Kent Lee Platte, DLD Writer
I’ve been doing these Six Hidden Matchup pieces for most of the season and I’ve gotta say, I don’t think I’ve ever called one as closely as I did against Dallas. Slay coming off the bench was a disaster, the Bears Safeties actually played well in coverage (But poorly enough in run D for it to matter), the Lions RBs ran up the gut on the Bears putting their LBs in poor situations with regularity, and LaAdrian Waddle looks like a long term solution at RT.
This week is a little bit tricky, since the Steelers are such a weak team in so many areas, as most of the match ups are right there on the surface. Bare for anyone to see. Lions terrifying pass rush vs. the Steelers awful pass protection and ball hog QB. Leveon Bell vs. DeAndre Levy/Stephen Tulloch and co., or Reggie Bush vs. the Steelers porous run defense. Calvin Johnson vs. whichever three guys the Steelers try to stop him with. There are some good under the radar matchups we Lions fans have to look forward to, however, and that’s what I’m here to deliver!
Jerricho Cotchery vs. Lions Secondary
Wo, wo, wo. Antonio Brown? Emmanuel Sanders? I know Heath Miller is in a slump, but really? Jericho Cotchery? This isn’t 2007! Yes, outside that one season with the Jets in what seems like forever ago (Anything pre-2009 is ancient history for Lions fans), Cotchery has been a vision of mediocrity, which is fine; the league needs guys who can play with longevity in certain roles. Only, the Steelers found a new role for him this season and the veteran has embraced it. The Lions cornerbacks actually match up fairly well against Brown and Sanders, who are shiftier, speedy receivers, but Cotchery is a tougher match up. Making matters worse, the Lions will again be without Bill Bentley, who has been one of the bright spots in the secondary shutting down slot receivers and #3 guys. Don Carey is an able replacement in bursts, but I’m not confident in him over the course of a whole game, and Roethlisberger is no Josh McCown. Cotchery has almost the same percentage of team receiving touchdowns (46%) as Calvin Johnson (47%).
Ben Roethlisberger’s Feet vs. the Lions Pass Rush
Yes, I know I mentioned the OL in the beginning, but this is a little different. The Lions pass rush has no business losing out to the Steelers’ Oline, so I’m operating under the assumption it will be a positive day for the Lions Defensive front, if not an all out massacre. What’s next? Obviously, taking down one of the hardest QBs in the league to take down. When the Lions have generated a pass rush, they have rarely hit home this season and that should change against the Steelers. Roethlisberger is the wild card; however, as he always seems to keep his feet no matter how many hits he takes. Can the Lions take advantage of the Steelers O-line woes? I should think so. Can they take down the big man without letting him get the ball out of his hands? That’s another question entirely, and one I’m not as sure about.
The Lions vs. History
The Lions made history defeating the Redskins this season for the first time ever. This one isn’t ever, but think on this: Dick Lebeau, long time Defensive Coordinator for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Hall of Fame Defensive Back for the Lions, hadn’t played a single down of COLLEGE football the last time the Lions won in Pittsburgh. Will the Lions break tradition once again and win somewhere they practically never have? Making matters worse, the Steelers have an obscene record against NFC opponents at Heinz Field. It’s not fate, but here’s another nugget for you. Matthew Stafford will pass Bobby Layne as the Lions all time passing yardage leader against the Steelers. Bobby Layne was the QB who won in Pittsburgh all those years ago. He was traded to the Steelers. Is it fate? Destiny? Coincidence? Whatever it is, the Lions have been on a tear in breaking bad records, it’s not time to stop now!
Dick Lebeau vs. Scott Linehan
As poor as the Steelers’ defense has been this season, you can never count the Hall of Famer out. He always seems to have a few tricks up his sleeve, and this game will likely be no different. As hard as teams have tried, it is impossible to stop Calvin Johnson, but I’m sure that if anyone can come up with a plan to limit him, it will be Lebeau. Working against the genius will be Scott Linehan, who has had his share of rightful criticism for his generally vanilla playcalling this season. Few have been as big of critics as I have of Linehan, but I give credit where it is due and he deserves to be mentioned for some of the wrinkles he has put in the Lions offense this season to get Calvin Johnson open and exploit the times he is not. Will it be enough? The talent scales tip heavily in the Lions favor in this game, but will the coaching tip in the Lions favor as well?
Joseph Fauria vs. the Sun
After tearing up the NFL as a statistical anomaly, the talented receiving Tight End has seen his play and his playing time level off substantially. One thing that I noticed against both Washington and again against the Bears, is that Fauria sometimes loses the ball in the air. In both of those cases, the sun was shining brightly in an outdoor field, and he hasn’t chosen to wear a tinted visor just yet. It could be a number of factors, but the sun is the most likely from what I’ve seen from those particular plays.
Heinz Field is uncovered and I haven’t checked the weather, but the Lions need their red zone targets on point in every game. Whether it was the sun, jitters, the route he was running, or whatever, you have to be more reliable than he has been in recent weeks. I’ve been a huge fan of Big Joe, so I’m hoping he sorts it out more than most, but watching those TD numbers tick upwards will make every Lions fan happy!
Math vs. More Math
You know, there really weren’t that many hidden match ups in this one. So here’s some interesting math instead!
5, the number of interceptions this season for DeAndre Levy…and the entire Pittsburgh Steelers defense.
+5, the ratio of Sacks vs. Sacks allowed for the Detroit Lions.
-20, the ratio of Sacks vs. Sacks allowed for the Pittsburgh Steelers
7, the number of drops for Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson…each
8, the combined number of rushing TDs for any RBs named Bell (Leveon and Joique)
2, the combined number of rushing TDs for any RB not named Bell (Both are Reggie Bush)
0, Steelers wins against NFC opponents this season (Bears and Vikings)
1, Lions Offensive or Defensive Line starters who missed practice due to injury this week (Ansah)
6, Steelers Offensive or Defensive Line starters who missed practice due to injury this week (Keisel, All five OL starters)
2, Number of practices Calvin Johnson missed this week
2, Near heart attacks by every Lions fan who read that Calvin Johnson missed two practices this week
2.4, the YPC the Lions have allowed RBs to rush against them the past three games
0, TDs from opposing RBs the past three weeks.
11, the longest run the Lions have allowed the past three weeks
3.8 YPC, 2 TDs, and 30 LNG, the Steelers stats in those three areas the past three weeks