Detroit Lions: Ben Roethlisberger

The Detroit Lions have requested permission to talk with San Diego offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, according to CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora.

Whisenhunt has long thought to be one of the favorites -- if not the favorite -- for the head coaching position vacated when Detroit fired Jim Schwartz last Monday. ESPN Insider Adam Schefter reported Sunday that the Lions job is Whisenhunt’s to lose.

Time will tell how much Whisenhunt is interested in the job. Still coaching with the Chargers, it would be highly unlikely he would be able to go on four interviews while prepping for Denver in the divisional round Sunday.

But as long as Whisenhunt agrees to interview with Detroit -- and there is little reason to think he won’t -- he’ll be in good position with the Lions. He has a long relationship with general manager Martin Mayhew dating back to playing together for two seasons with the Washington Redskins.

He also fits everything the Lions are looking for in a head coach, from prior head coaching experience to his ability to refine quarterbacks with some experience, as he has done in Arizona with Kurt Warner and San Diego with Philip Rivers. He also worked with Ben Roethlisberger when he was a younger quarterback, helping to develop him.

The only question about Whisenhunt is how he does with non-elite quarterbacks. With guys ranging from Derek Anderson to Kevin Kolb to John Skelton, Whisenhunt went 18-30 over his final three seasons in Arizona, eventually being fired after the 2012 season.

Then he landed in San Diego with Rivers and has helped the Chargers to the divisional round of the playoffs, the same reason why the Lions can interview, but not hire, the man believed to be their top choice.

Whisenhunt is the third coach to have his name surface in the Lions' search, joining Baltimore offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell and Cincinnati offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Caldwell interviewed with the team Friday and the Lions requested permission to talk with Gruden on Monday, but it is not known whether or not he will definitely interview.

Rapid Reaction: Detroit Lions

November, 17, 2013
11/17/13
4:35
PM ET

PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Detroit Lions' 37-27 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

What it means: What a complete collapse for the Lions, a team that had went through every sort of emotion during Sunday’s game. They started off discombobulated in the first quarter, set records in the second quarter, then fell apart in the second half.

It’s tough to explain how the Lions went from an offensive juggernaut in the first half to Calvin Johnson not having a reception in the second half and Matthew Stafford unable to even throw for half a field after halftime. It is, though, a loss that could hurt the Lions down the road. Detroit had complete control over this game before a combination of defensive lapses, dropped passes and a bizarre fake field goal call in the fourth quarter turned a win into a loss and a potential three-game winning streak into a 6-4 record that gives the Bears and Packers a chance to keep pace in the NFC North.

Stock Watch: Rising -- Safety Don Carey. Carey had yet another week of significant playing time with cornerback Bill Bentley injured, and he had a decent game, making nine tackles and two tackles for loss. ... DeAndre Levy had a game-high 12 tackles, including two tackles for loss. Falling -- Detroit’s fourth quarter defense. The Lions gave up a 97-yard drive to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers midway through the fourth quarter, resulting in a touchdown with 4:46 left to give Pittsburgh the lead. ... Reggie Bush's production. The running back fumbled, ran for 31 yards on 12 carries and caught two passes for 23 yards. Not his best day.

Setting records: Detroit’s typical combination of Stafford-to-Johnson gave the Lions some big records in the first half. Stafford threw for 327 yards in the first half, a franchise record. He also broke Bobby Layne’s franchise passing record of 15,710 yards. With 362 yards Sunday, Stafford now has 16,005 yards. Stafford, though, faded in the second half, passing for only 35 yards.

What’s next: The Lions return home for two games in less than two weeks when they face Tampa Bay next Sunday and then Green Bay on Thanksgiving Day.
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Pittsburgh may not appear to be the typical Steelers team this season, under .500 and barely hanging on in the AFC North divisional race, but don’t tell Detroit that.

The Lions are convinced the Steelers are a good team that has played a lot of close games -- and they aren’t underestimating the Pittsburgh defense, which is still one of the top units against the pass in the league.

