Pittsburgh Steelers: Calvin Johnson

PITTSBURGH – The jersey that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown wore last Sunday hangs in the locker of Tommy Streeter, who is on the Jacksonville Jaguars’ practice squad.

Brown autographed the jersey and gave it to Streeter, a childhood friend, after the Steelers’ 17-9 win at Jacksonville.

[+] EnlargeAntonio Brown jersey
Michael DiRoccoPittsburg Steelers receiver Antonio Brown signed the jersey he wore in last Sunday's game against Jacksonville and gave it to his childhood friend, Jaguars practice squad player Tommy Streeter.
It will apparently be the last Steelers jersey Brown gives to an opposing player following a game – at least on the field.

“Jersey switching has been banned by the Steelers,” Brown said on Wednesday. “Coach [Mike Tomlin] doesn’t want us doing it anymore.”

The edict Tomlin handed down Tuesday apparently stems from his wanting players to be more discreet if they exchange jerseys – or not to do it at all.

In addition to Brown giving his jersey to Streeter -- the two played little league football growing up together in Miami -- Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell and Jaguars running back Denard Robinson exchanged jerseys after the game.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said he has no problem with Tomlin putting the kibosh on players swapping or giving their jerseys to an opposing player right after a game.

“I’ve been asked a couple of times by guys, but if its someone that I really might exchange jerseys with, then we’ll do it off the beaten path, not in the middle of the field,” Roethlisberger told ESPN.com. “If I was lucky enough to play against Peyton Manning in his last game, I might try and get it, but that’s a different story. I’m sure everyone would try and get that.”

Brown traded jerseys with Detroit All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson last November after the Steelers beat the Lions 37-27 at Heinz Field, and it is something he has done several times.

But Brown said he understands the message Tomlin is trying to send by prohibiting the swap of jerseys right after a game.

“We want a point of emphasis on winning games. We’re not here to trade apparel,” Brown said. “It’s the right way to do it.”

Steelers' offense bracing for stern test

September, 18, 2014
Sep 18
PITTSBURGH – The Pittsburgh Steelers’ schedule is widely perceived as favorable.

It is anything but that this week.

The Carolina Panthers, who host the Steelers on Sunday night, have been the NFL’s hottest team since last October, and they have been particularly good at home.

The Panthers are an NFL-best 13-1 in their last 14 regular-season games, and during that span, they lead the NFL in turnover differential (plus-17) and points allowed per game (14.6), according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The Panthers limited the Detroit Lions’ high-powered offense to a mere touchdown in a 24-7 victory last Sunday, and they held All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson to six catches for 83 yards.

Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford targeted Johnson 13 times in the game, but Johnson was pretty much taken out of the game.

And what stood out to Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger when watching film of the Panthers is how they limited Johnson.

“It’s not like they put two or three guys on Calvin,” Roethlisberger said. “They basically just said, “We are going to line up and if you can beat us, then beat us. If not, we are going to beat you.’ They are one of the best defenses, statistically speaking, and it’s not like it’s an exotic type of defense. They just flat-out beat you.”

The key for the Steelers will be going to Le'Veon Bell early and often Sunday night at Bank of America Stadium.

The Panthers are sixth in the NFL in rushing defense (86.0 yards per game), but they are giving up 4.0 yards per carry.

Bell has been the Steelers’ best offensive player through two games, and the second-year running back is tied for fourth in the NFL with 168 rushing yards. He is averaging 5.3 yards per carry.

“I think our offensive line should be able to handle their defensive line and I should get space to do what I can,” Bell said. “Our goal is really to be balanced. We don’t want to force it if it’s not there.”
Vikings running back Adrian Peterson topped the list in an ESPN NFL Nation survey of the player those polled would most like to see play in a Super Bowl.

Peterson received 59 votes to edge Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez by three votes.

More than 320 NFL players took part in an anonymous, comprehensive survey with Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson finishing third (26 votes) followed by Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (15), Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson (14) and Eagles quarterback Michael Vick (11).

The voting, which aimed to identify worthy players who have never made a Super Bowl, took place before Wilson led Seattle to this year’s title game.

That Peterson beat out Gonzalez is a bit of a surprise to me considering how well-known it was that 2013 would be the latter’s final season in the NFL. Both Gonzalez and Peterson were first-ballot Pro Football Hall of Famers but Peterson would appear to have his share of chances to play in a Super Bowl -- assuming the Vikings can ever get a quarterback to pair with the transcendent running back.

