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Much of Lions' success stems from Bush's receiving ability

USA Today Sports - Lions receiver Calvin Johnson catches a touchdown pass over the Bears' Charles Tillman during the second half Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, at Soldier Field in Chicago.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>USA Today Sports</em></div>Lions receiver Calvin Johnson catches a touchdown pass over the Bears' Charles Tillman during the second half Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, at Soldier Field in Chicago.
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play of the week-111713

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Steelers CB Ike Taylor vs. Lions WR Calvin Johnson

MATCHUP: Calvin Johnson is the premier wide receiver in the NFL, and teams have gone to extreme measures to try to stop him. The Steelers just might not be one of them. Shadowing a top receiver is not new for Ike Taylor, who has been following opponents' top threats around the field for nearly a decade. Johnson and Taylor matched up four years ago, but Johnson left with an injury and played only 13 snaps.


JOHNSON: He has proven his Megatron nickname true. Two weeks ago, Johnson racked up 329 receiving yards in a win over Dallas — the second most in a game in NFL history. Johnson is first in the league in yards per game (113) and first among wide receivers in touchdowns (nine). He has been targeted 14, 17 and 17 times over the past three games.


TAYLOR: He hasn't had his best season, but the veteran cornerback has played better of late and seems to play his best against the best. Taylor held Cincinnati's A.J. Green — the NFL's leading receiver in yardage — to 41 yards during a Week 2 matchup. Taylor is allowing fewer than four catches per game and gave up only one touchdown in 53 targets this year.

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Saturday, Nov. 16, 2013, 9:57 p.m.

Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson must have thought he was covering a punt instead of running a pass route.

At some point during the previous two seasons, Johnson faced what he called “gunner-like” coverage.

“It's two corners or two defensive players on you right on the line of scrimmage,” Johnson said.

Whether it was double-teaming Johnson at the line of scrimmage, employing two high safeties or rolling a safety to his side, teams have tried exotic defenses to try to slow down Johnson.

Teams were willing to risk leaving the middle of the field open.

Not anymore.

Detroit invested $16 million during the offseason on Reggie Bush with the hopes of attacking the middle of the field, and they've done so with the “strong left shotgun 3-wide delay middle screen.”

The play went for a 77-yard touchdown during the first game Bush played for the Lions.

Bush is averaging 4.7 yards per carry and has 34 receptions for 334 yards. According to Pro Football Focus, all but one of his catches were less than 10 yards down the field, and 18 have come in between the hash marks.

“This guy is a running back who legitimately operates as a receiver with receiver-like skills,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

The “strong left shotgun 3 wide delay middle screen” is one of the Lions' most successful plays.

They come out in 11 personnel: one tight end, one running back, three wide receivers. The strong side of the formation is to the left, with tight end Brandon Pettigrew at the end of the line, Johnson in the slot and Kris Durham lined up to the far sidelines. Receiver Kevin Ogletree is split wide to the right. Bush is set behind right tackle Jason Fox to the right of quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is in the shotgun.

At the snap, the receivers run off their defenders with Johnson usually responsible for taking up two. With Johnson requiring safety help over the top, space is created underneath for Bush to operate, typically against linebackers.

The interior linemen — guards Rob Sims and Larry Warford along with center Dominic Raiola — are the key to the play. They let their blocks go almost immediately after initial contact to block down the field.

Warford picks off the inside linebacker responsible for Bush out of the backfield, while Raiola and Sims head down the middle of the field taking out any remaining defenders.

Bush will take a couple of hops to his right at the snap to get around the rushing defensive end. Stafford makes a quick throw to Bush darting to the middle of the field, where he has blockers and space.

As a variation, the Lions also have run the middle screen with Bush out of the slot.

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

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