By Ashley Scoby

The Lions have, unequivocally, one of the best players in football on their roster in Calvin Johnson. But someone might want to tell the Lions that.

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Johnson was only targeted four times in Sunday’s 33-28 loss to San Diego. He finished with two catches for 39 yards, a piddling line for a guy who led the NFL in receiving in 2012.

After the loss, where Detroit blew a 21-3 lead, quarterback Matthew Stafford said that the team didn’t throw towards Johnson often because he was being covered by multiple defenders.

But it’s not as if Johnson has a history of failing to produce when he’s the focus of the opposing defense: In 2012, when he broke Jerry Rice’s record for receiving yards in a season (1,892), leading the league, Johnson was targeted exactly twice as much (204) as Brandon Pettigrew, who was second on the team with 102 targets. Behind those two were tight end Tony Scheffler, a young Joique Bell and wide receiver Titus Young.

Needless to say, Johnson was the focus for opposing defenses.

But this year, the Lions, at least theoretically, have more tools to use in spreading the ball to take pressure off the guy they call Megatron. Golden Tate would be a legitimate number-one receiver on many other NFL teams, and provides a nice complement to Johnson. There is running back depth: Bell, electric rookie Ameer Abdullah (who accounted for 199 all-purpose yards Sunday) and Theo Riddick, who caught a touchdown pass.

On paper, Detroit has the pieces. Pop a couple of short slants to Tate or tight end Eric Ebron, who played well Sunday, and lure the defense into relaxing on Johnson slightly. At the very least, Johnson was six inches taller than the entire starting Chargers backfield. A lob or two would do.

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“There’s a number of different ways you can attack that,” head coach Jim Caldwell said of situations where Johnson is double-teamed. “Obviously it’s the passing game on the inside guys. It’s going the opposite way to Golden. It’s running the ball a little bit more with whomever, so all of those things have to be taken into consideration in that situation.”

And, again, on paper, the Lions did those things well. Abdullah impressed. Tate was at least targeted eight times, although he finished with four catches for 24 yards. Ebron caught four passes for 53 yards.

“I think Matthew completed passes to about seven different receivers, which is kind of how it should look,” Caldwell said.

One bright side to the Lions’ collapse on Sunday was Abdullah: He made things happen, no matter where he was on the field.

“What he did yesterday is kind of what we see him doing,” Caldwell said of the rookie running back. “He’s returning kicks. He’s running the ball. He’s catching out of the backfield. .. He had 199 yards or so of the total offense, right? That’s the kind of role you’ll see him play for the most part.”

That is, as long as the Lions keep giving him the ball.


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