“I don’t know that you’ll ever have a Pittsburgh Steelers defense that’s underrated,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “They have played some really good games this year.

“We’re going to have our hands full. They have players.”

So how does Detroit beat Pittsburgh? Here are four keys.

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsLions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will have his sights set on rattling Steelers quarterback Ben Rothelisberger's cage on Sunday.
Pressure Ben Roethlisberger: The Lions reasserted themselves as a front four last week against Chicago with defensive tackles Nick Fairley and Ndamukong Suh each reaching the Bears' quarterbacks four times. Now they face a quarterback known for staying with a play and in the pocket until the last possible second in Roethlisberger -- as well as the quarterback who has been sacked more than any other in the past five seasons.

So the more pressure Detroit is able to get on Roethlisberger, the better its chances are of forcing him into a mistake or bringing him down a few times, crushing Steelers drives.

Embrace the favorite role: It is a new place for the Lions, perennially looked at as a potential spoiler for playoff teams by this time of the season instead of a team trying to reach a divisional title. But this is where the Lions are now and this will be the first time they will be on the road in that type of role. While Detroit’s players have said they don’t look at themselves in that favorite type of role, that is what they are now. A game like this against Pittsburgh is one they potentially should win and, if they are going to elevate from playoff contender to a team that could make a run in the playoffs in January, one they should be able to win. It’d be a big confidence boost in that regard.

Don’t be rattled by a Matthew Stafford interception: Here’s a fun stat. In Detroit’s six wins this season, Stafford has thrown an interception in each game. In its three losses, he has been interception-free. So while I’m not advocating for Stafford, who is having the best season of his career, to throw an interception, I’m saying it isn’t the end of the game if he does. Stafford has been accurate this season and has compiled a really strong year. There’s a pretty good chance he becomes Detroit’s all-time passing leader Sunday as well. So stick with him and don’t get fazed if he turns the ball over.

Keep Bell in check: Detroit has turned into one of the top rushing defenses in the league (ranked eighth at the moment allowing 100.67 yards a game) and have held their last three opponents under 100 yards rushing as a team. Le’Veon Bell is a local guy -- he played at Michigan State -- who has emerged as Pittsburgh’s top running option as a rookie.

Most of that responsibility falls on the defensive linemen and linebackers to make plays, particularly linebackers DeAndre Levy and Stephen Tulloch.

“We’re still a work in progress there,” Schwartz said. “But if we can get the run stopped it goes a long way to getting us to where we want to go.”
Calvin Johnson and Troy PolamaluGetty ImagesCalvin Johnson's Lions look to continue their success against Troy Polamalu's struggling Steelers.


The respective histories of the Detroit Lions and Pittsburgh Steelers suggest that the latter would be 6-3 and the former 3-6 heading into their game Sunday at Heinz Field.

But it is the Steelers who have scuffled this season, and they are still trying to dig out from an 0-4 start. The Lions, meanwhile, sit atop the NFC North and have the pieces to make a lengthy postseason run assuming they can keep up their winning ways.

The Steelers have little margin for error as they try to stay on the fringes of the AFC playoff picture, and the Lions will try to maintain their grip in first place in the NFC North when the teams meet at 1 p.m.

ESPN.com NFL Nation reporters Michael Rothstein (Lions) and Scott Brown (Steelers) take a closer look at the first matchup between the two teams since 2009.

Brown: Michael, I'm not surprised that the Lions are playing so well this season, and my question for you is, what has the signing of running back Reggie Bush done for the offense?

Rothstein: It's been huge, Scott. Bush's signing in the offseason spreads defenses out and forces teams to make a choice. Either double Calvin Johnson or continuously roll safety coverage Johnson's way or bring a defender down into the box to stop Bush -- but that leaves things open for Matthew Stafford to find Johnson. He has the ability to take a dump-off play and turn it into a massive touchdown -- something he has done twice on screens this season. While he doesn't change the offense the way it would if Stafford or Johnson were missing, he's a massive cog there.