That Peterson finished first in the survey isn’t just a testament to his greatness but also the respect he earned for rushing for more than 2,000 yards in 2012, less than a year after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery.

Steelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery received two votes in the survey.
Peyton Manning beat out the two quarterbacks with whom he will always be linked to finish first in an ESPN NFL Nation poll on the best player with which to start a franchise.

Manning received 62 votes from the more than 320 NFL players who were polled anonymously. Andrew Luck, whom the Colts traded No. 1 overall after releasing Manning in 2012, finished second with 56 votes while the Patriots’ Tom Brady came in third with 41 votes.

Quarterbacks, not surprisingly, dominated the voting for this category.

In addition to the three aforementioned signal callers, Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (40) and New Orleans’ Drew Brees (11) received double digits in votes.

What is surprising is that voters did not go younger at quarterback with the exception of Luck. Manning is one of the all-time greats as his position but he turns 38 in March and he could decide to go out on top if Denver wins the Super Bowl this season. Brady, meanwhile, is 36 though he too is still playing at a high level.

The only other players to receive double-digits in votes were Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (37) and Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (20).

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and strong safety Troy Polamalu all received one vote.

I would have definitely gone with a quarterback had I voted in this, and my choice probably would have been between Luck and the 49ers’ Colin Kaepernick. I would have also considered Johnny Manziel, who will be taken somewhere in the first round of the 2014 NFL draft.

Yep, count me among those who think Johnny Football is going to be a star in the NFL.

Antonio Brown named to All-AFC team

January, 13, 2014
Jan 13
PITTSBURGH -- Antonio Brown added another honor after authoring the best season ever by a wide receiver in Steelers history.

Brown joined the Browns’ Josh Gordon on the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA) All-AFC team.

Gordon, who led the NFL with 1,646 receiving despite Cleveland’s instability at quarterback, and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson were the wide receivers on PFWA’s All-NFL team.

Brown set a Steelers’ single-season record with 1,499 yards. The fourth-year veteran came up just three catches shy of breaking Hines Ward’s team record for most catches (112) in a season.

Brown made the Pro Bowl as a wide receiver and a punt returner, and his teammates voted him Steelers’ MVP for the second time in the last three seasons.

Brown was a second-team All-Pro pick, and among the wide receivers he beat out for a spot on the PFWA’s All-AFC team were Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Denver’s Demaryius Thomas.

Another honor for Antonio Brown

January, 3, 2014
Jan 3
PITTSBURGH -- Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown added to his honors Friday when he earned a spot on the Associated Press’ All-Pro team.

Brown made the second team, along with Demaryius Thomas and A.J. Green.

Calvin Johnson and Josh Gordon were the first-team wide receivers, and it’s hard to argue with either selection. Johnson is one of the top-five players in the NFL regardless of position and Gordon led the league in receiving despite playing with three different quarterbacks.

Brown finished second to Gordon in receiving, and his 1,499 receiving yards set a single-season Steelers record. He made the Pro Bowl as both wide receiver and a punt returner. Brown also won the Steelers’ MVP award for the second time in three seasons.

That award may have meant the most to him since it was voted on by the Steelers’ players.

“These are the guys who see you on a daily basis,” Brown said. “How they feel about me and the respect I earn from these guys is most important.”

Brown is a tireless worker, and he indicated that the next step in his development is becoming one of the team leaders.

“Just how I encourage and how I challenge the guys around me,” Brown said. “It’s not words per se.”

As for what he can improve on after authoring the best seasons by a wide receiver in Steelers history, Brown said, “Being a better blocker. There’s always little things I can tighten up. There’s always room to get better. It’s never ending in that battle.”

Locker Room Buzz: Pittsburgh Steelers

November, 17, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- A few thoughts on the Pittsburgh Steelers' 37-27 win against the Detroit Lions.

Staying the course: The Steelers did not make any drastic adjustments after giving up almost 300 passing yards in the second quarter alone to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. So how did they limit Stafford to 3-of-16 passing for 35 yards in the second half while holding Calvin Johnson without a catch after intermission? “It was just being more sound,” Steelers strong safety Troy Polamalu said. “They weren’t drawing up any great schematics things against us. We just did our jobs better. We got a much better pass rush in the second half as well from the four-man rush. We weren’t blitzing or anything like that.”

