Lions' WR Johnson has Steelers' attention
By Ralph N. Paulk
Published: Wednesday, Nov. 13, 2013, 7:09 p.m.
The Steelers' game plan against the Detroit Lions is simple: They aren't likely to shut down All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson, but they must minimize his impact Sunday at Heinz Field.
Few teams have managed to contain Megatron — a big, physical flanker with incalculable talents. He is a difficult matchup for a secondary that surrendered 432 passing yards to New England's diminutive receivers in a 55-31 defeat.
Johnson is the heart of the Lions' offense. He also is the pulse of a team seemingly in the catbird seat in the NFC North.
The 6-foot-5 Johnson is as close to unstoppable as it comes in the NFL. The Steelers held him to one catch four years ago, in part, because he left early with a knee injury in the Steelers' 28-20 win.
“If you throw the ball up, he's going to get it,” Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery said. “If you play press, he's going to beat the press. … He's a freak of nature.”
Johnson is a super freak. Ask the Dallas Cowboys' secondary, which Johnson shredded Oct. 27 for 14 catches and 329 yards — the second-most receiving yards in NFL history.
The Steelers figure they can slow Detroit by forcing quarterback Matthew Stafford to overplay his hand with Johnson.
“You can't stop Calvin Johnson with one man,” safety Ryan Clark said. “Sometimes you can't stop him with three. There's not going to be a defense we're going to make up that (Johnson) is going to say, ‘This is the first time I've seen it.' ”
The Cowboys used several schemes against Johnson, including single and double coverage with safeties shadowing him.
“We have to match Johnson's intensity,” cornerback William Gay said. “I haven't seen any defensive coordinator take him out of the game. It's hard to stop him.”
Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will be pressed to devise a plan to keep the ball out of Johnson's hands.
“If (Stafford) sees an opportunity for me to make a play, he'll try to get the ball to me,” said Johnson, who has 53 receptions for 904 yards. “Hopefully we can wreck (LeBeau's) scheme. The last couple of weeks we've seen some single coverage, and we've been able to make plays because of it.”
Linebacker LaMarr Woodley said the only way to stop Johnson is to pressure Stafford.
Cornerback Ike Taylor has stared down some of the league's best receivers and had success. He held Cincinnati's A.J. Green to one catch last season, but Johnson is a better pass-catcher than he was in 2009 when he faced Taylor.
“If there is somebody that can do it, it's going to be (Taylor),” said linebacker Larry Foote, who played one season with Johnson in Detroit before rejoining the Steelers in 2011.
Yet Foote acknowledges Johnson will be a tough assignment.
“He's one of those guys you don't like to look at because he's truly a Megatron,” Foote said.
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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