Sean Payton has come out this week and said it clear as day: “I think he’s the best receiver in football”. The season Calvin Johnson has amassed to this point, 63 receptions for 1,023 yards and 12 touchdowns in 11 games, certainly confirms that. So how do you stop a guy that measures at 6’5″, 236lbs, 40+ inch vertical and runs a 4.35 40 yard dash? It’s simple: you can’t. The receiver nicknamed “Megatron” is the perfect prototype for an NFL receiver almost artificially egineered to be dominant. He’s fast, he’s big, he’s got uncanny leaping ability, terrific hands, great body control… you name it. The Saints have never faced a more scary physical specimen at that position in their history.
One of the two teams that have done the best job at containing him was Kansas City, who held him to 3 catches for 29 yards, but that was in a 48-3 loss and he still managed to score two touchdowns on those three receptions. The other team was Green Bay last week, who held him to 4 receptions for 49 yards and 1 touchdown. No joke, those are literally the 2 worst games he has had this season. Per game this season, Megatron averages 5.7 receptions for 93 yards and just over 1 touchdown.
So what will the Saints do to slow him down?
One thing is for sure: Jabari Greer, Patrick Robinson and Tracy Porter are all capable corners, but manned up on him they have no chance. None of those three can match up man to man with Johnson and contain him. The Saints will need to mix up their coverages and hope to confuse Matt Stafford, who is dealing with a throwing hand injury. Doubling down Johnson with a safety at times and forcing Stafford to be accurate in zone coverage at others will likely be the way to go. Stafford has 9 interceptions over his last three games, so he’s definitely become more mistake prone since the injury, and the Saints need to take full advantage of the opportunities he may give them to get off the field. That means the ridiculous amount of drops the defensive backfield has suffered all season aren’t going to fly in this matchup. If they don’t get off the field, sooner or later, Calvin Johnson will make them pay.
I don’t think the Saints can leave Johnson alone often in single coverage without safety help, if ever. I realize the Saints struggle at stopping the run and this removes another element in their efforts to stop it, but the Lions struggle to run the ball well. They are 23rd in the NFL in rushing and they are missing their primary back, Jahvid Best. Part of that is by design, as the Lions’ offense is a pass first team, but because of that I think you take the risk of getting gashed on the ground and try to limit their biggest weapon on offense knowing they love to throw the ball.
The Saints aren’t going to stop him, but they just have to hope they can limit the damage like Green Bay did last week in their 27-15 win. Make no mistake, the Lions’ passing game is very explosive and it’s mostly due to Megatron. He’s the best receiving weapon in the NFL and so much attention is paid to him that he opens up opportunities for other playmakers.