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Saturday, October 29, 2011
MegatronWatch: Taking away the outside

By Kevin Seifert

Receiver Calvin Johnson heads to Denver this weekend having scored 10 touchdowns over the Detroit Lions' first seven games, tied for the NFL's best seven-game start by a receiver since the 1970 merger. As the chart shows, Randy Moss produced the same seven-game total during his record-breaking 2007 performance.

Over the past two weeks, however, opponents are working harder to take away the outside of the field and funnel Johnson toward the middle.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, only one of Johnson's 12 receptions over the past two weeks have come on outside passes, defined as being outside of the numbers on the field. In the Lions' first five games, Johnson caught 12 outside passes (on 24 throws), including five of his touchdowns.

It's fair to blame quarterback Matthew Stafford for overthrowing a few of those recent passes to the outside. But the shift also reflects one way that defenses have adjusted to the Lions' hot start. Be it through brackets or other double teams, opponents would be foolish to give Johnson many opportunities to run down the sideline against single coverage after seeing what Stafford and Johnson combined to do early this season.

As my AFC West colleague Bill Williamson notes, not even the Denver Broncos will risk it too often -- and they have the option of matching Johnson against All-Pro Champ Bailey. Speaking to reporters in Detroit this week, Bailey said: "I think one guy could be successful, but it does take a team effort to defend him all day. You can't just match up on him and think it's going to work all day, if he has a good quarterback throwing him the ball."