PHILADELPHIA (AP) — If last week’s encounter with the Arizona Cardinals and Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was a test for the Philadelphia Eagles secondary; Sunday’s match-up with the Detroit Lions and Calvin Johnson is a final exam.
With cornerback Cary Williams in coverage and with help over the top from safety Nate Allen, the Eagles contained Fitzgerald in a 24-21 victory. The Cards star receiver caught five passes for 72 yards and a touchdown, but was from dominant.
This week it’s Johnson.
Asked if anyone was similar to Johnson, Eagles coach Chip Kelly quipped; “In this world? No.
“I mean you look at the Cowboys game, you would think when you have a guy triple covered, they’re not going to throw the ball to him,” Kelly continued. “(Matthew) Stafford throws it to him and he goes up and catches it.
“The combination of his size and speed and explosiveness, I don’t think there is anybody like that in this league. He can just go get the football. I think sometimes when you’re playing people, you can say, ‘Hey, if we double this guy with our play call, we got two good guys who can double him.’ You’re in good shape. They’re still going to throw it up and a lot of times he goes and gets it. That’s what makes it really difficult with him.”
Johnson comes into Sunday’s game first in the league in yards receiving with 1,299, tied for first in touchdowns with 12 and fifth in receptions with 72.
Philadelphia’s pass defense ranks 32nd, or last, in the league, allowing an average of 298.6 yards per game. This could be a tough battle.
“Every week is another challenge,” Allen said after practice in the Eagles locker room. “Last week was Fitz, this week it’s Calvin. It doesn’t get any easier. We’re just going to have to be up for it. I think we did a good job last week and we’re going to have to do a better job this week.”
What might benefit the Eagles is a pass rush that can get to Stafford and make it a little easier for the secondary trying to contain Johnson in coverage.
“Sure, that would be great,” Allen said. “If we can get some pressure and make it difficult on Stafford that changes everything. But we’ll mix up things a little bit. We’re going to try to keep him in front of us all the time. And then maybe most importantly when he does catch the ball, we have to tackle him.”
Again it’s easier said than done. At 6-foot-5, 236 pounds, he’s got four inches and 46 pounds on Williams, who is considered a big cornerback; and four inches and 26 pounds on Allen.
“There are a lot different things you can do,” Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said of guarding Johnson. “But at the end of the day, 6-5 is 6-5. You can’t always jump up and be at the higher position that they are, but you can do little things like rip their arms out, get their arms down and get the ball where it’s not a two-hand catch. Make it have to be a one-hand catch.
“So there are little things that you can do being on them, pressing from the line of scrimmage, playing aggressively, not letting the timing and rhythm happen quite like they want it to happen. You have to disrupt the rhythm of the offense and the timing of the offense in order to stop the talented receivers and throwers.”
Even Davis admitted, however, that Johnson is different.
“There are similar players who are big bodied, go up and get the ball. They snatch it out of the air,” the coordinator said. “Fitzgerald is one of the top in the NFL. But Calvin is the best when you watch him game in and game out. What he does and what he can do at that size, speed ratio. He’s the best.”
NOTES: Rookie safety Earl Wolff (knee) and linebacker Najee Goode (hamstring) have been ruled out for Sunday’s game.