Roethlisberger hopes to rekindle magic in Detroit
Ben Roethlisberger returns to the scene of one of his greatest triumphs on Sunday night. He's hoping that's the place the Pittsburgh Steelers will rediscover how to consistently reach the end zone.
The Steelers, who face the Detroit Lions at Ford Field, have won their last two games despite settling for field goals far too much for Roethlisberger's taste. That's been a season-long problem for Pittsburgh, which ranks 30th in red-zone efficiency. It has scored touchdowns on only 42.3 percent of possessions after reaching the opponent's 20-yard line.
Pittsburgh (5-2) has still managed to build a two-game lead in the AFC North.
"There's a lot of resilience," Roethlisberger said. "The defense is playing really good football. Offense hasn't played up to our potential yet but we're still winning football games. We're doing just enough to get by right now. I'd like to think the last two weeks have been good, positive steps forward for our offense and hopefully we continue that."
Roethlisberger has bounced back from a dreadful five-interception performance against Jacksonville in victories over Kansas City and Cincinnati. He's thrown three touchdown passes while getting picked off only once.
He'll need to be careful against a Lions' defense that's forced 14 turnovers -- third-most in the league -- including nine interceptions.
"They're very opportunistic, a lot of turnovers," Roethlisberger said. "Balls are tipped and they catch them. Doesn't seem like a ball that's in the air ever hits the ground."
Roethlisberger was walking on air early in his career when he won the first of his two Super Bowls at Ford Field. The Steelers defeated Seattle 21-10 on Feb. 5, 2006 during his second season. Roethlisberger, who also won a regular-season game there in November 2009, always gets a special feeling when he sees the building.
"Before the game, it will bring back a lot of great memories and thoughts, walking out there and driving up to the stadium," he said. "But once the game starts, I'm solely focused on this game."
Disgruntled receiver Martavis Bryant has shined an unpleasant spotlight on himself this week. He said Wednesday that he'll be benched Sunday after publicly asking for a trade. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called Bryant's actions "somewhat of a distraction."
"It's OK to want more playing time and want to be a central reason why we're successful, provide you relay that in an appropriate way," Tomlin said. "Social media is not the appropriate way."
Rookie Juju Smith-Schuster will likely start in his place.
The Lions (3-3) lost to Carolina and New Orleans in their last two outings.
"I don't make a whole lot of pronouncements about who's doing what. All I talk about is where we are as a team and right now as a team we're very inconsistent," coach Jim Caldwell said. "We're 3-3 and that's not good enough."
Quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for 312 yards and three touchdowns but was also picked off three times in the 52-38 loss to the Saints. He toughed it out despite suffering hamstring and ankle injuries the previous week against the Panthers.
Detroit's bye week came at a good time for Stafford and his equally battered offensive line.
"I needed to take care of myself physically and mentally refresh, get away for a little bit and think about something other than football for a couple days," Stafford said.
The break also came at a good time for his receiving corps. Top wideout Golden Tate, who's dealing with a shoulder injury, practiced on a limited basis Wednesday. Rookie Kenny Golladay, who missed the last three games with a hamstring issue, also returned to practice.
"Guys had some stuff to take care of, start feeling a little bit better," Stafford said. "Some guys have turned that corner and that will help us. And then from on the field stuff, we've got to go out there and just play sharper. We've got to execute our systems a little bit better and find ways to win games."
Stafford will continue to get beaten up if the running game doesn't perk up. The Lions rank 26th at 84 rushing yards per game. In contrast, Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell, a former Michigan State star, is averaging 97.7 yards.
On the injury front, Lions offensive tackle Greg Robinson (ankle) is a question mark but punter Sam Martin is expected to make his season debut after recovering from an ankle injury.
Offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert (hamstring), tight end Vance McDonald (knee) and defensive end Stephon Tuitt (back) are the Steelers' biggest injury concerns.
Updated October 26, 2017