The Steelers Week 8 win over the Lions at Ford Field was not one of those perfect victories.
Think back to the game vs. the Colts at Heinz Field, wearing the bumble bee uniforms, when Ben Roethlisberger threw for over 500 yards and six touchdowns.
Think back to the 2016 win over the Chiefs at Heinz Field when the team demolished the Chiefs 42-14 as Le’Veon Bell carved up the Kansas City defense.
Those were some of those perfect victories. Where very little goes wrong, and almost everything goes right.
With that said, the Sunday Night Football game in Week 8 was not one of those wins. The offense struggled to put points on the board, again, and turning the football over was a bad trend. The defense gave up a ton of yards to Matthew Stafford, but buckled down when it mattered most in the red-zone.
Either way you look at it, a win is a win, but this wasn’t easy.
Some might call this win gritty, but no matter what adjective you use to describe the win, if you are looking for a reason why the team was successful vs. the Lions, you can start the conversation with 3rd downs.
The Steelers’ offense has struggled mightily on 3rd downs this season, rarely ever touching the .500 mark on those key conversion downs. On Sunday night the team was 7-for-14, and not only did they hit the .500 mark on 3rd downs, but several key plays, including two big pass completions to JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown, came on 3rd down.
Conversely, the Steelers defense stood tall on third downs vs. the Lions offense. Throughout the game, the team surrendered just 2 first downs out of the 12 attempted, for a stingy 17-percent success rate.
These plays, both offensively and defensively, are key to the successes, and failures, of a football team throughout a game. Convert on half, or more, of your third downs offensively and you keep the chains moving, as you will eventually dominate the time of possession. On defense, give your offense the ball back by forcing the opposition to punt more than they convert, and you will get extra possessions for your offense.
There were a lot of reasons why the Steelers beat the Lions in Week 8, but you can certainly put the team’s third down success near the top of the list.