Thursday, October 4, 2012
Lions' Stafford, Johnson haven't connected on a TD
ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson were basically unstoppable early last season.
Detroit's dynamic duo connected for two touchdowns in each of the first four games and nine times in five games to lift the team to a 5-0 start.
The Lions are 1-3 this season for many reasons. One of them is that opponents have turned the pair into a dud -- Stafford hasn't thrown a TD pass to Johnson yet.
"I'm not real surprised," Johnson said Wednesday. "We know teams aren't going to let you do what you did last year. We have to find a different way."
The Minnesota Vikings were the latest team to keep Johnson out of the end zone -- once hitting him hard to jar the football loose on what would've been a TD -- by lining up a linebacker or defensive back close to him at the line with another defender or two behind to deter Detroit from throwing deep.
"Minnesota did a good job of taking it away and breaking up some passes that we threw down the field to Calvin," Stafford said.
Johnson was targeted 12 times for the third straight game, but had five receptions for 54 yards, both season lows. In four games, he has 29 receptions for 423 yards and a TD from Shaun Hill, who replaced Stafford late in a loss at Tennessee.
At this rate, it'll be hard for Johnson or Stafford to approach what they did statistically last season.
Johnson caught 96 passes for a league-best 1,681 yards and 16 TDs, joining Jerry Rice and Randy Moss as the only players in NFL history with at least 95 receptions, 1,600 yards and 15 touchdowns in a season. Johnson became the only player in league history to catch nine TDs in his first five games of a season. That sensational start and strong finish helped him get an eight-year contract worth up to $132 million during the offseason.
After throwing 41 TDs and 16 interceptions last season, Stafford has fewer TD passes (three) than interceptions (four) this year. He estimated the team has faced man-to-man coverage more often, with teams using a variety of zone schemes to prevent big plays through the air.
Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said every game plan is designed to keep Johnson out of the end zone, but added the offense can still be effective and produce points without him making TD catches.
"We don't have any goals for how many touchdowns Calvin and Matthew are going to connect for," Schwartz said. "What we want to do is score -- whether it's Calvin or anybody else. We don't play fantasy football."
The Lions' reality on defense will likely be much better if safety Louis Delmas can play after their bye on Oct. 14 at Philadelphia for the first time this season. Delmas, who had surgery on his left knee nearly two months ago, practiced Wednesday for the first time since early in training camp.
Delmas said it will be up to coaches to determine if he'll play against the Eagles, but was encouraged by how he felt backpedaling, shuffling and sprinting at full speed during individual drills.
"I felt good out there," he said.
The Lions desperately need the veteran in their shaky secondary, and the Lions like Delmas for his leadership, too.
"He's a big-time playmaker," defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch said. "And, he brings an attitude and energy to our team that really picks everyone up."
NOTES: Detroit also got S Amari Spievey (groin) back on the field. ... The Lions practiced without DE Cliff Avril, LBs Stephen Tulloch and Justin Durant, OLs Dominic Raiola and Rob Sims, TE Brandon Pettigrew and S John Wendling, but Schwartz said none of those players has a long-term injury. ... The Lions signed CB Lionel Smith to their practice squad. Smith was among the Dallas Cowboys' final cuts this year.
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