Today’s question: Calvin Johnson spent almost a decade as the No. 1 option for the Detroit Lions offense and a good chunk of that time as the best receiver in the NFL. Cornerbacks knew they were in for a busy -- and often fruitless -- day when they were matched up against Johnson. Opposing defensive coordinators spent time devising plans they specifically hoped would stop him.
Those plans, of course, rarely worked as Johnson became the best receiver in Lions history and, along with Randy Moss, ushered in the era of big, tall, fast receivers in the NFL. While the Lions tried to compensate for Johnson's retirement in March by signing Marvin Jones and Jeremy Kerley, Detroit's offense will look much different in 2016. But will it be the least explosive unit in the division? We asked the other writers around the NFC North for their thoughts.
Ben Goessling, Minnesota Vikings reporter: Potentially, though the NFC North’s offenses have some work to do across the board if they want to return to their high-flying ways. The Packers have to see if Jordy Nelson is healthy, fix some rough patches on the offensive line and try to coax more production out of a slimmed-down Eddie Lacy. The Bears have involved Matt Forte so heavily in their offense for so long that they’re going to have to adjust to his departure –- not to mention the loss of Adam Gase, who helped Jay Cutler have one of his more efficient seasons in 2015. And the Vikings have all sorts of questions: their offensive line, the development of quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and the role of first-round pick Laquon Treadwell, to name a few. But if things work out for the other teams in the division, you do look at the Lions as the one team without a big-time weapon. The Vikings have Adrian Peterson, the Packers have Aaron Rodgers and the Bears have Alshon Jeffery. Who’s the Lions player that keeps defensive coordinators working overtime? Golden Tate? Sorry, but he doesn’t measure up on that level.
Rob Demovsky, Green Bay Packers reporter: I know this –- the Packers had as much respect, if not more, for Johnson and what impact he can have on a game as they did any other player in the NFC North. He was right on par with Adrian Peterson in that category. Joe Whitt Jr., the Packers cornerbacks coach, once said of Johnson: “We see him so much that we understand the challenge, and the challenge is huge." Matthew Stafford still has the potential to be an explosive, big-play quarterback even without Johnson. He’s got the athletic ability and arm talent to do so. The Bears lost a couple of major offensive weapons in Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett, although I have a hard time seeing the Lions ranking ninth again in passing yards per game without Johnson.
Jeff Dickerson, Chicago Bears reporter: Not definitely. Johnson is a huge loss for the Lions. That cannot be disputed. And I highly doubt Golden Tate and Marvin Jones can make up for Johnson’s absence. But Chicago lost Matt Forte, Martellus Bennett and offensive coordinator Adam Gase in the offseason, too. Can Jay Cutler experience the same kind of results under new play caller Dowell Loggains? Can former top pick Kevin White play? Can Alshon Jeffery stay healthy? Meantime, Minnesota is loaded on defense, but where are the weapons of offense after Adrian Peterson and Stefon Diggs? Can Bridgewater be an elite quarterback, or is he more of a game manager? You can make an argument for Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago in terms of which team is least explosive in the division.