This leaping catch in triple coverage accounted for 54 of Calvin Johnson's 329 receiving yards Oct. 27 against Dallas. (USA Today Images)
Outside of a coverage breakdown that led to a 43-yard touchdown catch, the Eagles did a fairly decent job covering future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
But if you’re thinking that preparing to defend Lions wideout Calvin Johnson is the same as defending against Fitzgerald, the Eagles think you’re way off.
Fitzgerald is an all-time great.
Johnson could be the greatest of all time.
“It’s a different beast,” left cornerback Cary Williams said. “I can’t compare it. They’re two different guys. Body types, one is much bigger, much faster, much stronger while the other is more of a possession guy nowadays more than anything.
“I think Calvin is a great challenge. It’s one of those situations where you don’t back down. You look forward to it.”
Johnson is 6-foot-5 and 239 pounds, ran a 4.39 in the 40-yard dash and boasts a 43-inch vertical, which is either the vital statistics of a modern-day superhero or an NBA all-star.
“His catch radius is second to none,” Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. “There are similar players that are big-bodied, go up and get the ball away from their body. They snatch it well out of the air. Fitzgerald is one of the top in the NFL, but Calvin is the best when you watch him game in and game out, what he does and what he can do at that size, speed ratio. He’s the best.”
Johnson last year smashed Jerry Rice’s NFL record for receiving yards in a season by totaling 1,964 yards, 135 of which came at the Linc in a Week 6 comeback win for Detroit, which comes back to the Linc on Sunday for a showdown against the Eagles.
Rice’s record of 1,848, set in 1995, had stood for 17 years before Johnson not only toppled it but also threatened the 2,000-yard stratosphere.
This year, Johnson is on pace for 1,889 yards, which would be the second-best receiving total in league history and give Johnson three of the top-10 receiving seasons ever, the most of any receiver in the sport’s history. Marvin Harrison is the only receiver with more than one top-10 receiving season. Fitzgerald’s best season -- 1,411 in 2011 -- ranks just 52nd all time.
In today’s NFL, in discussions about elite receivers, Johnson is in his own universe. Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall -- they’re all tremendous talents, just not in the same conversation with Johnson.
“In this world? No,” said Chip Kelly, who then referenced an Oct. 13 game in which Johnson erupted for 329 yards against Dallas, the most receiving yards in the NFL in almost 25 years, seven yards shy of Flipper Anderson’s NFL-record 336 against the Saints in 1989.
“You look at the Cowboys game (Oct. 13) and you would think if you have a guy triple-covered they’re not gonna throw the ball to him but [Matthew Stafford] throws to him and he goes up and catches it. The combination of his size and his speed and explosiveness, I don’t think there is anybody like that in this league. He can just go get the football.
“Sometimes when you’re playing people you think, ‘Hey, if we just double this guy with our play call, we got two good guys that can double him, we’re in great shape ...’ but they’re still going to throw it up, and a lot of times he goes and gets it. That makes it real difficult.”
Rice is generally considered the greatest receiver of all time, but he played on four Super Bowl champions and spent almost his entire career catching passes from Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Steve Young.
For the first 15 years of his 16-year career, Rice played on one losing team and for only half of one season didn’t have either a Hall of Fame or Pro Bowl quarterback throwing passes to him.
Here are the quarterbacks other than Stafford who have started at least three games for the Lions since they picked Johnson second overall in 2007: Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky, Daunte Culpepper, Drew Stanton and Shaun Hill.
Last year, Johnson put up 225 yards against the Falcons on Dec. 22, then totaled 211 two weeks later in a first-round playoff loss to New Orleans. Johnson already has five career games of at least 211 yards, including the postseason. Rice had four in his entire career, and he played in 29 playoff games.
“He is the absolute total package,” cornerback Brandon Boykin said. “He doesn’t lack anything as a receiver. He already has the height. He’s quick off the line. He’s strong. There is nothing that he lacks. As a defensive back, you want to attack somebody. You want to see what their weaknesses are. He doesn’t really have any.”