MONDAY COUNTDOWN: A look at the Lions without Calvin and what that means moving forward

Posted Oct 7, 2013

The Lions needed to respond in the absence of their best receiver, but couldn't get anything going offensively against the Packers

Reggie BushPhoto: G. Smith/Detroit Lions

Reggie Bush signed with the Lions for a reason, and that reason was never more apparent than by its absence in Green Bay on Sunday.

All things being equal – money and any other factors that are part of the equation – the presence of a superstar on a player's side of the ball is the tipping point in a free agent's decision on where to relocate his career.

Calvin Johnson was that tipping point. Unfortunately for Bush and the rest of the Lions' offense, the tipping point was the stumbling point in Sunday's 22-9 loss at Green Bay. In a game where the Lions had a chance to strengthen their grip on first place in the NFC North, the offense took a pratfall.

This week's Monday Countdown looks at how much Johnson means to the offense. Don't expect to get a brain cramp in this discussion. The evidence was overwhelming Sunday, and it should have been predictable.

There's also a look at some other areas involving the Lions, a slick play by Aaron Rodgers Sunday, the good and bad of Sunday's loss to the Packers and the best and worst of the NFL after five games:

We start with Calvin's value:

1. Bush's choice: At his press conference in Allen Park in March, Bush explained the obvious on why he signed a four-year contract with the Lions. He would have had other suitors, but the Lions rushed him hard. They had an obvious need for a running back, and at this stage of his career, Bush wanted a place that would best suit his talents.

"It's a running back's dream," Bush said at that press conference. "We watched film. To see those safeties deep, the safety rolling over, doubling Calvin Johnson. It's a running back's dream.

"One of the reasons I wanted to come here was to be able to play in a balanced attack and help take some of the pressure of Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford and just complement them."

Bush has done that. He has taken advantage of the opportunities created by defenses keying on Johnson.

In the Lions' opener, he went 78 yards for a touchdown on a screen pass. In a Game 4 win over Chicago, Bush rushed for 139 yards and had a 37-yard TD run.

Bush is electric in space, and a lot of that space is created by the attention defenses give to Johnson.

To regurgitate a comment from a Lions player Sunday, defenses design schemes for him unlike any other receiver faces. They have to do that to counter his incredible blend of speed, power and athleticism.

"There's no one like him," the player said. "There's nobody like him on the planet."

2. The stats with Calvin: With Bush out in the Lions' Game 3 road win over Washington, the passing game produced at a high level. Stafford completed 25 of 42 passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns, and he was sacked only once – on a blitz on the first play of the game.

Calvin Johnson had 115 yards receiving, Nate Burleson 116, and Joique Bell added 69 out of the backfield. The Lions had receptions of 47 yards by Burleson, 33 by Kris Durham, 37 by Bell and 23 by Johnson.

None of those big plays came against the Packers, who went into the game with a pass defense that ranked near the bottom of the league.

3. The stats without Calvin: The emphasis on the passing game against Green Bay was similar to what the Lions did against Washington, but the results were far different.

Stafford completed 25 of 40 passes, but for 262 yards – 123 fewer than he had against Washington. He was sacked five times. The long gains were a 25-yard completion to tight end Brandon Pettigrew and 22 yards to Ryan Broyles.

4. Brady-Stafford: He got pressure from the Packers' rush, and there were comments about the quarterback's role to "make players around him better." In that regard, Tom Brady is the quarterback mentioned most frequently.

Brady has been without all of his top receivers from last year through the first five games, and he's off to the worst start of his career.

The Patriots lost their first game of the season Sunday, 13-6 to Cincinnati, and Brady had a bad game, completing 18 of 38 for 197 with an interception and no TDs. He was sacked four times. He did not make anyone better, but no one helped Brady, either. That's the NFL.

Through five games, Brady has seven TD passes, three interceptions, a completion rate of 56.6 percent and a passer rating of 80.5.

Through five games, Stafford has completed 63.8 percent of his passes with eight TDs, three interceptions and a passer rating of 94.9. Sunday in Green Bay, he did not have Nate Burleson or Calvin Johnson available. That's the NFL, too.

5. Gashed D: The Lions' defense has been ripped for at least one big play in every game. It started on their first play of the game against the Vikings, when Adrian Peterson ran 78 yards for a TD.

Here are the biggest of the big plays in the first five games:

Minnesota: 78-yard run by Peterson, 47-yard catch by Jerome Simpson.

Arizona: 36-yard TD catch by Andre Ellington.

Washington: 30-yard TD run by Alfred Morris.

Chicago: 53-yard TD run by Matt Forte, 44-yard catch by Alshon Jeffery, 27-yard run on end around by Jeffery.

Green Bay: 83-yard TD catch by James Jones, 67-yard run by Randall Cobb. Cobb is a wide receiver he lined up in the backfield and ran through a hole in the right side of the Lions' defense. He had two carries in the previous three games and two against the Lions.

6. Mr. Rodgers' neighborhood: A small play by Aaron Rodgers early in the fourth quarter didn't get much notice in the avalanche of passing stats put up in Week 5, but it represented how Rodgers is the master of the moment and why many – me included – consider him the best quarterback in the league.

On third and five at the Lions' 37 and the Packers holding a 16-3 lead, Rodgers rolled right and found room to get the first down. He might have gotten another yard or two, and perhaps more, but as he neared the sideline, Rodgers slid to go down and void going out of bounds.

That kept the clocking running, taking away time for a possible Lions comeback. The possession ended in a field goal for a 19-3 lead. The Packers probably were in control, anyway, but Rodgers gave the Packers a slightly better edge.

Smart play by a great quarterback.

7. The good in Sunday's game for the Lions: Sam Martin's punting – again – a big game by linebacker DeAndre Levy, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew's continued revival. He had four catches, giving him 11 in the last two games. He was targeted five times, and the only pass he didn't catch was a throw in tight quarters that was contested by linebacker Clay Matthews.

8. The bad of Sunday's game for the Lions: No running game, no deep threat in the passing game, breakdowns in pass protection, two penalties on defense that gave the Packers' first downs on plays when drives would have been stopped, and getting gashed on an 83-yard TD pass and a 67-yard run.

Also bad: how the Lions reacted without Calvin Johnson.

9. The best of the NFL after Week 5:

1. Broncos (5-0): Offense still rolling, but the defense was awful against Dallas.
2. Chiefs (5-0): Defense gives them slight edge over Saints.
3. Saints (5-0): A lot of people thought they couldn't win at Chicago. Wrong.
4. Colts (4-1): Wining with Luck, but not by luck. Good, tough team.
5. Seahawks (4-1): Road loss to the Colts dropped them down.
6. 49ers (3-2): Hammered the Texans, who are surprisingly bad.
7. Patriots (4-1): Suddenly, winning the AFC East could be tougher because of their offense.
8. Bengals (3-2): Terrific defense, and look for offense to come around.
9. Ravens (3-2): The Super Bowl champs know how to win.
10. Packers (2-2): Not just because they beat the Lions, but that's part of it.
11. Cowboys (2-3): One bad play by Tony Romo . . . oh, we've said that before.
12. Lions (3-2): Who'd have thought playing a 3-2 Browns team next would be such a test?

10. The NFL's worst after Week 5:

5. Washington (1-3): Defense has to get better, as does RGIII, after bye week.
4. Bucs (0-4): Not a bad team, but they've made a mess of their season.
3. Steelers (0-4): They needed a week off, but it might not matter.
2. Giants (0-5): Can't imagine Tom Coughlin's team at 0-5, but said the same at 0-3 and 0-4.
1. Jaguars (0-5): Everything has gone wrong.