GREEN BAY – Calvin Johnson doesn’t need to steal the Green Bay Packers’ defensive game plan to know what they have planned for him. And the Packers don’t need to see what the Detroit Lions are plotting to do Sunday at Ford Field to get the ball to their megastar wide receiver, either.
No, Johnson knows exactly who’ll be covering him anytime he lines up outside on Sunday: Shutdown cornerback Tramon Williams
“That’s kind of something I’ve come to expect over the last few years,” Johnson said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters Wednesday.
And the Packers, having seen the Indianapolis Colts successfully get their top wideout, Reggie Wayne, away from Williams by frequently lining him up in the slot – leading to a career-best performance (13 receptions, 212 yards, one touchdown) by Wayne in the Colts’ Oct. 7 victory – fully expect the Lions to do the same with Johnson.
“Either way,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t matter.”
What Johnson meant by that is that he expects all kinds of attention from the Packers, who’ve had an interesting mixture of success and failure against him over the years. In nine career games against Green Bay, Johnson has 50 receptions for 801 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Last season, in the teams’ Thanksgiving Day meeting in Detroit, Williams held Johnson to four receptions for 49 yards and a late, meaningless touchdown that was in fact the fault of safety Morgan Burnett. But in the rematch in the regular-season finale at Green Bay, all Johnson did was go out and set a Packers opponent record with 244 receiving yards on 11 catches.
Williams wasn’t in the locker room during media availability Wednesday, but the Packers figure to match him on Johnson on the outside whenever Johnson lines up there. They also figure to help Williams with a safety over the top.
“If they line me up outside, (the Packers) have an easy opportunity to hit me with 2-man or 2-match (coverage),” Johnson acknowledged.
But if the Lions line him up in the slot, he’ll likely be covered by rookie Casey Hayward, since safety Charles Woodson, the team’s top slot cover man, remains sidelined by a broken collarbone.
“We’ve got a lot of good guys in this secondary that can go out there and play. I don’t think we’re going to put in anything special,” Hayward said Wednesday. “We’re going to run our same defense we’ve been running.”
Defensive coaches don’t speak with reporters until Friday, but in the wake of Wayne’s big game and in advance of the Packers’ Oct. 14 game against the Houston Texans and another top-flight wide receiver named Johnson (Andre), Packers cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt explained what the Colts did well against them.
“(The Colts) did a very good job of moving him. They got Tramon off of him. They put him in there at the slot and Tramon wasn’t on him as much as we would have liked,” Whitt explained. “We’d like to have matched that. We had the right calls on him; we didn’t execute them.
“You want on him on (opposing teams’ top receivers), but it’s hard to get him on them all the time, because if they line him up in the slot and we’re in a zone call, that’s when they get them lined up on linebackers and other people. If we’re in man calls, Tramon goes in there and it doesn’t matter where they line him up at. If we have a zone call on, he’s not going to be on him.
“You can’t call just man (coverage) every snap.”
Helping Johnson’s cause is that he’s become a more well-rounded receiver and has grown to be more effective in the slot, according to Lions coach Jim Schwartz.
“Calvin’s become a complete wide receiver: blocking, inside routes, deep routes,” Schwartz said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters. “You name it, he can do it. He lines up in the slot, he lines up at the Z receiver, he lines up at the X receiver. He scored on a wide receiver screen last week. There’s a lot of things that he can do and he’s always found a way to be successful, regardless of what the situation is.”
The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson is coming off his best game (12 receptions, 207 yards, one TD in last Sunday’s loss at Minnesota) of the season and has put together back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time this year. He’s had some other big games this year (six catches for 111 yards vs. St. Louis in the opener, 10 catches for 164 yards and a touchdown against Tennessee on Sept. 23) but he has just two TD catches on the year (after putting up 16 TDs last season) and has had several quiet games this year.
The Vikings held him to only five catches for 54 yards on Sept. 30; the Chicago Bears held him to three catches for 34 yards on Oct. 22 and the Seattle Seahawks held him to three catches for 46 yards on Oct. 28.
The Packers would like nothing more than to keep Johnson quiet again Sunday, even if he has a good idea about what to expect.
“I’m just trying to make big plays for the team, just try to help them get down the field so we score as much as possible. That’s kind of my job,” Johnson said. “Every week we have what we might expect from a team but we might see something totally different or some of it might be totally different. You’ve got to play it out, see how it goes on Sunday.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on 540 ESPN on “Green & Gold Today,” and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.