By BOB LABRIOLA
The following are some of the interesting matchups to watch when the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Detroit to face the Lions in a 1 p.m. game on Sunday at Ford Field:
STEELERS LOLB LaMARR WOODLEY VS. LIONS RT GOSDER CHERILUS: Saginaw is 90 miles north of Detroit, but there figure to be a good number of No. 56 Steelers jerseys sprinkled throughout the crowd at Ford Field, because this will be LaMarr Woodley's first NFL regular season game in his home state. Through four games this season, Woodley doesn't have a sack, but he has been awfully close a bunch of times. Currently fourth on the team with seven pressures and tied for fourth with three passes defensed, Woodley has been active and around the football but has yet to record any of his position's more attractive statistics. Gosder Cherilus, 6-foot-7, 319, was a No. 1 pick in 2008, and he has been the starting right tackle for 17 of the Lions' 20 regular season games since. "Gosder Cherilus is another first-round young man who has distinguished himself," said Coach Mike Tomlin. "He's a big, violent man and plays that way." Woodley can mix it up physically with the best of them, and neither of the possibilities for the Lions at quarterback – rookie Matthew Stafford with an injured knee or 260-pound Daunte Culpepper – is particularly mobile.
STEELERS CB IKE TAYLOR VS. LIONS WR CALVIN JOHNSON: "Calvin Johnson is extremely talented, an alien if you will in terms of matchups," said Tomlin. "He's big, strong and fast. He plays with all those attributes, he high-points the football. It's not too big for him. We've got to try and find a way to minimize the damage that he does to us." Apparently it didn't take Tomlin long to figure out the primary weapon the Steelers plan to utilize to that end – Ike Taylor. "I'm sure you guys understand that Ike Taylor will be following Calvin Johnson," said Tomlin later in the same news conference. "Ike is a top-quality player, he has a desire to be great, his actions match his words in that regard. He prepares extremely hard every week. He's as good a practice player as we have. He's always game for those challenges. We're not going to send him over there to stop Calvin Johnson. He's going to have some help in different forms and fashion, but that's just the nature of the game. He's a good player, the more you have the more we're going to ask you to give, and he does that week in and week out."
STEELERS QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER VS. LIONS MLB LARRY FOOTE: There probably isn't too much about the Steelers that Larry Foote doesn't know – from play calls to audibles to strengths and weaknesses of personnel to what offensive coordinator Bruce Arians likes to eat at the pregame meal. Mike Tomlin spent a bit of his news conference debunking the effect Foote's knowledge will have on the game – "I think it's overblown to a certain degree, with the movement in the players ranks and in the ranks of coaching," said Tomlin. "Very rarely does it play a significant difference in the outcome of the football game. Larry Foote's knowledge of what goes on here and how it comes together defensively is not going to determine the outcome of this football game. His play has a greater probability to determine the outcome of this football game than his knowledge." The Steelers are not naïve enough to go with the calls and checks familiar to Foote – unless they use them as decoys – and there can be expected to be an awareness of the inside information Foote has been trying to provide. In this instance, knowing that Foote knows should be sufficient.
STEELERS WRs HINES WARD AND SANTONIO HOLMES VS. LIONS CBs ANTHONY HENRY AND WILLIAM JAMES: Lions coach Jim Schwartz is only in the early stages of a process that he hopes can turn the team into a winner. In these early stages, it's often wise to keep the schemes simple so that the players have the ability to play without thinking and the coaches can continue to evaluate the personnel. Simple is beneficial for the Lions, but it also tends to make things easier for the opposition. The Steelers can expect to see vanilla coverages, and that could be one reason why the Lions are last in the league in pass yardage allowed. Hines Ward caught eight balls for 113 yards last week, and Santonio Holmes added four for 52. Anthony Henry is in his ninth NFL season and is playing for his third team, and William James is also in his ninth season and is playing for his fourth team. In a pure battle of individual matchups, the Steelers should get the better of it here.
By BOB LABRIOLA