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Steelers find way to silence Megatron in second half

| Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, 10:48 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Steelers safety Ryan Clark and cornerback Ike Taylor break up a pass in the end zone intended for Lions receiver Calvin Johnson during the fourth quarter Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, at Heinz Field.

Nothing changed.

That's the story, and the Steelers are sticking to it.

Well, nothing changed other than Calvin Johnson transforming into Megatron for a 10-minute span of Sunday's game that had Ike Taylor, one of the best big-game cornerbacks in the league, reeling.

Johnson caught five passes for 163 yards, including touchdowns of 79 and 19 yards within a span of 21 plays of the second quarter to rally Detroit to 27 points in 14 minutes.

“Now I see why the call him Megatron,” Taylor said.

But after that, Taylor did his best Optimus Prime impersonation.

Taylor continued to follow Johnson all over the field.

Taylor continued to play man-to-man defense.

And, with a subtle tweak in the defense, Taylor and the Steelers held Johnson without a catch in the second half as the Steelers rallied for a 37-27 win over Detroit at Heinz Field.

It was the first time all season that Johnson was shut out in a half.

“Honestly, they didn't do anything different scheme-wise in the second half (on Johnson),” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said. “They put a good player on him. They had it on him the whole game.”

Johnson finished with six catches for 179 yards and two touchdowns on 13 targets. Only three times did Matthew Stafford throw Johnson's way in the second half, with the final one resulting in a game-clinching interception by Will Allen.

“The game plan was the game plan,” Taylor said. “We all stuck with it.”

It had to be tempting to throw the plan out the window after a second quarter in which the Lions scored 27 points and put up 280 yards.

“It wasn't like they were drawing up great plays against our defense,” Steelers safety Troy Polamalu said. “We were just giving up plays.”

Plays that involved Johnson.

After getting ignored the entire first quarter, Johnson broke out after that with two catches and two touchdowns — 79 yards because of what Taylor called a “blown coverage” and 19 yards that cut the Lions' deficit to 20-17.

Then, the completions started to roll — 23, 20 and 22 yards within a span of two minutes late in the first half.

“I knew sooner or later that he was going to get his shots and sooner or later that he was going to get his plays,” Taylor said. “We came out more mentally aggressive in the second half. We had a sloppy first half, so let's shut it all down and ball out in the second half.”

The Steelers played a little more two-high safeties in the second half that limited Johnson's chances. Just as effective was that the Lions' offense was on the field for only 22 plays until there was 2:29 left in the game.

“We did some things schematically ourselves with some of the calls to pay a little more attention to (Johnson) and make them have to beat us with other guys,” Clark said. “We were able to disguise things in the back end to make it harder for them to make plays.”

Detroit managed only 35 yards passing and no points in the second half after throwing for 327 and scoring 27 in the first.

“It was about wanting it more than he did,” Allen said. “Ike buckled down, and he likes those premium matchups. He played a great game. He played tougher and started to be disruptive at the line. Coach (Dick) LeBeau called a great game.”

Mark Kaboly is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mkaboly@tribweb.com or via Twitter @MarkKaboly_Trib.

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