Steelers Pregame Focus: Linebackers Derrick Johnson, Lawrence Timmons key to success for both teams

Peter Aiken

The respective linebackers of both Pittsburgh and Kansas City are similar, yet very different, players. Both go against good rushing teams when the Steelers meet the Chiefs on Monday Night Football

It's almost creepy how similar Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons is to Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson.

Alright, maybe it's due more to superficial reasons, like both of them being the No. 15 overall pick in their respective drafts (Johnson by the Chiefs in 2005, Timmons by the Steelers in 2007), and both of them having middle names starting with the letter "O" (Derrick O'Hara Johnson and Lawrence Olajuwon Timmons).

Outside of that, they really don't have much in common. Johnson (6-foot-3, 245 pounds) is bigger than Timmons (6-foot-1, 234 pounds), and Timmons appears to be faster. Johnson played four years at the University of Texas, earning First Team All America honors, while Timmons left school after playing two years at Florida State, a 20-year-old with a boatload of potential.

The one thing they really have in common is the ability to shoot gaps and stuff opposing running games.

Both will be counted on heavily to do that in their respective defensive game plans when the Steelers host the Chiefs in Week 10 on Monday Night Football.

Johnson leads the Chiefs with 65 total tackles, and has been the defensive stalwart for a team that's undergone massive changes multiple times in his career. He's been their defensive constant, even with high selections being used on NT Glenn Dorsey , DE Tyson Jackson and FS Eric Berry.

Timmons has shown flashes of high-level potential, and is playing sound football in 2012, but hasn't seen his athleticism parallel into the individual accomplishment many had expected. Unlike Johnson, Timmons is the highest drafted player on his side of the ball, but is third in tackles after eight games. He's vital, though, in the team's run defense, particularly chasing plays down from the back side.

Timmons will be challenged by the quickness and vision of Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles. He'll have to approach him with a sense of discipline; one over-aggressive pursuit can lead to an explosive play. Charles has that kind of game-breaking ability.

Johnson will have to strap his pads on extra tight, with the power running of Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer will be on full display tonight. He can expect several face-to-face encounters with the Steelers' interior line, center Maurkice Pouncey, right guard Ramon Foster and left guard Willie Colon (Run PFC). Pittsburgh will often release the backside guard to the second level to cut off the linebacker, and they're playing with precision and accuracy in their run-stalking. Johnson will have to battle off those blocks to prevent an overwise weak defensive line from being run over.

Different kinds of linebackers from different backgrounds playing on different teams and likely approaching Monday's game from different perspective. They may be very different players, but their goals tonight are the same; stopping a talented running game across the line from them.

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