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Wild Week 17: Bears and Calvin Johnson

12/27/2012

The Detroit Lions have lost seven consecutive games even with receiver Calvin Johnson in the midst of his record-breaking run. So we can't come close to suggesting that a team must slow down Johnson, much less stop him, to beat the Lions. But as the Chicago Bears prepare for Sunday's must-win game at Ford Field, they can take solace in knowing they handed Johnson his least productive game of the season in the teams' first meeting.

In a 13-7 loss to the Bears during Week 7, Johnson caught just three passes for 34 yards. In the 10 games that have followed, he has piled up 79 receptions for 1,300 yards. So what happened during that Monday night game at Soldier Field?

First, it's only fair to note Johnson was in the midst of a stretch in which he was clearly affected by a stinger/nerve damage he suffered in Week 4 against the Minnesota Vikings. Johnson dropped the ball on what would have been a big play during the Lions' opening possession and seemed out of sorts for the remainder of the game.

Second, the Bears did what they often do against Johnson: Match him up with cornerback Charles Tillman, who is having an All-Pro season. We discussed this summer how NFC North teams planned to defend big receivers, and the first strategy is always to match him up with a big cornerback if you have one. At 6-foot-1 1/8, Tillman is the second-tallest cornerback in the NFC North and has had relative success throughout his career against Johnson.

The chart shows that Johnson has fewer yards against the Bears, albeit in one less game, than either of his other two NFC North opponents. The Bears have limited Johnson to two 100-yard games in his 10 career games against them. The 34-yard performance this season was one of the 10-least productive games in his career.

Again, you don't necessarily have to stop Johnson to beat the Lions. But the Bears were one of the few teams this season that have succeeded on both counts in a single game.