Key Match-ups: Steelers-Lions

Neal Coolong examines the key match-ups in today's game between the World Champion Pittsburgh Steelers and the Detroit Lions.

RB Rashard Mendenhall vs. LB Larry Foote

The Steelers got in a groove against San Diego's porous run defense last week behind Mendenhall's authoritative carries and the offensive line's dominance at the line of scrimmage. Pittsburgh will bring a balanced offense to Detroit, but Mendenhall will get the bulk of the carries, looking to replicate his breakout performance in Week 4.

Foote, the former Steeler, doesn't play as good a game as he talks, but he does lead the Lions in tackles. Detroit just doesn't make too many of them overall. The Lions rank last in the NFL in scoring defense, and are surrendering 5.2 yards per carry through the first four games. Foote, playing middle linebacker for the Lions, will have to make plays at the point of attack all game long if the Lions have any chance of slowing Pittsburgh down.

LB James Farrior vs. QB Daunte Culpepper

Farrior, the captain of the defense, is responsible for as much pass coverage as he is run prevention. The good news for Farrior is the Lions don't do either of those things particularly well. With the exception of the Other Worldly Calvin Johnson, Detroit has very little going for itself passing the ball, and will try to lull the Steelers to sleep with a short, rhythmic passing attack. With QB Matthew Stafford out with a knee injury, the Lions will ask the veteran Culpepper to come in and complete passes at a high percentage.

Farrior will have flats responsibilities against TE Brandon Pettigrew and RB Kevin Smith, and he can expect to be on the move for most of the game. Culpepper's mobility is beginning to reflect that of the Bronze Art Rooney Sr., statue outside Heinz Field, so he's going to look to get rid of the ball early and often to avoid Pittsburgh's pass rush. If Farrior can keep the play contained, and be effective as usual against the run, Pittsburgh will dominate this game defensively.

QB Ben Roethlisberger vs. SS Louis Delmas

Delmas, the rookie, has been one of the bright spots among young Lions players this year. He's a physical player who has started all four of the Lions games thus far in his rookie season. He'll face the best all-around quarterback he's seen, and with that, he'll have to handle one of the most versatile strong sides of an offense he'll see.

The Steelers can line up in bunch and attack the strong side of the field all game. Roethlisberger doesn't need to take many chances due to the lack of playmakers coming from the Lions defense, but he'll get the opportunity to go deep down the seam if he sees Delmas matched on TE Heath Miller – who holds a considerable size advantage – or WR Hines Ward – who's much more athletic. Delmas will likely have to stay in the box, as Pittsburgh figures to hold a considerable advantage in the run game. This makes him the key point of recognition for Roethlisberger.

CB Ike Taylor vs. WR Calvin Johnson

Johnson will likely be the best player on the field in every game he plays for a long time, and he's really the only match-up advantage the Lions have on either offense or defense. It's not difficult to break down Johnson's game; he's bigger, faster, stronger and more athletic than any corner he'll go up against. Culpepper has a propensity to look for big plays, and if he's afforded the time, he'll look to use Johnson's 15.4 yards per catch to his advantage.

Taylor has played outstanding football through four games, usually shadowing the opponent's top receiver. He had great success against another one of the league's best, Vincent Jackson, last week. Taylor plays with good discipline, and can play physical receivers as well as he can speed receivers. Since Johnson is both, it'll be one of the bigger challenges Taylor's faced in his career.

The Coolong Scorecard
Steelers Unit Lions
x Quarterback  
x Running backs  
x Offensive line  
x Wide receivers  
x Tight ends  
x Defensive line  
x Linebackers  
x Defensive backs  
  Special teams x

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