NANCY ARMOUR,AP National Writer
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — The temptation when playing a receiver as big, strong and scary good as Calvin Johnson is to get aggressive, try to outmuscle him and hope it throws him off his game.
Do that, and you may as well ask the Screen Actors Guild for membership because the highlights of Megatron’s mega-day will be all over TV for the rest of the week. Maybe the rest of the season.
“The guy’s just too strong,” Green Bay Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said Thursday. “He just kind of throws you here and there and gets you out of position, and you don’t want that. So you can’t play him that way.”
Williams ought to know. He’s seen Johnson twice a year for the last four seasons now, and it will be his responsibility to make sure the NFL’s leading receiver (in yardage) doesn’t have a record-setting day Sunday like he did the last time the Packers (6-3) and Detroit (4-5) played. After managing just 49 yards and four catches in Detroit’s first game against Green Bay last year, Johnson torched Williams and the Packers in the rematch for 244 yards on 11 catches, both career highs.
The 244 yards receiving were the most ever given up by the Packers, and also was tops in the NFL last year.
“Some games you may come in and you may slow him down. Some games you may come in and you may not,” Williams said. “You’ve just got to go in and have that mindset that you will go out and get your job done.”
To be fair, Williams was barely hanging on by that game, the regular-season finale. He’d bruised a nerve in his right shoulder in the season opener, and never really recovered. After a team-high nine interceptions in 2010, he had just four last year, none after Nov. 20.
Though Williams didn’t talk much about the injury, he admits now it affected both his play and his preparation.
“It’s hard enough by itself to come out and just play these guys. Now you have the mental burden of an injury that’s nagging you throughout the year, you can’t quite focus like you’re used to,” he said. “I put all I had into my studies and coming into work every day; I did everything I was supposed to do. But mentally, the mental challenge, that’s what wears you down the most. I’m over that hump now.”
That was clear in the second game of the season. Despite giving up 5 inches and 40 pounds to Brandon Marshall, Williams made the NFC North’s other monster receiver all but disappear. Marshall didn’t catch a single pass in the first three quarters, and finished with two catches for 24 yards, both season lows.
By bottling up his favorite weapon, Williams made life miserable for Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, too. He picked off Cutler twice — the second coming on a deep pass intended for Marshall — and helped harass Cutler into what was his worst performance of the season until Sunday night’s game against Houston.
Williams hasn’t had a pick since that Chicago game, but he leads Green Bay with 15 passes defended and was a big reason Larry Fitzgerald was so quiet in Green Bay’s 31-17 victory over Arizona two weeks ago.
“I’m feeling good right now,” Williams said. “Obviously it may be the bye speaking, but … I’m feeling real good. I feel that I’ve got a lot more to go. I feel that I’m just kind of kicking off the season and hoping for the best in the future. ”
And first up is another meeting with Johnson.
The two-time Pro Bowler leads the NFL with 974 yards receiving, and is tied for seventh with 60 catches. He only has two touchdowns, but that doesn’t make Williams and the Packers any less wary.
“He demands attention,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “Rightfully so.”
While Williams spends hours watching film before every game, studying receivers and looking for clues to their tendencies, his preparation is a little more intense in weeks like this. He hasn’t dug up film of Johnson from junior high, but pretty much everything else is fair game as he tries to find even the slightest edge. He came up with a game plan days ago, and has been working relentlessly on it with the scout team.
The Packers have won 20 of their last 23 games with the Lions, including an 11-1 mark under McCarthy. They’ve won eight straight against the NFC North. For Williams, though, the number that matters most is 81.
“Everyone around the league knows Calvin is one of the best in the game,” Williams said. “If that don’t get you up to want to play against a guy like that, then I don’t know what will.”
Notes: WR Jordy Nelson expects to play Sunday after spending last week’s bye in Green Bay to get treatment on his sore hamstring and ankle. “Treated it like another week. I knew I wanted to get better and get back on the field, so I stayed here and did treatment.” Asked how he’s feeling, Nelson said, “Great.” … McCarthy said he is not concerned about Mason Crosby, who has missed five field goals this year, including two from inside the 45. “I have a lot of confidence in his ability to put the ball through the uprights and that will definitely be the case Sunday,” McCarthy said. … FB John Kuhn, inactive the last two days with a bad hamstring, “looked like his old self” in practice Thursday, McCarthy said.