On the Steelers: Wide receiver Brown reaches top echelon


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If Calvin Johnson, the man Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called “the best wide receiver in the game,” is Megatron, what does that make Antonio Brown? Skywarp?

The NFL’s leading receiver will be at Heinz Field Sunday, and that person will not be Johnson. The Detroit Lions’ 6-foot-5 receiver has compiled impressive statistics with 53 receptions and an average of 100 yards and a touchdown a game. But the Steelers’ Brown leads all NFL receivers with 67 catches, although he’s not outwardly celebrating that fact.

“I don’t really give it any thought or dwell in that moment,” Brown said. “I want to continue to better my game and I think I’ll dwell on it when all is said and done.”

Steelers Report: Lions come roaring into Heinz Field

The PG's Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac preview the Steelers' next opponent, the Detroit Lions. The game is Sunday at Heinz Field. (Video by Andrew Rush; 11/14/2013)

Steelers prepare for Detroit, Megatron

Steelers' Antonio Brown, Ryan Clark and Ben Roethlisberger prepare to take on the Lions Sunday at Heinz Field. (Video by Matt Freed; 11/13/2013)

When all is said and done, Brown might own several Steelers receiving records. He is on pace for 1,431 yards and 119 receptions, both of which would be team records. He also returned punts Sunday the way he did in 2011, when he was chosen as the Pro Bowl returner in the AFC — two for 74 yards that set up two scores. His 13.7-yard average on punt returns is second in the AFC.

“I want to just continue to come to work, put it on tape, do what I can to help my team win and that’s being a receiver, a punt-returner — any way I can change the outcome of the game and help this ballclub win. That’s pretty much why I’m here.”

Brown does not have the average per catch (12.0 yards) of Johnson (17.1) nor as many touchdowns (3 to 6), but then he’s seven inches shorter at 5-10.

“I wouldn’t trade anything,” Brown said, but then added, “It would be great to be 6-6.”

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger quickly answered why Brown, a sixth-round draft pick from Central Michigan whom the Steelers signed to a six-year, $43 million contract in 2012, has been so good.

“He’s a hard worker. He is a guy that has great hands. He has great ability to adjust to any throw, bad throws. Did I say he has good hands? He has great hands.

“I’ve never seen anybody adjust to a ball the way he does. We’ve seen him catch it with his helmet and with his facemask. His ball-awareness and skill is probably nothing like I’ve ever seen before.”

Offensive line woes continue

Offensive guard Ramon Foster walked around without wearing the boot he had on Tuesday to protect his high right ankle sprain, but he did not practice Wednesday. In fact, no member of the starting offensive line went through a full practice.

Besides Foster, center Fernando Velasco (knee) did not practice, and three others were limited — tackles Kelvin Beachum (hip) and Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and guard David DeCastro (ankle). Backup tackle/tight end Mike Adams, who has a rib injury, did participate fully.

Also not practicing were Brett Keisel (foot) and LaMarr Woodley (calf).

Foote talks about Lions

Linebacker Larry Foote, a Detroit native, left the Steelers for one season to play for his hometown team in 2009, then returned for 2010. He is on injured reserve with the Steelers now. Foote figures the Lions have won only one playoff game (and lost 10) since 1957 because they lacked good quarterback play, which is a reason they are 6-3 today behind Matthew Stafford.

“Quarterbacks, management, people who have been running the team haven’t been making the right decisions,” Foote said of the Lions from years past. “They should have kept Kevin Colbert; thank god, they didn’t. They should have kept Dickie LeBeau; thank god, they didn’t.”

And what about them not keeping Larry Foote?

“Ah, they might have made the right decision on that,” Foote said.

A shoutout for Taylor

Foote did not think he was giving away any secret when he blurted out how the Steelers would try to stop Calvin Johnson on Sunday.

“Ike Taylor! I think he made his money in this league doing that. I remember him lining up week in and week out against Chad Johnson and some of those No. 1 wide receivers. If there’s somebody who can do it, it’s going to be him.

“Everybody knows he’s going to shadow him. He’s pumped up this week, you can tell already.”

Quick hits

• The Detroit Lions have not won in Pittsburgh since 1955, a stretch in which the Steelers have gone 8-0-1 against them in four stadiums (Forbes Field, Pitt Stadium, Three Rivers Stadium, Heinz Field).

• The only two times the Lions have beaten the Steelers in the past 50 years came on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit in 1983 and 1998.

• The Steelers and Lions have a 16-16-1 record in their series that began in 1934. They have met once in the postseason, in 1962, in what was called the Playoff Bowl between the two runner-up teams in each division (the first-place teams advanced right to the NFL championship game then). The Lions beat the Steelers in that college bowl-like game, 17-10, played in Miami.


Ed Bouchette: ebouchette@post-gazette.com and Twitter @EdBouchette.

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