Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports
I completely understand why the upcoming matchup between Ike Taylor and Calvin “Megatron” Johnson has garnered many headlines this week. Taylor is without a doubt Pittsburgh’s best cornerback, has done a fantastic job against many teams’ “number one” pass-catchers throughout his 10 years in the league, and even limited Johnson to only one catch for two yards the first and only time Johnson faced the Steelers back in 2009.
Johnson has established himself as arguably the greatest wide receiver in the league since Jerry Rice retired, is the focal-point of Detroit’s passing game, and possesses a size and speed combination which makes him a matchup nightmare for any defense to face. Stopping Johnson will be Pittsburgh’s biggest priority on Sunday afternoon, and containing him with Taylor or the veteran and some over-the-top help or bracketed coverage will be an absolute must.
I just hope that containing Johnson isn’t the only thing on the defense’s minds this weekend. To emerge victorious over the 6-3 Lions, Pittsburgh’s run defense must turn in another solid effort and find ways to keep Detroit’s running game from gashing them as well.
Although the Jahvid Best-experiment did not work out for the Lions, Reggie Bush has performed more than capably for Detroit since he was signed as a free agent to help their anemic running game this spring.
Currently, Bush ranks ninth in the league in rushing yards (623) and seventh in yards per carry (4.7). While the former USC Trojan and backup Joique Bell (277 yards and four touchdowns) have been helped immensely by the threat which Detroit’s passing game presents, Pittsburgh should be wary about taking too many of their defenders out of the box with the way that their run defense has performed so far this fall.
Now I know that the Steelers’ defense shut down the Bills’ stout rushing attack last weekend to the tune of 95 yards. Yet with EJ Manuel as a non-factor in the passing game and in his first game back in over a month since his knee injury, the Steelers were able to stack the box and limit the effectiveness of Buffalo’s ground-attack (they still gained 4.2 yards per carry).
Remember readers, Pittsburgh’s defense still ranks 29th in rushing yards per game allowed (127.2) and have been absolutely dominated at the point of attack in each of their six losses. The Steelers have allowed 100 rushing yards in six of their nine games, no less than 82 in their other three, and 197 to the Raiders and Patriots in back-to-back weeks. So while they looked much improved against the Bills, they are far from the dominating unit they have been in years past and are still liable to disaster-like days when it comes to defending the run.
Although the Steelers must prioritize to neutralize the league’s third best passing offense (307 yards per game) led by Stafford and Johnson at bay this weekend, they cannot sleep on Bush and Detroit’s ground attack. Extra personnel will likely have to be dedicated to stopping the pass, so Pittsburgh’s front-seven must step up to limit the damage done by Bush, Bell, and the Lions’ offensive line.
While I am sure that Stafford would love for nothing more than to go to his security blanket in the form of Johnson, I am sure that he understands the type of success which his ground attack could have if Pittsburgh’s defense starts moving guys away from the line of scrimmage or bringing in defensive backs to stifle his passing attack.
Will “Detroit’s running game vs. Pittsburgh’s run defense” be the marquee or most intriguing matchup to watch this Sunday? No. Yet does it have the potential to swing the outcome of the game in either team’s direction? Absolutely.
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