By Ashley Dunkak
ALLEN PARK (CBS DETROIT) – Questions about how defenses should handle the wide receiver duo of Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate produced more questions than answers Wednesday in the Detroit Lions locker room.
“I don’t know what they’re going to do,” safety Glover Quin said. “How do they adjust? Man, I don’t know. I really don’t because obviously you know Calvin Johnson is Calvin Johnson, and Golden Tate has proved that he can beat you, so do you leave them both one-on-one? Do you double one of them? Do you double both of them? Well now you’ve got running backs one-on-one, you’ve got tight ends one-on-one … Good thing I’m not a d-coordinator planning for us.”
Johnson will one day be in the Hall of Fame, and Tate has racked up 800 yards through eight games this season. Nearly three-quarters of Tate’s yardage has come without the benefit of defenders distracted by Johnson, as an ankle injury has sidelined Johnson the last three games and limited him in the two games before those.
Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, both wide receivers are expected to be healthy.
“You pick your poison, basically,” linebacker Ashlee Palmer said. “Who do you double? Who do you stick an extra head over? What can you do?
“I have no clue as to how can a team really try to manage stopping a Calvin Johnson and a Golden Tate on the field at the same time,” Palmer added. “I expected big things out of Golden Tate, but I didn’t expect for him to just go on a tear like he is now … These last couple weeks, he’s just been a beast … What is your scheme? What is your game plan? Do you stop the run game and let us throw for millions of yards and touchdowns? Do you try to stop the pass game, and the running game comes through? It’s going to fun to see now that we’ll have our whole offense together.”
The Lions will have what head coach Jim Caldwell referred to as the advantage of the disadvantage; because Johnson missed much of the first half with injury, he starts the second half of the year fresh, and Tate does so with more game repetitions than anyone would have anticipated.
“It’s going to help us at some point in time a tremendous amount because of the fact that he’s been able to be called upon maybe to do a few more things more often than when Calvin was in the game, and I think with it, it also established a real strong comfort level … particularly with [quarterback] Matthew [Stafford],” Caldwell said. “They’ve gotten a timing … They’ve been able to really move it along maybe a lot faster than it ordinarily would have come along.
“It’s going to be difficult for [defenses] to really adjust to it because of the fact that now they have two primary factors out there on the flanks to deal with,” Caldwell continued. “It opens up things for everybody that’s catching routes, whether it’s out of the backfield or on our perimeter, and then also with that, it gives you an opportunity to run the ball a little bit better as well because it takes a defender away from the core, and so you should get some pretty decent matchups on the inside.”
Stafford smiled as he recalled the challenging circumstances of the first half, which included – at various times and for various numbers of games – missing not only Johnson but also right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, running backs Reggie Bush, Joique Bell and Theo Riddick, and tight ends Brandon Pettigrew, Joe Fauria and Eric Ebron.
“Playing quarterback was an interesting time,” Stafford said. “We had a lot of guys filling in in spots, meeting guys during the week and then starting and playing 40, 50 snaps. It was a challenge not only for me but for those guys coming in, for our coaching staff building game plans, and I’m proud of the way we handled it and the way we played. Are there plays out there we missed? Absolutely. We wish we had them back. No question. But to come out there, fight and get to 6-2 with as many guys down as we had was a positive sign, and like I said, hopefully we just continue to slowly but surely get guys back and continue to get better and play better on offense.”
Stafford said the result of the experience gained through the first eight games, plus the return of Johnson, will hopefully lead to a product that defenses find difficult to stop.
“[Golden] played extremely well for us making big catches on third down, touchdown catches or whatever it is,” Stafford said. “With the addition of him and then hopefully getting Calvin back and some of the other guys at some point, it could be dangerous.”