A win and a keepsake: The two wide receivers who put on a show swapped jerseys after the game. Antonio Brown holds Johnson in such high esteem that leaving Heinz Field with the Lions’ wide receiver’s jersey ranked second -- albeit a distant second -- to exiting with a comeback victory. “To get his jersey was icing on the cake,” Brown said. “Excited to get his jersey. Hopefully I’ll get some work with him next offseason down in Atlanta.” Brown and Johnson combined for 13 catches for 326 yards and four touchdowns.

Just one win: Coach Mike Tomlin refused to give more weight to the win even though the Steelers showed a lot of mettle in rallying from a seven-point halftime deficit to beat the team that is in first place in the NFC North. “I don’t want to play ball,” Tomlin said. Translation: The seventh-year coach did not want to give even the hint of appearing like he thinks the Steelers are poised to go on the kind of run they need to become a legitimate playoff contender.

Big Ben's bad throw: As good as Ben Roethlisberger was in throwing for 367 yards and four touchdowns, he took the blame for overthrowing a wide-open David Paulson in the end zone in the third quarter. “I have to make that throw,” Roethlisberger said of perhaps the easiest throw he had all game. “Heath Miller is our first read in the flat. He was double-covered, so I looked back to Paulson. I couldn’t see if there were any defenders that inside, so my safe throw was high and away where only he could make [the catch]. I put it a little too high for him. That’s on me. I have to make that play.”

Lions-Steelers: By The Numbers

November, 16, 2013
A quick-hit preview of the 1 p.m. game Sunday at Heinz Field:


Lions WR Calvin Johnson’s NFL rank for career receiving yards per game


Lions’ NFL rank in third-down defense


Games this season in which Lions RB Reggie Bush has at least 113 yards from scrimmage


Interceptions by Lions OLB DeAndre Levy, which is tied for first in the NFL


Takeaways by the Steelers


Lions QB Matthew Stafford’s NFL rank in passer rating


Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger’s NFL rank in passer rating


Percentage of Stafford completions this season that have gone to Johnson


Career sacks by Ndamukong Suh, second-most in Lions history by a DT


Lions’ NFL rank in passing defense


Steelers’ NFL rank (tied) in takeaways


Percentage opponents have on third down against the Lions


Percentage of Roethlisberger completions that have gone to WR Antonio Brown


Career touchdown passes thrown by Stafford to Johnson


Steelers’ conversion rate on third down


Johnson’s career receiving yards per game


Roethlisberger’s passer rating


Stafford’s passer rating


Lions’ passing yards per game


Stafford’s average passing yards in eight career games against AFC teams

Haley says he, Big Ben are just fine

November, 15, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- Hodgepodge Friday: Leftovers from Steelers' headquarters this week:
  • Offensive coordinator Todd Haley agreed with sentiments expressed by quarterback Ben Roethlisberger earlier this week when the latter said on his weekly radio show that the two are working well together. "Through time and growth of relationships in general I would expect it to be moving in the direction that it is," Haley said. "It's been night and day going all the way back to training camp, and obviously we haven't had the results that we wanted so we're all disappointed where we are right now. I'll say it again, 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."
  • No one has had a more important job at Steelers' headquarters this week than wide receiver Derek Moye. The Steelers coaches tabbed Moye to emulate Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in practice because the two are the same height -- each is listed at 6-5 -- and athletic. "Any time I'm out there giving the defense a look I always want to give them a representation of what they'll see on Sunday," Moye said. But Moye, who has two catches in his first NFL season, is also realistic about how much he can challenge the Steelers' starters while wearing No. 81, Johnson's number with the Lions. "There's only so much anybody can do to replicate Calvin Johnson," Moye said.
  • Running back Jonathan Dwyer remains third on the depth chart behind starter Le'Veon Bell and Felix Jones. But all signs point to the fourth-year veteran getting the bulk of the work behind starter Bell in the foreseeable future. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and Haley are among those who have praised Dwyer this week, something he said he appreciates but also takes in stride. "Obviously that's what I'm trying to do when I go out there and play, earn more [opportunities]," Dwyer said, "but it's about what I do with those opportunities more than anything. I'm just trying to keep making plays each time I'm on the field."
  • Roethlisberger isn't necessarily bracing for a shootout Sunday, but Haley said the offense is going to have to score its share of points if the Steelers are to beat the Lions. "They're not a team that you're going to expect to go out and score seven, 10, 13 points," Haley said. "They're a prolific offense so we've got to do what we have to do to get the ball in the end zone." The Lions are averaging 26.4 points per game. That ranks seventh in the NFL -- just ahead of the Patriots, who hung 55 points on the Steelers a couple of weeks ago. "They obviously have some big-time players and can do a lot of things on offense," Roethlisberger said. "We can only control what we control offensively."
  • Dick LeBeau talked last week about the Steelers taking a simpler approach on defense going into the Bills game, and it worked. The Steelers held the Bills to under 100 rushing yard and didn't allow them to reach the end zone until the final play from scrimmage. "It was much better," LeBeau said of the defense's play in the 23-10 win, "but we have to be better than that. The next seven games will be very important to us in that respect. Our attention to detail, it's always been good on the practice field but in the [Bills] game it was much better. We need to continue in that vein."

