won situation by situation, and the confidence needed to win those championships is built by knowing someone is always willing to fill a role. Credit to Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians for noticing all value in each player, and trusting their back-up center's athletic ability enough to know he can move fast enough to lead the glory back to paydirt. But more than anything, credit to "The Big Legursky," we needed the confidence boost.

Key Stats

  • Pittsburgh has beaten Detroit in two of their last three meetings dating back to 1998. That game is memorable to Steelers fans...something about a coin toss.
  • The last time the Steelers played at Ford Field, they defeated Seattle 21-10 to win Super Bowl XL.
  • James Harrison's two sacks against San Diego gives him 31.5 in his career, moving him to 8th all-time in Steelers history, just above Mike Merriweather and Chad Brown (31).
  • Detroit is surrendering 6.2 yards per play, the highest in the NFL.

Quick Hitters

Pittsburgh, Philly, Boston, In That Order: Congratulations to Pittsburgh, being named the top sports city in the U.S. and Canada, by The Sporting News. Both myself and site publisher Blitzburgh lived in Philadelphia, and we can both attest to the maniacal sports following of that town. To be considered an overall better sports market is quite the achievement.

Get Your Roll On: While Lions coach Jim Schwartz seems to want to make it a surprise, Lions rookie QB Matthew Stafford hasn't been officially held out of Sunday's game. At this point, its likely veteran Daunte Culpepper will get his first start of the season. This is the same Culpepper who turned down the Steelers' offer to back-up Ben Roethlisberger (a job that eventually went to Byron Leftwich) because he wanted the chance to start. Probably a very unwise move by Culpepper and his agent (they're the same person). Then again, this is the same quarterback who was part of the "Floating Orgy" with the Vikings in 2005. Along with the agent/player relationship he has with himself, my favorite part of the confused Culpepper is the way he calls a huddle together. Here's a game for you, count how many times Culpepper interlocks his fingers with his arms over his head, the universal signal to call a huddle, over the game. Bonus points given to the confusion on his face, or if he's the last one to join the huddle, which has already formed without him.

Woodley the Scribe: Nod to Surag for pointing this one out, but it seems Steelers OLB LaMarr Woodley has found a way to help bolster his salary. Per the editor's note at the start of his article, Woodley will bewriting for Sports Illustrated off and on this season. Good for him, it's good exposure, and it seems our pass-rushing monster can string a sentence or two together. His main point of contention, of course, is the league's protection of quarterbacks, and offensive players in general. At the risk of swinging at this softball myself, I thought Jason Whitlock makes an excellent point, "Why can't there be a 5-yard running-into-the-Brady call and a 15-yard roughing-the-Brady call?" The need to protect the cornerstone franchise player is inherent; the league can make the penalty far less severe as to not damage the integrity of the game being played. Then again, any penalty that hurts the Ravens seems ok to me.