NFL roster cuts: AFC | NFC

LeBeau hopes to limit Megatron's damage

November, 14, 2013
11/14/13
6:20
PM ET
PITTSBURGH -- One of the greatest catches Jonathan Dwyer ever saw Calvin Johnson make is not among the 541 receptions that the latter has been credited with since breaking into the NFL in 2007.

One of the greatest catches Dwyer has ever seen period is not even among the 178 that Johnson made during a hallowed career at Georgia Tech.

It happened during a Yellow Jackets practice when Dwyer and Johnson, who hosted Dwyer on his official recruiting visit, were teammates at Georgia Tech.

Johnson, Dwyer said, turned his body in the air while attempting to catch a jump ball that had been underthrown. Johnson managed to catch the pass one-handed and his body was position was such, Dwyer said, that it was similar to someone jumping headfirst into a pool.

"Everybody got quiet and looked and just started staring at each other," the Steelers running back recalled. "I've seen him do some things that I've never seen anybody do ever in my life. I'm not surprised what he's done at all since he's been in the NFL. He's a freak of nature."

Dick LeBeau has undoubtedly had the same thought while watching film of Johnson and the Lions' offense this week at Steelers' headquarters.

There is no word on if the longtime defensive coordinator is washing down his meals this week with Pepto-Bismol as he tries to craft a game plan that limits the damage Johnson inflicts at Heinz Field. But LeBeau, who intercepted 62 passes as a Hall of Fame cornerback for the Lions, knows what the Steelers' secondary is up against in the 1 p.m. game on Sunday.

"I'd have asked for Cover 2 and rolled up on him," LeBeau said when asked if he could have covered Johnson in his prime. "Let the safety have him over the top."

No coverage -- even one where teams have tried to hold up Johnson as if he is a gunner on the punt coverage team -- has worked against because he is simply too big, too fast and too skilled for opposing defensive backs.

Only Lance Alworth had more yards after his 100th NFL game than Johnson (8,740). Johnson exploded for 329 receiving yards in the Lions' 31-30 win over the Cowboys earlier this season.

The one thing about Johnson that gives the Steelers hope: a big game by the seventh-year veteran has not necessarily translated into the Lions winning this season.

Detroit is just 2-2 when Johnson goes over 100 yards receiving.

"He's going to catch some balls but if you play well you can keep him from dominating and that's what we have to do," LeBeau said. "I don't think anyone's got any magic coverage or anything."

The Steelers will lean heavily on cornerback Ike Taylor, whose combination of size and speed has allowed him to contain his share of big-time wideouts throughout the years. But even Taylor knows he is at a serious disadvantage on jump balls given the 6-5, 235-pound Johnson's size as well as his ability to high point a pass when it is in the air.

One of the approaches Taylor laughingly said he will take to shadowing Johnson: "You go back to the sidelines somebody gets mad at you, you tell them, 'You go out and do it,' " the 11th-year veteran said.

It is a fair retort by a defensive back who gets scolded for giving up a big play to Johnson, who may one day challenge Jerry Rice for the title of greatest wide receiver of all time.

Johnson already is a Lions legend, as is LeBeau, and the two have met several times.

"Great guy, great part of NFL history," Johnson said of LeBeau. "Looking forward to going out there (Sunday) and hopefully we can wreck his schemes."

Johnson, unfortunately for LeBeau and the Steelers, knows a thing or two about doing that.

Scott Brown

ESPN Pittsburgh Steelers reporter

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