LeBeau hopes to limit Megatron's damage

November, 14, 2013
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.
PITTSBURGH -- Three starters missed practice on Thursday for the second day in a row, making Friday a critical day for left guard Ramon Foster, outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley and defensive end Brett Keisel.

Foster appears to be the injured player most in doubt for Sunday as the fifth-year veteran has to overcome the sprained ankle that knocked him out of the Steelers’ 23-10 win over the Bills.

One of the most accessible players in the Steelers’ locker room, Foster did not make himself available in either media session on Thursday. That is almost always a sign that coach Mike Tomlin does not want a player to talk about an injury.

Guy Whimper said he has been playing left guard with the first-team offense this week, and that he is preparing to start Sunday when the Lions visit Heinz Field Sunday for a 1 p.m. game.

“But I prepare to start every week because you never know,” Whimper said. “It’s the NFL. Guys get banged up.”

The Steelers’ line is perpetually banged up but it is otherwise intact as left tackle Kelvin Beachum (hip), center Fernando Velasco (knee), right guard David DeCastro (ankle) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle) all practiced fully on Thursday.

The four had missed practice or been limited in drills on Wednesday.

“We’re kind of numb to it right now,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of the injuries the Steelers have dealt with along their offensive line. “That’s the way it is. Everybody’s got their own problems, nobody cares about ours. These guys are working hard and know they have to be ready.”

The Steelers hope Woodley, who leads them with five sacks, is able to play on Sunday. The seventh-year veteran is nursing a calf injury that knocked him out of the Bills game.

“We hope to get LaMarr back,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said. “He’s a great player for us.”

Keisel is the most likely of the three Steelers who have yet to practice this week to play against the Lions. The veteran defensive end has been dealing with planter fasciitis this week.

Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson missed practice for the second day in a row. Johnson has been dealing with a knee injury, but he is expected to play on Sunday.
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.

Long odds don't faze Steelers

November, 14, 2013
Steel City wake-up: morning links

The odds are long for the Steelers rebounding from an 0-4 start to make the playoffs. Perhaps that is why the Steelers say they stay focused on the opponent and not the math that is front of them.

The Detroit Lions visit Heinz Field on Sunday, and they will pose a variety of matchup problems for the Steelers. Defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley will test the Steelers’ banged-up offensive line. Coach Mike Tomlin talked earlier this week about how disruptive Suh and Fairley are and how the Lions front seven “tramples the run on the way to the quarterback.”

Detroit does not have a lot of sacks this season but it will have a chance to add to that total Sunday against a quarterback whose trademark is holding onto the ball to extend plays.

On the other side of the ball, Detroit wide receiver Calvin Johnson will test the Steelers in every which way. The Steelers, to a man, have said Johnson is easily the best wideout in the NFL, and running back Jonathan Dwyer recalled Johnson’s exploits from when the two were teammates at Georgia Tech.

Safety Shamarko Thomas has already been ruled out for the 1 p.m. game because of a high-ankle sprain, meaning veteran Will Allen will likely take his place in the quarter package in which the Steelers use three cornerbacks and three safeties.

Allen re-joined the Steelers earlier this season, and he has been a key special-teams player, particularly on the punt return team. Allen has helped spring Antonio Brown for several long returns, and the latter has shined as both a punt returner as well as a wide receiver.

