Lions’ Johnson poses huge challenge for Tillman and Bears
(MCT) — Charles Tillman was holding open a door after leaving the dining room at Halas Hall when he was asked if there was a way the Bears could limit Calvin Johnson to three receptions and 34 yards again.
The defense put the wraps on the record-setting Lions wide receiver during the Oct. 22 meeting at Soldier Field, a 13-7 Bears win. Johnson has 1,300 receiving yards in nine games since then and has surpassed Hall of Famer Jerry Rice for the most yards in a season. Johnson needs 108 on Sunday at Ford Field to reach 2,000.
“It would be cool if we did,” Tillman said, balancing his lunch as he stood talking. “But I don’t know how.”
Johnson is on that kind of roll, coming off an 11-catch, 225-yard performance against the Falcons on Saturday. He has had eight consecutive 100-yard games and has 117 receptions for 1,892 yards with five touchdowns.
“He can do everything,” Tillman said. “He’s the LeBron James of football. If you could create a player — that’s Calvin Johnson. Size, speed, hands, agility, quickness, strength.”
The Bears have two Pro Bowl cornerbacks for the first time in franchise history with Tillman and Tim Jennings honored Wednesday. Tillman matched up with Johnson one-on-one a lot during the first meeting, and he also was bracketed with safety help over the top.
Johnson hinted the Lions will move him around more and have him in the slot, where it’s more difficult to double-team him.
“(Tillman) has good size, good strength and they’ve been in that system for so long, they know how to play it well against all looks,” Johnson said. “So you’ve got to give them credit for that.”
The Lions (4-11) have lost seven straight and seemingly don’t have anything to play for except a chance for Johnson to put his record as far out of reach as possible. Johnson missed practice Wednesday with knee and ankle injuries but is a virtual lock to start Sunday.
“I don’t think it will be (an offensive focus),” Johnson said. “We’re just going to go out there and do what we do.”
Johnson, who scored 16 touchdowns last year, surely would trade buckets of yardage for more scores — and, more important, more victories — this season as the Lions went from a playoff team in 2011 to their familiar position at the bottom of the NFC North.
“It’s tough due to the expectations we had,” he said. “That doesn’t take (away) all of the hard work that we put, I put in to get to the point where I am at now. But at the same time, it is a disappointing season.”
Just as Johnson had been zeroed in on eclipsing Rice’s mark of 1,848 yards, he’s now dialed in on 2,000. When you consider the Bears went nine seasons between 1,000-yard seasons for Marty Booker (2002) and Brandon Marshall (2012), it’s a little mind-boggling.
“Guys struggle to get 1,000 in this league in a year, and that is usually a landmark for a lot of people,” Johnson said. “So to be able to double that up, that would be a heck of a year.”
Lions coach Jim Schwartz indicated the game plan won’t be tailored any more for Johnson.
“Anytime Calvin has the ball in his hands, it is good for our team,” Schwartz said. “So (it) really doesn’t matter what the yards are or any type of personal accolades, it’s what you can do to help the team.
“He has been hurt most of the year. Missed a lot of practice time but still goes out every Sunday and helps put us in position to score and affects the defenses.”
Ultimately, Tillman is far more worried about the outcome of the game and believes the Lions will be motivated to win more than anything else.
“They might not be making the playoffs, but you play for pride,” Tillman said. “You don’t just go out there, ‘This is the last game, let’s go get our (butts) beat.’ I think they are more than that.”