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Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Inside Johnson's game-winning catch

By Michael Rothstein

CHICAGO -- From across the field, Detroit wide receiver Kris Durham could read the coverage. Based on the movement of the safety, he saw that single coverage was coming.

Charles Tillman
When it appeared that the only defender on Lions receiver Calvin Johnson would be Charles Tillman, any doubt about where the play was going disappeared.
Before the play happened, before Matthew Stafford threw a perfect pass to Calvin Johnson in the corner of the end zone Sunday for the game-winning 14-yard touchdown in Detroit's 21-19 win over Chicago, Durham already knew the potential result.

"That's kind of the way we practiced it," Durham said. "There's a read for whatever they gave us.

"When they gave us single coverage, everybody in the stadium probably knows where the ball's going."

It didn't stop Durham from running his route -- he's played with Stafford long enough to know he could make any decision at any time -- but Calvin Johnson? In single coverage?

That's a pretty strong bet for a target.

Detroit lined up in its most popular set, three wide receivers with one tight end and a single running back -- this time with Stafford out of the shotgun. Johnson was solo on the left side of the field.

Durham was far on the right side of the field and Jeremy Ross was in the slot.

Stafford said Detroit will run this formation in both running and passing situations as a way to create space all across the field -- both for runs and for passes. It is part of the formational group they run to force opponents to have to make tackles in open spaces and a popular formation for the Lions throughout the season.

This particular time, Chicago dropped down a safety into the box on the Bears' 14-yard line, leaving one safety high.

"I think they probably expected us to run the ball and try to eat away some clock and kick a field goal, that kind of thing," Stafford said. "I was expecting two-deep. They played a lot of that on third-and-long throughout the game. They played some Cover 1.

"Calvin ran a great route and we ended up putting it in there."

When Johnson saw Chicago's defensive alignment, he made his decision about what route he would select and what type of fake he would use to wriggle himself free from the defender.

"Snap, saw safety cheat to the middle of the field so at that point, I knew [Charles] Tillman was going to get one-on-one just from earlier snaps in the game," Johnson said. "So I just wanted to give him something he saw earlier on one of my in-breakers and he took it."

Johnson, almost immediately in his route, faked a cut and even took a step breaking toward the middle of the field before he made his cut back up the outside sideline. Tillman actually appeared to kind of hang with Johnson there, but Johnson had his speed going and a step so he was going to make a play.

Meanwhile, any potential safety help was gone. Besides having only a single-high safety, Major Wright appeared frozen for a second in the middle, which meant the cornerbacks on both Johnson and Durham would have to handle the receivers on their own.

Then Stafford threw up the ball -- Stafford did not appear to look at anyone except for Johnson on the play and had more than enough time to make the play -- and as soon as he did, Detroit had an inkling it would be a touchdown. He placed the ball where only Johnson could get it in the corner of the end zone.

Johnson caught the pass in stride and the momentum of the play actually sent him a short way up the tunnel at Soldier Field. And the lesson already known around the league is to single-coverage Johnson at your own peril.

"Calvin versus anybody in the league is probably a mismatch," Ross said. "He's just a huge target and he's a great receiver and has a lot of great athletic ability and can catch the ball really well.

"Any time you've got him one-on-one with somebody, you know you want to take that chance."