Steelers notebook: Secondary steps up after shaky 1st half

Ralph N. Paulk
| Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, 7:45 p.m.

The Steelers gave up 327 passing yards to the Lions in the first half, but they held quarterback Matthew Stafford to 35 yards after halftime.

“We didn't do anything differently in the second half,” safety Troy Polamalu said. “We just did our jobs better.”

The Steelers shut down Calvin Johnson in the second half. It helped, too, that the Lions' receivers dropped four passes in the second half. Polamalu said holding Detroit to a field goal in the final seconds of the first half gave the defense a much-needed lift.

“It deflates an offense,” Polamalu said. “It was deflating for us when we couldn't score a touchdown with first-and-goal at the 1. It was a big win for the defense.”

DeCastro handles Suh

David DeCastro didn't blink when asked how he would handle Detroit's defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh. He seemed eager to take on one of the league's most-feared defenders.

On Sunday, DeCastro earned something akin to a technical knockout over Suh in the Steelers' 37-27 victory at Heinz Field.

DeCastro seldom allowed Suh near quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Suh didn't lay a hand on running back Le'Veon Bell, either. DeCastro's dominance was so complete that Suh didn't record a tackle, sack or pressure.

Defensive line responds

The Steelers' defense was without two of their best pass rushers — linebacker LaMarr Woodley and defensive end Brett Keisel. The Steelers didn't have a big enough push up front to throw Stafford out of rhythm in the first half.

The Steelers sacked Stafford twice, including at the Detroit 2-yard line. That led to a Shaun Suisham field goal that cut the Steelers' deficit to 27-23 in the third quarter. Defensive end Ziggy Hood capped a superb second-half effort by the defense by sacking Stafford on the Lions' final play.

Defensive end Steve McLendon forced a fumble when the Lions faked a field goal in the fourth quarter, and Ryan Clark recovered. The Steelers marched 97 yards for a touchdown and a 30-27 lead.

Sanders suffers injury

The Steelers lost wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to a right foot injury in the second quarter. Markus Wheaton, who missed four games with a broken finger, had three catches in Sanders' absence. Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester suffered a hamstring injury.

It's the uniform

Fullback Will Johnson hadn't scored a touchdown since the Steelers last wore their throwback uniforms against Washington on Oct. 28, 2012. Johnson scored on a 1-yard pass with 4:46 remaining.

“I was telling Le'Veon it's something about the uniform,” Johnson said. “I had the same old 1-yard catch. It's always good to have your number dialed up. Their guy didn't cover me the way we thought he would, and I was able to slip around him in the end zone.”

McBriar's ups, downs

Punter Mat McBriar had two poor kicks that gave the Lions good field position. His 31-yard punt with 1:02 left in the second quarter set up a 19-yard field that gave Detroit a 27-20 lead at halftime. But McBriar followed up with a 70-yard punt that altered field position considerably in the third quarter and kept the Lions' high-powered offense pinned deep its own territory.

Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.

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