As Detroit Free Press reporter Dave Birkett pointed out on Friday, for all the grief the Lions get about not throwing Calvin Johnson the ball enough early in games, Johnson still leads the NFL in receiving yards, a fact that caught even offensive coordinator Scott Linehan somewhat off-guard.
“We’ve had probably more carries the first three games than we have, probably, in the first three games of any of the seasons I’ve been here -- for the same reason that Calvin’s not having a lot of early production,” Linehan said. “But we’re going to work on improving that.”
Birkett notes that Johnson has 24 catches for 369 yards and one touchdown this year, but two-thirds of his production -- 16 of the catches and 251 yards -- has come after halftime in the Lions’ 1-2 start.
In last week’s overtime loss to the Titans, Johnson was targeted twice in the first half, resulting in one catch for six yards. He finished with 10 receptions for 164 yards and a touchdown.
With teams using two and three defenders on Johnson nearly every play, Linehan said forcing the football his way is “not a good philosophy.”
“It’s going to come back and bite you,” Linehan said. “I think it’s really more key that we continue to make the adjustments we’re making so that his impact is still very effective as the game goes on, because you can’t tell the quarterback to, ‘Hey, get the ball to him,’ if they’re taking two or three guys to cover him. These other guys got to come through for our offense, and we’ve got to continue to do that.”
Johnson said he expects the Vikings to try to defend him like they have most of his career, with two deep safeties helping over the top and a four-man rush trying to pressure Matthew Stafford up front. With so much attention on Johnson, tight end Brandon Pettigrew led the Lions in receptions in both wins against Minnesota last year.
Still, Linehan said getting Johnson involved Sunday is imperative to the Lions' success.
“Calvin’s certainly targeted, probably, more so than any other receiver in pro football by game’s end, and we’ve got to continue to make sure we do a good job of that, and we’re always working to improve early production of guys like that,” Linehan said. “Right now, it’s kind of coming out of some of the other weapons in our offense early in games.”
It makes sense. Hard to imagine faster starts for the best player on the team being a bad thing.
Meanwhile, it seems like all involved are confident that Matthew Stafford is ready to roll.
Stafford, who didn't finish last Sunday's Sunday, missed practice on Wednesday to rest his sore right hip. But he was among the first players on the practice field Thursday and practiced fully again Friday.
He's officially listed as probable.
"I don't really consider Matt injured," Linehan said. "He's just dealing with something that's uncomfortable. He's become a great pro. He's been through it and he knows how to manage things.
"He's learned how to get himself ready to play on Sunday."