Johnson shows once again why he's Stafford's favorite target

Posted Aug 18, 2012

With reigning defensive MVP Terrell Suggs out indefinitely with an Achilles injury for the Ravens Friday night, the Ravens tried to fill the void by sending a parade of blitzes after Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. Other teams have tried that strategy before, usually with the same result as we saw in the Lions’ 27-12 victory in Baltimore.

Stafford targeted All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson seven times in the game -- mostly on single coverage during blitzes -- and the pair connected five times for 111 yards and the team’s first touchdown in the second quarter.

“When a team wants to blitz every play, Calvin can make them pay for it,” Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said after the game. “That’s what Calvin can do.”

Johnson can do little to amaze folks around here anymore. They’ve just about seen it all. But the Ravens and their fans got an up-close look Friday night at why Calvin Johnson is the game’s premier weapon.

“Listen now. You’re talking about a person who probably should be running track, but he chose football,” Ravens All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said of Johnson. “He is a mismatch problem for a lot of people. The bottom line is you’ve just got to play him and make him earn his check. Today, he earned his money.”

On the team’s first scoring drive, a 96-yard drive in the second quarter, Stafford and Johnson hooked up three times for 83 yards, including a 57-yard bomb out of the shadow of their own end zone.

It’s hard to blame Stafford for looking No. 81’s way all the time, especially when the Ravens thought it wise to blitz as often as they did early in the game and leave their corners on an island in Cover 1.

“When we see that same coverage out there, our mouths start to water – we’re hungry,” Johnson said after the game. “They were blitzing a lot, so they left their corners – their DBs – on an island. That’s what you look for.”

Friday night’s game had the same feel of the helplessness from Ravens defensive backs as major league pitchers must feel when pitching to Tigers MVP-candidate Miguel Cabrera. They can’t just walk Cabrera every time, just like the Ravens couldn’t simply sit back and double-cover Johnson without Suggs and still generate enough pressure on Stafford so he wouldn’t pick them apart. It should be noted that this Ravens team had the league's third-ranked defense last season.

Sometimes a pitcher has to throw his best fastball and hope it’s good enough to get by Cabrera. Most of the time it’s not. It's the same with the way NFL defense scheme Johnson. Most of the time it's not good enough.

A typical Lions practice will feature a Stafford-to-Johnson connection approximately 60 percent of the time. Johnson was targeted 158 times last year, third most in the NFL behind only Roddy White of the Falcons and Wes Welker of the Patriots.

The Lions have lots of weapons on offense with receiver Titus Young, who caught the team’s second touchdown Friday night, tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler, receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles and running backs Jahvid Best and Mikel Leshoure (when healthy). But as Johnson proved once again Friday night, he’s the biggest, fastest, most explosive weapon of them all and Stafford knows it.