Stopping Calvin Johnson in any game is hard enough.
The Detroit Lions wide receiver, nicknamed Megatron, is a giant target (6-foot-5) and playmaker who can overpower defensive backs and score in the red zone.
Last season he had 96 catches for an NFL-leading 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns and had 10 catches for 40 or more yards. And, in the Lions’ opening-game victory over the St. Louis Rams last week, Johnson was at it again, catching six balls for 111 yards.
Though Johnson didn’t practice Wednesday because of a foot injury, he’s expected to play Sunday night against the 49ers in San Francisco’s home opener. In fact, Megatron has said he’s been looking forward to the chance to play against the 49ers again, since last season’s 25-19 Niners win over Detroit when San Francisco battled back from behind to win the Handshakegate game.
“Looking to this week, if there are games you circle, this should definitely be one of the games,” Johnson wrote Wednesday in his blog on the Detroit Lions website. “One, because it’s early in the season and Sunday night, but at the same times, a lot of guys – most of the guys that were here last year – they got a bad taste in their mouth from the way that the game ended last year. Not even talking about all the extra stuff that happened, but just from on the field. We felt we had that game and we let it get away.”
In the 49ers-Lions matchup last season, the Niners held Johnson without a touchdown, but allowed him to catch seven passes for 113 yards.
On Sunday night, 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown will be the man mostly assigned to defend Johnson, a very tall order.
Brown, however, told Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle that he’s “geeked up” for the assignment.
“They get him the ball,” Brown said. “He’s the featured guy. Everybody knows that. The thing for us is to play our style of football. Go out there and try to be physical. Go out there and get our hands on him. Try to slow that guy down. He’s going to make catches, but you want to limit his yards after the catch. And go out there and compete with him for every jump ball.”
Brown, in his sixth season out of Texas, is going to be at a severe size disadvantage against Johnson, however.
Brown is just 5-foot-10 and 193 pounds, but says he has the experience of playing against Johnson last season and believes he can negate the size difference by being quick, smart and using proper technique.
“You want to get in to him, be aggressive with him at the line of scrimmage,” Brown told reporters Wednesday. “When the ball’s in the air, we’re both going to compete for the ball. He may have the height advantage, but if I get off the ground quicker than him, I feel like I’m taller than him.”