By Christina Rivers
On Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers (3-6) will face-off against the Detroit Lions (6-3) in a game many are predicting to be owned by Calvin Johnson and a oft-penalized Lions rough-and-tumble defense. The Steelers aren’t ready to roll over, however. When asked about how other defenses have done against Johnson this season, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said, “Get the quarterback on the ground before he can throw it. That works pretty well against all passes.” The best guess is that the Steelers will use a defensive scheme that will allow them an extra defensive back. On offense, it is the patchwork offensive line that continues to be a concern.
Wearing their 1934 season throwback uniforms, the Steelers are keeping an eye on injured players and two big defensive names came up as waiting on a ‘game-day’ decision on whether they will play or not: defensive end Brett Keisel (foot) and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf). Both players missed their third consecutive day of practice on Friday.
“I think I’m gonna go,” said Keisel. “It gets better every day, so Sunday it should feel good.”
Woodley said he would use two days to see if he could become available. “I have until 11:30 (a.m.) on Sunday…Got plenty of time to test it,” said Woodley. “My biggest test is going to be Sunday morning. We’ll see then.” LeBeau verified that if Woodley is a ‘no-go’ on Sunday, rookie Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds will step in at outside linebacker.
Left guard Ramon Foster missed his third consecutive day of practice with an ankle injury, giving backup lineman Guy Whimper practice with the first squad this week.
“I prepare every week like I’m up,” said Whimper.
Three offensive tackles, Kelvin Beachum (hip), Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and Mike Adams (ribs), are struggling to stay healthy, but Adams was a full participant all week in practice. Questions about Adam’s performance cropped up in the press conference with Haley and LeBeau.
Haley said, “He had a couple different ways he could handle (time out of the linup), either in a positive manner or a negative manner. I think he’s done nothing but keep a positive mindset and taken on this role of playing some tight end and doing the best job that he can…and he has.”
Center Fernando Velasco is hampered by a bad knee and guard David DeCastro an ankle. The injuries aren’t too different from what the offensive line has faced during nearly the entire 2013 season.
Haley said that the Steelers offense will come out “fairly balanced” to begin the game and want to keep that momentum throughout.
“I think (balance) will always be an advantage to us,” said Haley, “but at the same time we’ve got to score points.”
He noted that the Lions have a “prolific offense”, but that the Steelers will have to do everything they can to get the ball into the end zone. When questioned about Roethlisberger and his relationship, and how the offense has reacted to losses and missed opportunities, Haley said, “I think we’ve been on the cusp of being a pretty efficient, good offense, even with some adversity and moving parts. We just have to put a complete game together.”
LeBeau took some ribbing during the conference with the press. After being questioned about Johnson, nicknamed ‘Megatron’, LeBeau admitted, “(Johnson’s) as good as you get…He’s a challenge. We are looking forward to the challenge.” When asked against how to play Johnson, LeBeau said, “To play good pass defense, you have to keep good position, get pressure on the quarterback and you have to take good angles.”
LeBeau pointed out that there isn’t any magical coverage scheme to stop the Lions from hitting Johnson, but pointed out that plays will have to made on him as well as the rest of the Detroit offense. Perhaps the greatest moment of the presser came when LeBeau was asked if he could have “shut down” Johnson in his days in the NFL, to which LeBeau responded, “I would have asked for cover-two and rolled up on him. Let the safety have him over the top.”
Whether that alludes to a defensive plan for the Steelers or not will remain a mystery until Sunday.
Official injury report
- S Shamarko Thomas (ankle)
- OLB LaMarr Woodley (calf)
- DE Brett Keisel (foot)
- OT Mike Adams (ribs)
- OT Marcus Gilbert (ankle)
- OG Kelvin Beachum (hip)
- OG David DeCastro (ankle)
- TE Heath Miller (not injury related)
- C/G Fernando Velasco (thigh)
For more Steelers news and updates, visit Steelers Central.
Christina Rivers has covered the Pittsburgh Steelers and National Football League professionally as a reporter and photographer for over a decade. Rivers studied exercise physiology and sports psychology at Brigham Young University as a student-athlete. Christina is a freelance writer covering all things NFL. Her work can be found on