Calvin Johnson will command attention of Redskins’ beleaguered defense

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Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson watches the same film as everyone else around the NFL.

One of the elite wide receivers in the sport sees a Washington Redskins secondary that starts two rookies, has struggled to tackle and limit yards after catches and been torched by two of the league’s better offenses through the first two weeks of the season.


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The Lions haven’t won a game in Washington — ever. But Johnson sees an opportunity against a defense that is in the midst of soul-searching this week after allowing 1,023 yards of total offense in two losses.

“There’s been a lot of yardage after the catch, guys breaking tackles,” Johnson said. “We see the same thing that they see [on film]. Obviously, it’s a copycat league and teams try to exploit the same things that other teams have had that success with. The fact that they play a lot of single-high defense, it seems like there’s a lot of opportunity.

Johnson has 10 catches for 153 yards in two games, including a 72-yard touchdown reception in a 25-21 loss to Arizona last week. Detroit is 1-1. It beat Minnesota 34-32 in Week 1 as Johnson had four catches for 37 yards. The 27-year-old has four seasons with 1,100 receiving yards and last year posted a career-high 1,964 to lead all NFL receivers by 366 yards.

“I’ve played him in college and played him in the NFL and watched him now,” said Redskins cornerback Josh Wilson, who was at Maryland when Johnson was a rising star at Georgia Tech. “He just goes and gets the ball. He knows how to separate the defender from the ball and give his quarterback a great opportunity to make a completion.”

There’s a chance Detroit could be without one of its major weapons against Washington, however, and that could change the looks Johnson sees. The Lions lost running back Reggie Bush to injury midway through the second quarter of the Arizona game on Sunday when he took a helmet to the knee.

Bush returned, but fumbled in the third quarter and didn’t play a snap after that. Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said on a conference call on Wednesday that Bush has no structural damage, but whether he will play this week remains in doubt.

“It shouldn’t change at all,” Johnson said of about how opponents will cover him without Bush to worry about.

Once Bush went down, the Cardinals showed more Cover-2 looks in the secondary to help take away Detroit’s passing game. There was far less of that in the first half, Johnson acknowledged.

Still, rookies Bacarri Rambo, a safety, and David Amerson, a corner, will have their hands full, too. Johnson expects veteran DeAngelo Hall to cover him primarily. But if the Redskins hope to slow him down it will take more than one player.

Gang tackling will be an emphasis across the board this week, linebacker London Fletcher said. Rambo and Amerson, especially, need to make tackles when they have the chance. Detroit will always know where they are on the field.

“Usually you try to go at those guys, you try to put them in difficult situations where they have to make a decision,” Johnson said. “A lot of times that inexperience leads to the offense being able to make a big play. We’ll see how well-coached those guys are and how much they rely on their technique and coaching when it comes to game time.”

Schwartz emphasized that the Lions still have to stay true to their own offensive philosophies and not blindly copy what the Eagles did in Week 1 against the Redskins or the Packers did in Week 2.

Detroit doesn’t have a Michael Vick at quarterback. It won’t be running a spread offense with quarterback Matthew Stafford as Philadelphia did. There are similarities, however, with Green Bay, which gashed Washington time and again on short passes.

“You can never get too far from who you are,” Schwartz said. “You can end up chasing two rabbits in one of those ways and everybody knows if you chase two rabbits, you don’t catch any.”

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