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Today's Matchup: Steelers (7-4) at Lions (4-7)

Thursday, November 26, 1998

By Gerry Dulac, Post-Gazette Sports Writer

Time: 12:30 p.m., Pontiac Silverdome

TV: KDKA (Ch. 2)

Radio: WTAE-AM (1250), WDRV-FM (96.1)

WHEN LIONS HAVE THE BALL

Lions rush offense vs. Steelers rush defense

Lions rank 3rd in the NFL

Steelers rank 9th in the NFL

Barry Sanders leads the NFC with 1,192 yards rushing, but he had his string of 100-yard games ended at five last week when Tampa Bay held him to 66 yards on 21 carries, his second lowest output of the season. What's more, he hasn't scored a touchdown in the past five games and has just one in the past nine. The Lions try to leave the touchdown-making to "Touchdown" Tommy Vardell, who has six TDs among his 14 carries, for a total of 17 yards. Sanders is so difficult to defense because he doesn't always run where the play is supposed to go. He can bounce a play outside, then back inside, because his change-of-direction is so quick.

Edge: Lions


Lions pass offense vs. Steelers pass defense

Lions rank 21st in the NFL

Steelers rank 12th in the NFL

Charlie Batch, the Steel Valley High School` grad, has completed 140 of 238 passes (53.8 percent) for 1,657 yards and eight touchdowns, with only six interceptions. But he has also been sacked 27 times and forced from the pocket on countless other occasions. Batch is like Kordell Stewart - athletic and quick enough to take the ball and run, He has rushed for 209 yards on 38 carries, an average of 5.5 yards. The Lions' best receiver is Pro Bowler Herman Moore, who did not play last week because of a quadriceps injury. He is expected to play against the Steelers. Moore has not made the big plays this season because teams have been doubling him to take away the deep plays.

Edge: Steelers



WHEN STEELERS HAVE THE BALL

Steelers rush offense vs. Lions rush defense

Steelers rank 6th in the NFL

Lions rank 17th in the NFL

If the running game isn't struggling enough, now fullback Tim Lester will be out 2 to 3 weeks with a high ankle sprain. Lester was injured in the victory against the Jaguars. He will be replaced by Jon Witman, who started the first six games this season when Lester was on the physically unable to perform list. That is another setback for the running game, which has not had the consistency of recent years. Yeah, Jerome Bettis has four 100-yard games this season, but he has just 232 yards on 85 carries in the past four games. That's an average of just 2.7 yards per carry. He has not had a run longer than 13 yards in his past six games. The Steelers are counting on the Bus having a big game because its the first time he will be playing in front of his family and friends in Detroit, where he grew up.

Edge: Steelers


Steelers pass offense vs. Lions pass defense

Steelers rank 27th in the NFL

Lions rank 18th in the NFL

Kordell Stewart has been playing very well, though the Steelers offense has produced just one touchdown in the past six quarters. The Steelers quarterback has completed 85 of 118 passes (72 percent) for 908 yards and six TDs in his past four games. He has not thrown an interception in his past three games and has just four in the past eight games. Since he threw three second-half interceptions against the Oilers on Nov. 1, Stewart's passer rating for each game has not been lower than 93.3. The Lions yield 203.5 yards per game and have 10 interceptions, but they also surrender a lot of touchdowns - 16. They have two No. 1 picks at the corners, Bryant Westbrook and rookie Terry Fair, who is 5-9, 185. Look for the Steelers to take advantage of Fair's height by hitting passes over the top to Charles Johnson, who has 25 catches the past four games and leads the team with 7 touchdowns.

Edge: Steelers



SPECIAL TEAMS

The biggest problem, aside from getting some mileage from P Josh Miller's sore left leg (groin), is stopping Fair, who leads the NFL with a 28.6-yard kick-return average and has scored two TDs. The Steelers are fourth in the league in kick coverage, allowing just 19.4 yards per return and have done an outstanding job against all the league's top returners this season - Jermaine Lewis, Roell Preston, Glyn Milburn, Reggie Barlow, Joey Galloway. Those returners combined have produced 12 touchdowns this season - none against the Steelers.

Edge: Lions



KEYS TO VICTORY

To win, the Lions must ...

1. Stop Bettis. He always responds when he has a little extra motivation, and he has some playing at home.

2. Avoid interceptions. The Steelers do a good job of throwing different looks at a young quarterback, and Batch could get in trouble if he doesn't do a good job of recognizing defenses.

To win, the Steelers must ...

1. Stop Sanders. If he can make big runs, that will create some room for Batch to find his outstanding receivers.

2. Convert on third down. When they have had success doing that, the offense gets in a very good rhythm.



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