By Ashley Scoby
@AshleyScoby

Diplomatic as always, Calvin Johnson had to crack a smile and chuckle. A reporter had just asked him about only being targeted four times in the Lions’ 33-28 loss Sunday to the Chargers. Those four targets led to only two receptions for the guy who once led the league in receiving.

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“I mean, I think the laugh should say it all,” Johnson said.

Johnson never outwardly said he should have been targeted more in Sunday’s loss. But the coy laugh comes from a player who just a week ago said he was confident in his ability to lead the NFL in receiving yards again. More than perhaps anyone else, Johnson knows his own ability.

As does his quarterback, Matthew Stafford, who pointed to the Lions’ relatively low number of total plays (47) as a potential reason for why Johnson didn’t see the ball often.

“I’m trying to do the best I can, throw the ball to the right place,” Stafford said. “Calvin does a great job of getting open against looks that most people can’t get open against and they try to give him that look probably more than anybody in the league. So it’s just on us to find ways to get him the ball. You have (47) plays in a game, it’s difficult to really get everybody involved, it kind of felt like that for a lot of guys, not only Calvin.”

Constant communication is crucial in the NFL, where breaking a route six inches before you should can be the difference between 15-yard gain and a pick. According to Johnson, he is always talking to Stafford about what he sees out there on the field, but is careful not to plead his case too much for more targets.

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“We communicate on the sideline,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to argue with anybody on the sideline. Not argue, but, you know, I will tell them what I see. Like I said, so that in certain situations, we come back to this situation, he might have that in the back of his head what we talked about earlier. But I’m not going to be over there to burden him on the sideline or anything like that.”

Regardless of what Stafford chooses to do with the ball – throw to Johnson, or throw to someone else – he said he sometimes feels like he can’t win in the eyes of critics and fans.

“Yeah, sometimes I just feel darned, there’s no question,” he said. “Have I been guilty in my career of throwing it to him when some other guys in this league may not have? Yeah. But I trust in him and understand that. But at the same time we have a lot of playmakers and we’re trying to get everybody involved in the game.”

And according to head coach Jim Caldwell, every game requires a different plan, especially when some teams dedicate multiple defenders to Johnson.

“Every game is different,” he said. “We’re focusing in on what they do from a schematic standpoint. Trying to get ourselves in the best possible position. But you can’t dictate what they’re going to do. … You have to adjust accordingly.”

However, barring something dramatic, Johnson will most likely see the ball more than two times in the rest of his games this season.

His quarterback knows that much, too.

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“You get into crunch time, there’s an old saying out there, ‘Think players, not plays,’” Stafford said. “And sometimes you’ve got to find 81, and there’s no question about it.”