|The Lions' Calvin Johnson wants to go where no WR has gone before: 2,000 yards. (US Presswire)|
Calvin Johnson is having a week most NFL receivers only dream about.
On Dec. 22, the Lions WR smashed Hall of Famer Jerry Rice's NFL record for most receiving yards in a single season in front of a national TV audience. Four days later, he was named a starter for the NFC's Pro Bowl team.
You'd think he'd be ready to call his 2012 season -- which will already go into the record books as one of the best individual single-year performances the game has ever seen -- a success.
You'd be wrong.
It's not enough that Johnson's current total of 1,892 yards bettered Rice's old record by 44 yards with a game to spare. His goal against the Bears Sunday at Ford Field is to reach 2,000 receiving yards for the year.
Johnson's reasons for wanting to break the 2,000-yard plateau reflect his understanding of the differences between today's NFL, and the way the game was played during the prime of Rice's career.
He's aware that the way NFL offenses have expanded their use of the passing game allowed him to break Rice's record, so he wants to protect his achievement against challenges from receivers in the future.
“[Getting 2,000 yards], would be big -- kind of almost put that [record] away for a while,” he said. “All records are meant to be broken, but that would make it tough. It would take a long time for somebody to come and get that. You never know. It could happen next year, but it would be a tough one. You have to put in a lot of work to get there.”
The 108 yards Johnson needs to reach 2,000 are below his season average of 126 yards per game, but that doesn't mean he's guaranteed to achieve the milestone. That's because he's facing a Bears secondary that held him to a season-low three catches on 11 targets for just 34 yards when the teams met earlier this season.
Bears' CB Charles Tillman did an excellent job of denying Johnson open looks during Chicago's 13-7 win at Soldier Field in Week 7. While Johnson is quick to praise Tillman's skills as a defender, he says the reason that he struggled in the Windy City was the coverage scheme created by Bears DC and former Lions coach Rod Marinelli.
“[Marinelli does] a great job with their safeties and bringing them down really late [in coverage],” he said. “We've seen games they haven't done it as much, but for some reason when we see them, they do a lot of disguising [coverages] and stuff. That makes it harder [to gain yards].”
It's also worth noting that Marinelli's defense will be able to focus almost exclusively on stopping Johnson on Sunday, because the other members of Detroit's injury-depleted WR corps have struggled to provide enough consistent performances in recent weeks to draw meaningful coverage. In fact, Johnson had 10 more receiving yards in the last four games (635 to 625) than all of the Lions' other receivers combined.
To combat Detroit's WR depth issues, OC Scott Linehan says he intends to use multiple formations in the passing game to create space for Johnson. Despite the lack of a true complementary receiver in the offense, Linehan says he's confident that Johnson will be able to better his Week-7 effort against the Bears.
“We're obviously going to have to put [Johnson] in different positions [on the field],” Linehan said. “There's going to be even more attention on him with our receiving depth the way it is… Guys have got to be good around him. But I think he'll still have a productive game the way he's locked in.”
True to his humble nature, Johnson stopped short of guaranteeing that he would get the yards he needed Sunday to reach 2,000 for the year. Lions' G Rob Sims wasn't nearly as shy about admitting that he believes Johnson will meet his goal, and protect his record for years to come.
“[Breaking the 2,000-yard mark] is going to be kind of easy for him,” Sims said. “As good as he is, I think it's almost a shoo-in.”
Follow Lions reporter John Kreger on Twitter at @CBSLions and @JohnKreger.