Calvin Johnson Kryptonite: Secrets On How To Cover The NFL’s Best WR

  • Darrelle Revis

    If you go off numbers alone, Darrelle Revis has played Calvin Johnson better than any other corner ever. Both players were drafted in 2007 and were at the height of their careers in 2010 when they went head-to-head. It was a great day for Revis and a very bad day for Calvin Johnson.

    Megatron was held to one catch for only 13 yards. Revis Island was a real thing for Calvin Johnson. Revis was the best cornerback in the game in 2010, but he was also playing on one of the top rated defenses as well. Rex Ryan is a great defensive coach and knows how to create schemes to neutralize damn near anyone.

    What is a cornerback’s best friend? An awesome pass rush. The 2010 New York Jets had just that. They put pressure on Matthew Stafford and gave him no time to throw, even if Johnson got an inch of separation from Revis.

    As a bonus, Revis also had top 15 corner Antonio Cromartie on the other side. Shadowing a receiver only works if you have two cornerbacks that can do so, and Revis and Cromartie were the league’s best duo at doing this for a few seasons.

    Not to take any credit away from Revis but he wasn’t alone in stopping Johnson that day. The best defense to slow down Johnson is a top cornerback, a great pass rush, and finally, sprinkling in some safety help here and there.

    Revis is a good matchup for Johnson because he’s like Tim Duncan in the post. He’s one of the most fundamental cornerbacks to ever play the game. Good luck getting off the line against him and if you do, he knows how to use his hands and leverage to stay in the receiver’s hip.

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  • Patrick Peterson

    The three-year NFL vet, and the closest thing we have to Deion Sanders, has faced Megatron twice in his young career. In the first matchup, he was just a rookie so the Cardinals didn’t often leave him alone with Megatron. Johnson still got off with 10 catches for 121 yards.

    But last year’s matchup was a bit different. Sure, Johnson was targeted eight times for six catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns, which sounds like a great day, but you have to watch the tape. Johnson’s touchdowns were for 72 yards and three yards. What happened on the 72-yard touchdown was the fault of the Cardinals’ zone defense. Peterson did his part funneling Johnson to the linebacker, Karlos Dansby, who had a chance to make the play, but Johnson was able to get his hands on the ball and skate 72 yards for the score. The second touchdown was a pick play that’s virtually unstoppable for any corner to defend. Outside of those two plays, Peterson held Johnson to four catches for 41 yards and no touchdowns. That’s like holding Kevin Durant under 25 points.

    Peterson can slow down Johnson, because of his outstanding athleticism. A lot of corners seem like they are playing one receiver all game long, but they are really just playing whoever lines up on their side, or they’re playing a Cover 3 zone. Peterson is shadowing the other team’s best wide receiver all game long.

    Right now, he’s still a pup, but he’s such a tremendous athlete that it’s hard to tell. He’s not the most technically sound just yet, but he’s getting better. And, truthfully, in Peterson’s defense, you’re going to give up more plays when you’re shadowing a receiver all game long as opposed to being in Cover 3.

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  • Richard Sherman

    Sherman faced Megatron in the Motor City in 2012 and played Johnson well yet everyone else poorly. It was his second year, so we’ll give him a break. Sherman plays in a true Cover 3 system, so he was not shadowing Johnson the entire game. The Lions were trying to minimize the number of times Johnson had to face double-coverage so Johnson lined up everywhere. Sherman defended Johnson well the few times he was lined up against him, because Megatron only had three catches for 46 yards and one critical end zone drop.

    Sherman takes some heat because he doesn’t shadow receivers like Revis, Peterson or Joe Haden. But at the end of the day, he’s still on an island with wideouts for the most part. Sherman is the slightest and the slowest of the three at only 195 pounds and running an underwhelming 4.54 40-yard dash at the combine. What Sherman has is height and hips, being 6-3 with very long arms.

    Even though he may not be as big or as strong as the others, his long arms and willingness to jam at the line helps tremendously. It slows receivers down and doesn’t allow them to get separation. The taller you are, the harder it is for you to change direction–not for Sherman. His hip flexibility allows him to stay low to the ground like a shorter corner and run with a receiver. Then when the ball is in the air, he becomes a 6-3 player with the ability to leap and stop the play.

    Sherman is also the most mentally tough of the bunch and for a corner that’s just as important as being able to run with a receiver. The ability to forget a big play and be confident enough to line up again and believe you are better than the man if front of you is very important.

    Sherman has fought for everything. He wasn’t highly recruited coming out of high school; he played for a Stanford team that wasn’t so great when he first got there, and he was only drafted in the fifth round of the NFL. He plays with a chip on his shoulder that doesn’t show up when you give him the eyeball test, but it makes for all the difference in the world.

    But if I had to pick one corner to face Megatron right now, I’d go with Patrick Peterson. Statistically, Sherman is better, but because I’m no expert and don’t get paid to be a GM, I’m perfectly capable of making horrible emotional decisions and ignore the numbers by rolling the dice with Peterson over Sherman. I wouldn’t have him shadow Megatron all game long because that’s simply suicide. I would leave him in a Cover 3 zone much like the one Sherman thrives in.

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  • Darrelle Revis
  • Patrick Peterson
  • Richard Sherman

Calvin Johnson is an athletic genius. He stands 6-5 and weighs 240 pounds. He runs with the grace of a gazelle and the speed of a cheetah, topping out at 4.35 seconds in the 40. Let’s not forget to mention his 42.5-inch vertical jump.

Megatron has been in the league for seven years and has been the best wide receiver in the world for about nine.

I said he was an athletic genius, but I did not say he was super human. Every dog has its day. Michael Jordan missed some game-winners and Calvin Johnson has bad games. Although they are few and far between, there are some cornerbacks in the NFL that give Calvin a little bit of trouble.

I spoke with former Detroit Lions starting cornerback, Chris Houston, who faced Johnson everyday in practice for four years, and I asked who could stop Calvin Johnson.

“Really, nobody can hold him period without some help over the top,” he told me. “But I’ll say Darrelle Revis, Richard Sherman, and Patrick Peterson are your best bets because they are longer corners and have the size to match up.”

I agree with Chris and say the men for the job are those three corners. Here are their secrets.

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Honorable Mention:

Joe Haden
Calvin Johnson’s worst game of 2013 came against this man. You may not know about him because he plays in Cleveland, but trust me when I say Haden is a top five corner in the NFL. He’s only 5-11 and 190 pounds but he’s a super athlete and just plain scrappy. When they met in Week 6 of last season, Haden held Johnson to three catches on eight targets for only 25 yards and no touchdowns.

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