|Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is tackled by San Francisco 49ers strong safety Donte Whitner in the second quarter at Candlestick Park. Johnson has yet to score a touchdown this season, but that hasn't affected his confidence. (US Presswire)|
If Lions WR Calvin Johnson had his way, a steady diet of deep passes in his direction would be a staple of the Lions offense. When you're an All-Pro who is regarded as one of the game's top receivers, however, it's difficult to avoid the double coverage and get open deep for quarterback Matthew Stafford.
“The main thing for me is just trying to take advantage of every [target] I get, because [defenses] are trying to take away everything deep,” Johnson said. “I'd love to [take repeated deep shots], but a lot of times the coverages don't let you."
The impact of Johnson's deep threat on Detroit's record can be seen by examining the way the Rams and 49ers defenses performed against him during Detroit's first two games. In Week 1, the Rams held Johnson to a meager seven targets, but the game's two turning points were 20-plus-yard Johnson receptions. His 51-yard reception in the second quarter forced the Rams to move their coverage away from the line of scrimmage, laying the groundwork for Detroit's second-half comeback.
In Week 2, however, the 49ers committed themselves to eliminating Johnson's access to deep passes. Although he was targeted 12 times, Johnson was held to fewer than 100 receiving yards, and his longest play from scrimmage was a 24-yard reception that didn't impact the game's outcome. Johnson says he understands teams will game-plan to stop him, and that he wasn't discouraged by San Francisco's ability to limit his impact.
“One thing I don't do is ... get frustrated,” he said. “You know teams are going to do things to try and take you away. You've just got to do things within your scheme.”
After facing a 49ers defense that Lions' players and coaches believe is one of the best in the NFL, the Tennessee defensive unit Detroit will face in Week 3 is a welcome sight. The Titans rank 25th in the NFL in yards allowed (403 ypg) and 20th in passing yards allowed (248 ypg) this season, and Johnson says Sunday's game could be a chance for the Lions potent passing offense to find its form.
"We feel like there are some things we can get done [on offense] with this [Titans] defense we're going up against," Johnson said. “If they play [the coverage schemes] we've been seeing on film, that would be fantastic for us ... we can move the ball up and down the field.”
Johnson has yet to score a touchdown this season, but that hasn't affected his confidence. Johnson offered confirmation when asked if he thought he had an advantage over defenders on any pass in his direction that was thrown on target. “If the ball's in the right place, I'm going to go up and battle,” he said.” If I don't come down with it, [defenders aren't] going to come down with it.”
CB Bentley cleared for contact: Rookie CB Bill Bentley, who missed Detroit's Week 2 game with post-concussion symptoms, was listed as a full participant in Thursday's practice. Bentley told reporters that he was cleared for contact before the workout, and said he's excited to play in his first NFL road game Sunday. “I'm glad to be back on the field and ready to contribute,” he said. Bentley said his concussion was mild, and that the Lions trainers were playing it safe by ruling him out for Week 2.
Bentley lined up in individual drills opposite Chris Houston [ankle,] who was also a full participant in practice. Unless Houston or Bentley suffers a setback before Sunday, expect them to be ready to face the Titans. If that's the case, the Lions will have a CB corps that's fully healthy for the first time since late in the 2011 season.
Leshoure ready to make NFL debut Sunday: RB Mikel Leshoure looked solid during the open portion of Thursday's practice, and he says he's excited to make his NFL regular-season debut against the Titans. “This is everything I've dreamed of,” he said. “I'm ready to roll.”
Leshoure missed his rookie season with a ruptured Achilles, and was suspended for the first two games of this season after a pair of offseason marijuana-related offenses. He said he watched Detroit's loss to the 49ers from his home, and was frustrated to be unable to bolster the Lions' offense in a key early season test.
“It's just the feeling that you want to get out there and help your team,” he said. “Knowing that you can't help is the most frustrating thing [about being suspended].”
Leshoure says he has learned from his offseason transgressions, and that he is ready to begin the next chapter of his career and life.
“It's time for me to put everything together, and go out there and play.”