GREEN BAY—Don’t try to tell the Green Bay Packers that Lions receiver Calvin Johnson is anything less than 100 percent.
Johnson is listed on Detroit’s injury report with a bum knee, but the Packers’ defensive backs don’t see it, at least not when they’re watching film.
“I never knew he was banged up,” rookie cornerback Casey Hayward said. “He’s playing like he’s not banged up. He’s playing great ball. Last week he went for 200 yards. You can’t deny that, especially when someone is trying to take him away the whole game.”
In catching 12 passes for 207 yards against the Vikings last week, Johnson made that injury report irrelevant. He found the end zone in Minnesota for just the second time this season, but touchdowns are the only category he’s down.
He still leads the league with 974 receiving yards, and his 16.2 yards-per-catch average is right in line with his career mark of 16.1.
As usual, the job of containing “Megatron” on Sunday at Ford Field will fall mostly on cornerback Tramon Williams, who’s as cerebral at the position as any. His approach against a big, physical receiver like the 6-4, 240-pound Johnson is counterintuitive. At 5-11, 191, Williams dials back the physicality and makes the bigger receivers beat him some other way.
“Obviously, he’s a big guy, and a little guy like me going up against him, (if) you find yourself trying to get too aggressive, the guy is just too strong,” Williams said. “He kind of throws you here and there, gets you out of position, and you don’t want that, so you can’t play him that way.”
The Packers have won some and lost some against Johnson in recent years. Under Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers, Green Bay has faced Johnson five times and held him under 50 yards three times. In the other two games he’s been a major factor, with 86 yards and two TDs in the first meeting in 2010 and 11 catches for 244 yards and a score in the regular-season finale last year.
In that latter game, the Packers rested defensive starters Clay Matthews and Charles Woodson prior to the playoffs, and both will be out with injuries on Sunday. That alone will put a greater burden on the Packers’ coverage of Johnson.
The Lions are developing young receiving threats to complement Johnson, too. Rookie Ryan Broyles from Oklahoma has made an impact of late, with 146 yards and two scores in the last four games, and second-year speedster Titus Young leads the Lions with four TD grabs. Green Bay cornerback Davon House called Young the toughest receiver he faced in college. They went head-to-head twice as Western Athletic Conference rivals.
With as much as the Lions like to move Johnson around the formation, Hayward and House could face him plenty as well. Mike McCarthy spoke highly of House on Thursday, noting House made a “big-time” interception in the red zone during practice, another sign his play isn’t bothered by the harness his shoulder injury requires.
“You’re seeing him make those plays that he was making before the injury in training camp,” McCarthy said. “I think he’s gotten used to (the harness). It seems like he’s a lot more natural than he was about four to six weeks ago.”
The Packers certainly have more depth at corner now than Capers has ever had, especially if Sam Shields can also return from his ankle injury, which could be soon. But everyone in the secondary was healthy when the Colts’ Reggie Wayne had his way with 13 catches, 212 yards and a game-winning TD in Week 5.
That was Green Bay’s last loss, and to prevent Johnson from having that kind of day, the Packers are looking for an effort that better resembles how they handled Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald in their last game. Slightly smaller but just as physical as Johnson, Fitzgerald made one big play with a 31-yard catch-and-run for a TD, but otherwise was a non-factor, with just five receptions for 43 yards the rest of the game.
“Some games you may come in and slow him down, and some games you may not,” Williams said of matchups against marquee guys. “You just have to go in and have that mindset that you will get your job done, and at the end of the day you have to go out and battle.” Additional coverage - Nov. 15