His Twitter handle says it all: @bigplaycj. Calvin Johnson is big and simply thinks big.
But Johnson alone has not been able consistently to beat the Bears (2-9 in his 11 games vs. Chicago), with an average of 4.8 catches per game, compared with 5.2 vs. Minnesota and nearly six vs. Green Bay.
Johnson has had four touchdowns against the Bears, which arguably was five but for the infamous “completed catch” debacle in game one of the 2010 season. Four in nine games. Against the Packers, 11 in 11 games. Against the Vikings, seven in 12 games.
It was the Bears who closed down on Johnson in game 16 last season, leaving him short of the first 2,000-yard receiving season in history.
“They didn’t prevent me from reaching any goals last year,” Johnson demurred. “I didn’t have the best games against them last year so I definitely want to come out and have some good performances against them all year.”
So a strategic philosophical decision, not unlike when teams played the Michael Jordan Bulls, is whether to concede Johnson his near-inevitable big plays and concentrate on shutting everyone else down.
That has worked in some measure because the Bears have had Charles Tillman to match up with Johnson. Not Tillman alone, but fellow cornerback Tim Jennings cut to the punch line on defending against Johnson: “Safety help over the top, and ’33’ [Tillman],” Jennings said, laughing.
“He’s another great out there, one of the top corners in the league,” Johnson said. “He definitely does it well, and he’s been a consistent player for a long time.”
The problem for the Bears is that Tillman did not practice Wednesday and Thursday because of knee and groin injuries. He said he will play and the expectation is that he will, but that’s not a given yet, nor is how effective he will be because of the injuries.
“He'll work out the next couple of days and continue to get treatment,” coach Marc Trestman said. “But I'm optimistic. I was last week and I am again that he'll be ready to go.”
The job of defending the NFL’s single most dominant wide receiver (122 catches, 1,964 yards in 2012) and the Detroit offense was made a bit easier last Monday when wideout Nate Burleson broke his arm in a freak accident, reaching to grab a sliding pizza box while driving and crashing. Burleson was leading the Lions with 19 receptions, followed by Johnson (17) and running back Joique Bell (14).
Ryan Broyles, a 2012 second-round pick, will fill in for Burleson.
“We don’t ever feel like we caught a break with anyone,” said defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. “They’re going to be next man up over there, too. We’re just focused on getting better and it’s going to be a huge challenge for us, a division game on the road.”