Lions vs. Steelers: Rashean Mathis Is a Problem for Pittsburgh

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Lions vs. Steelers: Rashean Mathis Is a Problem for Pittsburgh
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The Steelers should be quite familiar with Lions cornerback Rashean Mathis.

As if the Pittsburgh Steelers don't have enough to worry about going into Sunday's Week 11 matchup against the Detroit Lions at Heinz Field (FOX, 1 p.m.).

Let's see, a defense that allowed a franchise-record 55 points and 610 yards two weeks ago has to find a way to stop the No. 3 passing offense in the NFL (306.9 yards per game.)

As nightmarish as New England was, the Steelers (3-6) didn't have to deal with a receiver like Calvin Johnson. The 6'5" Johnson dwarfs all Steelers defensive backs and is tied for the league lead with nine receiving touchdowns. He's also second with 904 receiving yards.

While the Steelers defense will have its hands full, Steelers offensive players will have to watch their backs.

Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was voted the NFL's dirtiest player by his peers in a Sporting News poll last season. He has followed that up with $131,500 in fines this season and $350,000 worth of checks to the NFL office in his career, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

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Ndamukong Suh

Suh and defensive linemate Nick Fairley are tied for second among NFL defensive tackles with six penalties each, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Fairley was penalized 15 yards for a late hit and fined $15,750 for throwing Bears quarterback Josh McCown to the ground last week, according to MLive.

Not only does the Steelers offense need to be on the lookout for cheap shots, but in the Lions' defensive backfield lurks a cornerback who has a history of hurting the Steelers on the scoreboard.

Rashean Mathis is an underrated villain in Pittsburgh sports lore. As a Jacksonville Jaguar, he intercepted six Steelers passes between 2005 and 2008. He returned three of them for touchdowns.

In 2005, Mathis picked off Tommy Maddox in overtime and ran it back 41 yards to give the Jaguars a 23-17 win at Heinz Field.

The Steelers won Super Bowl XL that year, but the following year, they sank to 8-8. Mathis was among the first to foil their title defense with two interceptions in a 9-0 Jaguars win on a Monday night at Jacksonville in Week 2.

Mathis played a role in the Steelers' last home playoff loss. He intercepted two passes, returning one of them 63 yards for a touchdown, as the Jaguars defeated the Steelers 31-29 in a 2007 AFC wild-card game.

The following year, Mathis again pestered the Steelers during a championship season. The Steelers beat the Jaguars 26-21 in Jacksonville despite Mathis' 72-yard pick-six.

Now, Mathis is back to haunt the Steelers. They need to see him like they need another Ben Roethlisberger rumor to surface.

The Steelers are a last-place team facing a 6-3 squad that leads the NFC North. They're trying to avoid losing to two NFC teams at home in the same season for the first time since 1991. They lost 40-23 to the Chicago Bears in Week 3 at Heinz Field, and the Lions have beaten the Bears twice.

Despite Mathis' penchant for tormenting the Steelers, Roethlisberger will have to throw the ball his way quite a bit Sunday. Antonio Brown provides the Steelers with one of their few matchup advantages in this game.

Brown leads the NFL with 67 receptions, and despite Mathis' 10 pass breakups, the Lions have allowed 275.6 passing yards per game, 27th in the NFL.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

Pro Football Focus gives all the Lions cornerbacks negative grades for pass coverage. But the 33-year-old Mathis has the highest of those grades, and he's 18th among NFL corners with 52 percent of passes completed into his coverage.

Even though he's switched from teal to Honolulu blue, if Mathis still wears the black hat in Pittsburgh, it will be a long day for the Steelers.

 

(Stats from NFL.com unless otherwise noted.)

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