Steelers offensive line ready to rumble against Lions
The Steelers have seen enough film to know that Detroit's defensive front is tough, intimidating and often crosses that sometimes-blurred line between clean and dirty play.
The Steelers' offensive linemen, most of whom have spent time this week in the infirmary, insist they are mentally prepared to deal with defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, a self-proclaimed bad boy.
Suh undoubtedly is the face of the Lions defense. However, he hardly is its sole agitator.
On Thursday, the league concluded Lions defensive linemen Nick Fairley and Willie Young stepped over the line in their win over Chicago. They were fined $15,750 each for separate hits on quarterback Josh McCown.
“I think it's the way they're coached up,” tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “We have to keep (quarterback) Ben (Roethlisberger) clean, because the cheap shots can take a toll.
“We're not going to cry about any cheap shots. We have to punish them and defeat their will. We can't retaliate, but we have to continue to punish them in a clean way.”
When asked by the Detroit News if he'll let up because of the fines, Young said, “No.”
The Steelers will take the field at Heinz Field on Sunday knowing those fines probably will not deter a Lions defense that knows the key to crippling the Steelers' offense is to wear down an already banged-up offensive line — a tactic that could Roethlisberger increasingly vulnerable.
“We have to exceed their intensity,” left tackle Kelvin Beachum said. “We recognize what we have to face this week.”
While Suh kept it clean in Chicago, Roethlisberger will be aware of his presence, if only psychologically.
“Obviously, he has gotten penalties in the past and has been fined and things like that,” Roethlisberger said. “I've never had a chance to play against him.”
The Steelers' offensive front hopes Roethlisberger can stay clear of Suh. The Lions haven't pressured the quarterback much this season — their 15 sacks rank 29th in the NFL — but they are in the habit of delivering borderline blows to get the quarterback's attention.
“They play very aggressive football, but we can't let the stuff they do take us out of our game,” center Fernando Velasco said. “It's going to be a challenge, but we'll be ready come Sunday.”
Velasco said the Steelers' oft-injured offensive line won't be intimidated. And they won't complain to officials even if the Lions' skirt the rules.
“Teams have been doing this stuff for years, so you have to stay even keel,” Velasco said. “They want you to think about extra stuff to take your focus off your assignments.”
Perhaps the most important challenge falls on guard David DeCastro. He'll be primarily responsible for keeping Suh clear of Roethlisberger on passing downs.
Suh, though, will move from defensive tackle to defensive end, so the entire offensive line probably will get a piece of him during the course of the game.
“It'll be a little bit of all of us,” Velasco said. “Wherever he ends up, we have to make sure he gets blocked.
“We know if we give (Roethlisberger) time, he's going to make plays for us. He can make it happen. Our only job on Sunday is to keep him standing.”
If Le'Veon Bell can run as he did against Buffalo, it might buy Roethlisberger the time he'll need to challenge Detroit's secondary, which is ranked 27th against the pass, giving up an average of 275.6 yards per game.
“Everybody knows at some point they're going to have Suh on top of them,” Beachum said. “He does a great job with his hands.
“We know that as offensive linemen, the game will become easier for us if we run the ball effectively. We have to make them change their game plan. We can't let the rest of their defense feed off their defensive front.”