Calvin Johnson has made it obvious that he is one of the most dominating wide receivers, if not the most dominating, in the last couple seasons. At times, he has proved that point against the Bears’ secondary, gashing them for long passing plays. His 2011 campaign was one of the more impressive seasons we've seen from a wide receiver. Johsnon managed 97 receptions, 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. He single-handily won games and was most likely the main reason for the Lions’ success last year.
Fast forward to 2012. The start of Johnson’s season was slow in developing but has finally started to pick up. His struggles are largely due to Matt Stafford, who has been extremely inaccurate and unimpressive through the first six weeks. The slow start for Stafford and Johnson are the reason the Lions find themselves below the .500 mark.
The numbers for Johnson, however, seem normal, considering he’s on pace to go well over 1,000 yards receiving. The problem area is his inefficiency in the redzone (only one receiving touchdown this season).
Johnson was a force inside the redzone in 2011. His jump-ball ability is uncanny, and his height and vertical leap make him nearly unstoppable for defensive backs to contain. The lack of production in the redzone, with no reasonable threat at running back, has the Lions struggling to score touchdowns. Matt Stafford alone only has four passing touchdowns, after his 41 touchdown pass breakout season in 2011.
Bears’ secondary vs. Calvin Johnson
Calvin Johnson has done some unspeakable things to the Bears’ secondary in the past. Johnson has always been a matchup problem for the Bears, especially down the field with quality of safeties the Bears have had. The Bears have found ways to win regardless, and have a pretty favorable record against the Lions in the last couple years.
This year's secondary is playing at an entirely different level. The cornerback tandem of Tim Jennings and Charles Tillman have arguably been the best in the League. The secondary has been a breeding ground for interceptions and turnovers, and the Bears have been making quarterbacks pay. The match up will be 6'2” Charles Tillman vs. 6'5” Calvin Johnson, as it has been the last couple years. Johnson has gotten the better of Tillman at times in the past, with his ability to break tackles and catch any ball thrown his direction.
Tillman has also done a good job containing. The height of Tillman takes away the regular height advantage Johnson has over the chronically smaller defensive backs. Tillman has limited Johnson by keeping his numbers down and not letting him get into the end zone. Take last year's Week-10 match up for example: 19 overall targets for Johnson, but only 7 catches for 81 yards. The three passed defended by Tillman also shows his ability to play man coverage when up against Johsnon.
Where Calvin Johnson takes major advantage of the Bears is usually against the safeties. The first match up in 2011, Johnson scored a 73-yard touchdown when former Bears’ safety tandem Chris Harris and Brandon Meriweather let Johnson get behind them in the secondary. That same game, Johnson had only five catches but for a grand total of 130 yards and a touchdown. If the Bears allow him to get in open space, and fail to limit him, he can single handily win this game.
The Bears are much improved in the secondary since the 2011 match ups. The still young safeties in Major Wright and Chris Conte have developed into effective pass covering defensive backs. The momentum and confidence is growing, and they have been able to limit their opponent’s offenses so far in 2012. Calvin Johnson can cause havoc with his speed, height, hands and jumping abilities, and the Bears know this very well. Johnson has to be the answer for the Lions, and the Bears are tasked with containing him and forcing the Lions to rely on other resources.