His 67 catches lead the NFL, and Brown is fifth in the league with 805 receiving yards.

Brown emerges as a No. 1 wide receiver

November, 13, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Steelers know what they are up against Sunday when they try to contain Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson.

“You can’t stop Calvin Johnson with one man,” Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. “Sometimes you can’t stop him with three.”

Teams have tried just about everything to stop Johnson, who has the second-most receiving yards in NFL history after 100 games. They have even tried covering him as if he is a gunner on the punt coverage team, using two players to hinder him from getting off the line of scrimmage.

As much hype as Johnson is getting -- and deservedly so -- it is worth noting that another No. 1 wide receiver will be playing Sunday at Heinz Field.

Antonio Brown, leads the NFL in receptions (67) and is fifth in receiving yards (805). The Steelers wideout has 14 more catches than Johnson even though Johnson has been targeted one more time than Brown this season.

True, Johnson deals with a double-team on a consistent basis -- he said he draws single coverage roughly 30 percent of the time -- and is a considerably bigger deep threat than Brown in more ways than one.

But Brown has established himself enough that Johnson took notice of the fourth-year veteran while watching film of the Steelers this week.

“He’s a playmaker,” Johnson said. “He’s real quick, a good route runner.”

Ben Roethlisberger said Brown is at his best when a pass is in the air.

“His ball awareness and skill is probably like nothing I’ve ever seen before,” the Steelers quarterback said. “He’s a hard worker, has a great ability to adjust to any throw. I’ve never seen anyone adjust to a ball the way he does.”

That attribute is what separates Brown from Mike Wallace, who has world-class speed but struggles to adjust while the ball is in the air and rarely fights for it.

Brown has answered questions about whether he could emerge as a true No. 1 receiver after Wallace signed with the Dolphins last March -- though he said Johnson is “absolutely” the best in the NFL at the position.

The 5-foot-10, 186-pounder was asked if he would trade his speed for Johnson’s size.

“I wouldn’t trade anything,” Brown said. “I appreciate everything I have and am thankful for everything that I am able to do.”

But, he added, “It would be great to be 6-5.”
PITTSBURGH -- It had to be a misprint, I thought, after finding online the box score from the only time the Pittsburgh Steelers played against Detroit Lions wide receiverCalvin Johnson.

One catch for two yards? Shoot, the player known as Megatron could triple that even playing blindfolded with both arms tied behind his back.

But the Steelers' media guide from 2010, which includes all box scores from the previous season, confirmed it.

That Oct. 11, 2009 game, in which nine other Detroit receivers were more productive than Johnson, can be classified as one thing: an anomaly in the truest sense of the word.

Johnson, who visits Heinz Field on Sunday, has the second most receiving yards in NFL history (8,740) after his first 100 games.

He is averaging over 100 yards a game this season, and is second in the NFL in receiving yards (904) and tied for second in touchdown catches (nine).

Just as breathtaking as Johnson’s gaudy statistics are the physical skills that make him the best wide receiver on the planet by five football fields.

Johnson is listed at 6-5, 236 pounds, and he is one of the fastest receivers in the NFL. The seventh-year veteran also has hands of velcro given the number of catches he makes while being double- or even triple-teamed.

Mike Tomlin can lay on the hyperbole when it comes to the opposition as well as any coach. But Tomlin was anything but exaggerating on Tuesday when he said Johnson is one of the best players in the NFL, regardless of position.

Tomlin drove home his point a little later during his weekly news conference when he cut off a question about whether there are any similarities between Johnson and the Bengals’ A.J. Green, who after 10 weeks leads the NFL in receiving.

“There’s no comparison,” Tomlin said. “He’s a big dog. It’s young Randy Moss scary.”


Veteran cornerback Ike Taylor will almost certainly draw the assignment of shadowing Johnson wherever the latter goes Sunday. Taylor has a history of playing well against premier wide receivers, and the 11th-year veteran shut down Green and the Bears’ Brandon Marshall earlier this season.

Johnson is in a different league though, which means the Steelers are going to have to give Taylor plenty of help.

And cross every finger and toe they have when the Lions have the ball.

“We’ll do the best we can,” Tomlin said. “He’s a special player. We won’t try anything that hasn’t been tried.”

Which means the Steelers can’t expect to again limit Johnson to the kind of stat line that is associated with a third-string tight end.