How to stop Calvin Johnson

Playing a Cover 2 shell and giving up underneath routes is an effective plan

Originally Published: June 10, 2013
By Matt Bowen | Special to ESPN Insider

Last season accentuated what most around the NFL have known since he was a rookie: Calvin Johnson is a matchup nightmare. At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds and with top-end speed, Johnson can stretch a secondary, and his height allows him to catch the ball over nearly any defender. His numbers from last season (122 receptions, 1,964 yards) point to the issues opposing defenses had in limiting Johnson's production due to his overall skill set.

But is there a core coverage or scheme that opposing defenses can lean on to take away Johnson's strengths? Let's examine what makes Johnson one of the elite players in the NFL and attempt to create a game plan to slow down the Lions' dynamic wide receiver.

What makes Johnson unique?

As mentioned, Johnson's size/speed combination is scary from a defensive perspective. Johnson can extend the secondary, run the top of the route tree and flip the field. Almost anywhere on the field is an opportunity to take a shot and let Johnson showcase his skill set.

However, what might be most impressive is the catch radius that Johnson displays when asked to climb the ladder and finish. How many times have we seen Johnson take the ball away from a defensive back who is in the proper position on a the 9 (fade), 8 (post) or the 7 cut (corner)? That's trouble for defensive backs who play with solid technique, only to see Johnson make the catch.

Matt Bowen

Special to ESPN Insider
Former NFL safety Matt Bowen is a veteran of four teams over seven seasons, and now provides analysis for a number of media outlets.