PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Calvin Johnson’s nickname is enough to scare opponents, even if he’s not finding the end zone with regularity.
The All-Pro wide receiver will try to catch his first touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford this season when the Detroit Lions (1-3) visit the Philadelphia Eagles (3-2) on Sunday.
“When they give you the nickname ‘Megatron,’ that means you’re pretty good,” Eagles coach Andy Reid said of Johnson. “He’s a really good player.”
Johnson has a tough challenge going against a secondary that features a pair of accomplished cornerbacks: two-time All-Pro Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, a 2009 Pro Bowl pick. Rookie Brandon Boykin may even line up against Johnson at times.
“These guys have corners that can play,” Stafford said. “You look at them on tape, they’re shutting guys down.”
Whatever the Eagles plan to do to cover Johnson, they’re not letting on.
“I don’t want to give away what we’re going to do,” defensive coordinator Juan Castillo said. “Hopefully we can talk about it after the game, and you can say, ‘Juan, that was a good game plan that you all had.'”
The Lions use Johnson in various formations, lining him up inside, outside and wherever they think they can draw a mismatch. He has 29 catches for 423 yards, but his only TD catch was thrown by Shaun Hill.
When Johnson is in the slot, Asomugha probably will move over to cover him instead of Boykin, who usually plays there. Rodgers-Cromartie had a tough time adjusting to playing nickel cornerback last year, making Asomugha more likely to get the assignment. Rodgers-Cromartie has outplayed Asomugha in man-to-man coverage, so he should be on Johnson when he’s outside.
Like other teams, the Eagles may also use a safety to double-cover Johnson.
“Normally people are looking to cover him with a couple of people,” coach Andy Reid said. “He has earned that respect and that’s what teams have done. That doesn’t mean that is what you have to do, but that is what teams have tried to do against him. That has been going on not just this year but the last few. They still try to find ways to get him open and get him the football.”
Rodgers-Cromartie indicated the Eagles will put two guys on Johnson.
“You just have to keep a couple of people on him,” he said. “You have to keep him out of the game and don’t even allow him to get started. Frustrate him early.”
The Lions have an idea of what the Eagles might try to do. Even though Johnson has only scored once, Detroit is moving the ball. The Lions are third in the NFL in yards and second in first downs.
“They’ve got great corners. I think they’re a matchup kind of a defense,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “They’re not just going to go out and play straight man-on-man. They’re going to have guys accounting for the receivers in close coverage. I would expect more of that than any of the games we’ve had so far.”
Stafford connected with Johnson for two TDs in each of the first four games last year and nine times in five games to lift the Lions to a 5-0 start en route to their first playoff appearance since 1999. Johnson finished with 96 catches for 1,681 yards and 16 TDs.
But with Stafford off to a slow start — he has fewer TD passes (three) than interceptions (four) — and Johnson not making big plays, it’s no wonder the Lions are struggling. Johnson, though, is due for a breakout performance.
“He can run, he can jump, and he has great hands,” Castillo said. “He does a great job running routes and catching the football in traffic and over the middle. The quarterback trusts him.
“Stafford will throw to him even if he is double covered.”
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