Jerricho Cotchery: 16 receptions and four touchdowns in the past four games.
By Gerry Dulac / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
When the Lions have the ball: The Lions have used their poor seasons to stock their roster with high No. 1 draft picks, and two of the most significant are WR Calvin Johnson and QB Matthew Stafford. They added another in the offseason when they signed RB Reggie Bush, the second overall pick in 2006. Bush leads the team with 633 yards rushing and is second with 34 catches and 343 yards. In the past three games, he has accounted for 329 total yards. Stafford is fourth in the league in yards passing (2,836) and touchdowns (19). He has been sacked only 10 times, fewest in the league, despite attempting 229 passes, seventh most in the league. Why? He makes good, quick decisions and releases the ball quickly. He has been intercepted seven times. The Steelers have only 16 sacks, fifth fewest in the league, and could be without OLB LaMarr Woodley (calf), who leads the team with five sacks. In addition to Johnson, who leads the NFL with 904 receiving yards, Stafford has two other targets who are 6-5 -- TE Brandon Pettigrew (31 catches) and WR Kris Durham (26 catches, 2 TDs).
When the Steelers have the ball: The Steelers faced young, aggressive fronts with the Jets and Bills but not as young and talented as the Lions' tackle tandem of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley and rookie DE Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah. Along with DE Willie Young, the four-man front has 12 of the Lions' 15 sacks. Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 35 times, second most in the NFL. The line plays the run on the way to the quarterback but still manages to rank eighth in the league in rush defense. Detroit has not allowed a team to rush for more than 62 yards in the past three games and is yielding an average of 2.45 yards per rush in that stretch. The Steelers haven't had a 100-yard rusher in 17 consecutive games. Suh leads the team with 4.5 sacks. Ansah has been playing football for only three years. OLB DeAndre Levy leads the team with five INTs, including a 66-yard TD return. The Lions are seventh in the NFC with 11 interceptions.
K David Akers ... The six-time Pro Bowl kicker is in his first season with the Lions after spending the previous two seasons with the San Francisco 49ers. Since 2000, Akers leads all active kickers in points (1,673) and field goals made (213). And last season he became the fourth player to kick a 63-yard field goal, tying the record for longest in NFL history. Akers is 2 for 2 from 50 yards and beyond this season, but he has missed four of 14 attempts between 30 and 49 yards.
The Lions, who have not won a division title of any kind since 1993, have won two in a row and lead the NFC North Division. But they have lost 11 of the past 13 meetings with the Steelers and have not won in Pittsburgh since Nov. 13, 1955, a stretch in which they are 0-8-1 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 Lions have just one playoff win in 11 postseason appearances since 1957. ... Overall, this is the 34th regular-season meeting between the two since 1934. The series is tied, 16-16-1.
To win, the Lions must ...
1. Get mega-plays from Megatron. The Steelers did a good job preventing big plays against the Bills, but they didn't have to worry about anyone like Johnson.
2. Be Fair(ley) good against the run. Their defensive tackles are a big reason the Lions have allowed an average of 52.3 yards rushing the past three games.
3. Ground Brown. They need to limit Steelers WR Antonio Brown, the NFL's leading receiver, especially on third down.
To win, the Steelers must ...
1. Push Bush. They don't want to put too much focus on stopping Johnson and ignore the Lions' all-purpose back.
2. Not play tall ball. Stafford will throw the ball up and let his trio of 6-foot-5 receivers make plays down the field.
3. Keep Rashean from shining. Mathis has tortured the Steelers over the years, intercepting six passes and returning three for touchdowns.
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