Speaking of that -- and I feel as if I've asked this question weekly -- how do you think Pittsburgh handles that matchup against the Detroit offense?

Brown: Michael, it's hard to like the matchup if you are the Steelers. Speed in their secondary has been an issue this season, particularly at safety, and I'm not sure anyone can run with Bush if the Lions isolate him on linebacker or safety as a receiver.

The Steelers are going to have to pay Johnson the extra attention he demands, and last I checked they will only be allowed to have 11 defensive players on the field. Assuming the Steelers use a combination of double and bracket coverage on Johnson, there are going to be some one-on-one matchups that the Lions may be able to exploit.

The Steelers haven't generated a consistent pass rush this season, but it will be absolutely essential that they do so against Stafford. If he is allowed to get comfortable in the pocket Sunday it will be a long day for the Steelers.

The best thing the Steelers can do for their defense is to control the clock, but it won't be easy to run on Detroit's front seven. Does it start on the Lions' defense with tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, and how have other teams tried to neutralize those two?

Rothstein: Yes, most of what Detroit does defensively starts with Suh, and to a lesser extent, Fairley. Suh is having one of the most consistent seasons of his career, this despite the constant presence on double teams each week. The attention Suh is given opens rush lanes for Fairley, but he hasn't been completely consistent taking advantage of them.

For every game he has like Sunday's against Chicago, he has a game where he disappears. But the pressure Suh, Fairley and the defensive line put on quarterbacks has led to incomplete passes and interceptions often.

If there is a concern with the Detroit defense, it is with its cornerbacks, who have been inconsistent. Can Ben Roethlisberger take advantage of this with his current crop of receivers?

Brown: Antonio Brown has really emerged as a No. 1 receiver and made the Steelers look smart for not overpaying for Mike Wallace. That said, Emmanuel Sanders has not been consistent enough to give the Steelers a receiving option to pair with Brown.

Sanders has a ton of talent, and he is a big-play threat. I keep waiting for him to break out. This could be the week for him to do it as the Steelers are going to have to score their share of points to keep up with the Lions. Lost in the Steelers' 55-31 loss at New England a couple of weeks ago is how much success the Steelers had attacking the Patriots' cornerbacks.

If the Lions' cornerbacks are vulnerable, the Steelers will go after them, and Detroit has to be mindful of the middle of the field where tight end Heath Miller and Jerricho Cotchery work and are trusted by Roethlisberger.

Michael, I don't see the Steelers winning this game unless they score a lot of points. What needs to happen for the Lions to lose?

Rothstein: That's an interesting question, Scott, and with the Lions you just never know. I'd probably start with if any of the Lions' starters in the secondary went down with injury. That would necessitate playing either an inexperienced safety or rookie Darius Slay if one of the corners goes down. Roethlisberger is good enough that he'd pick on that side of the field consistently.

Another would be to force turnovers. Stafford has been quite good this season, essentially throwing less than two interceptions per 100 attempts (he has a 1.9 percent rate), which is in the top 10 of the league and tied with Drew Brees. If Detroit's offense can hold on to the ball and everyone is healthy, it'll score points.

I'll close out with this: You mentioned Pittsburgh trying to establish the run first. What's been going on there? It seems as if there has been a rotating cast of players because of injuries and other issues. Do the Steelers even have a reliable running attack?

Brown: Depends on the week, it seems, when it comes to the Steelers' running game. It has gotten a lot better since Le'Veon Bell became the feature back, and the Steelers have rushed for over 100 yards in their last two games.

To put into perspective how important it is for the Steelers to establish the ground game, they have run the ball just over 51 percent of the time in their three wins and around 30 percent of their time in six losses.

The Steelers have to run the ball against the Lions, and a big component of that is not falling behind early, something that has been a problem this season.

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