When I saw that the Green Bay Packers had decided to cover the Detroit Lions’ Calvin Johnson one-on-one in Sundays night’s game, I started screaming at my TV. “No! Nooooo! You can’t play man coverage against the best receiver in the league! Against a guy who is nicknamed after a evil, destructive robot!”
But I was wrong, because the Packers have their own Optimus Prime in cornerback Tramon Williams. Assigned to cover Megatron by himself for the majority of the game, Williams came up with several huge plays.
It was a great match-up and I was glad to see the officials kept their flags in their pocket for most of the game and let the two of them duke it out.
Let’s be clear, though: you don’t stop Calvin Johnson. He still caught 10 of his 13 targets for 118 yards. Defenses can only hope not to be destroyed by the 6’5”, 236-pound beast who is on pace to break Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving yards record. Williams was able to do just that, keeping Johnson from recording any touchdowns.
Putting Williams in one-on-one situations against Johnson was interesting strategy considering that he has become even more of the Lions’ primary receiver as Nate Burleson, Titus Young, and Ryan Broyles are all out for the season, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew was limited with an ankle injury. It would have seemed obvious for the Packers to throw as many as defenders as possible at Johnson and dare the other Detroit receivers to beat them.
Williams’ coverage, however, was impressive. He forced Matthew Stafford to try to find other receivers – and Stafford had little success. Kris Durham – Stafford’s college roommate (they were roommates. Did you catch that? If not, Cris Collinsworth could mention it six or seven more times during the broadcast) – failed to answer the bell, dropping five of his nine targets for 54 yards. Tight end Tony Scheffler was unable to help out his quarterback much more, catching just three of his 10 targets for 20 yards.
Williams has not been able to return to the spectacular level of play that he showed off in the 2010 season. He played through a brutal shoulder injury all of 2011 and has been solid but not extraordinary this season. It’s easy to forget that Williams almost always draws the toughest assignment week in and week out, being asked to guard the opponent’s best receiver.
At 5’11”, 191 pounds, Williams knows he isn’t going to beat the bigger and stronger receivers like Johnson. To play physically against them, he pointed out, is playing right into their hands. “[Johnson’s] just too strong,” Williams said. “He just kind of throws you here and there and gets you out of position, and you don’t want that. So you can’t play him that way.” Rather than letting Johnson win the battle through size, Williams tends not to engage at the line of scrimmage so that he can win the position battle down the field.
Again, I’m not going to toot Williams’ horn too loudly here because 118 yards is not a bad day for a receiver, but he forced Stafford to look away from his favorite target and throw to receivers who aren’t on the same talent plane as Johnson. Williams’ coverage of Johnson was hugely important in the victory.
Tramon will have to keep up the good work as he will be facing a similar big-size, big-name, big-talent receiver next week in the Chicago Bears’ Brandon Marshall.