By Ashley Dunkak
Even playing just 50 percent of the team’s snaps, Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson meant a lot in Sunday’s road win over the Cleveland Browns.
Tight end Joe Fauria had an incredible game, snagging three touchdown passes, and Johnson was lined up on the opposite side for every one of those scoring plays.
With five touchdowns in six games this season, it would make sense for Fauria to garner more attention in the red zone, but Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said he does not think that will happen because of Johnson’s presence.
“If [Fauria] starts to get more attention, somebody’s got to get less, and generally that’s Calvin for us, so not many defenses want to do that,” Schwartz said. “In the red zone particularly there’s another dynamic there that can force defenses to be spread thin a little bit.
“If you want to stop the run, you’ve got to get eight guys in the box,” Schwartz continued. “That leaves you one guy that you can double, and if that goes to Calvin, then a guy like Joe or any of our other potential receivers on the play is singled up. So if you want to double both of them, you’re going to be late in the run game, and I think we’ve proven we can run the ball across the goal line just as well as throw it.”
Schwartz said Johnson’s knee was sore after the game but that it has been sore before and that it is too soon to tell whether the knee is better or worse than it was before. The Lions planned to use him just in certain circumstances, keeping him out of others.
Out of eight passes thrown to him, Johnson caught three for 25 yards. Schwartz still seemed pleased with Johnson’s contribution.
“Even though he didn’t make a lot of plays, he made a couple big first-down catches for us, and he affected the game,” Schwartz said. “They interfered with him on the one play down in the red zone because he was in position to be able to make a potential touchdown catch and also affected the coverage and opened up some other guys.”
While Cleveland could not find an answer for Fauria, the Lions’ defense effectively shut down Browns tight end Jordan Cameron. Schwartz said the key was playing prevent defense, which he credited with helping the Lions win the game.
“He was a big part of our defensive game plan was trying to stay over top of him and try to limit his big plays,” Schwartz said. “He’d made a lot of them. We didn’t play especially well overall on defense, but I think we did limit his catches and also limit his plays down the field.”
Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden threw two interceptions, both of which were corralled by linebacker DeAndre Levy. Schwartz said that while Levy has played well and is much improved, the turnovers also had to be credited to the defensive line.
“A lot of it has to do with the guys up front,” Schwartz said. “Levy’s first interception – again, [Ndamukong] Suh got the assist on that one. If you look at the play, Suh’s bearing down on the quarterback, and quarterback’s got to get rid of it and Levy’s in good position, he goes up and makes a play.”
“The other one, C.J. was all over the quarterback,” Schwartz added. “Good things happen when you put pressure on the quarterback, and some of those good things are turnovers. That was an area we lacked last year, and we’ve seen some good signs in the first six games.”
Defending the run, the Lions had trouble with the reverse, Schwartz said, but made adjustments throughout the game that made a significant difference. He pointed to defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham as the man behind the turnaround.
“Gunther Cunningham and the defensive staff really did a good job of putting some fires out for us,” Schwartz said. “We were a little leaky inside in the run game early in the game, and then when we came back late in the second quarter and then into the third quarter, they tried to go back to those same runs and we were there to make the plays.
“That was a big part of our turning it around,” Schwartz added. “We came out in the second half and starting getting three-and-outs and getting that run stopped was a big portion of it.”
Much was made in the locker room after the game of linebacker Stephen Tulloch’s halftime speech to rally the troops. Schwartz hardly seemed to think the talk made all the difference.
“I think those things can be overblown a little bit,” Schwartz said. “Nobody wins a game because of a pregame speech or a halftime speech or anything else.”
Schwartz said the adjustments were more to credit for the team’s second-half resurgence, but he appreciated the leadership on Tulloch’s part.
‘If it had to do with him gathering the team up,” Schwartz said, “then I’m all for it.”