This Sunday, Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive coordinator Billy Davis will try to find a way to stop the Detroit Lions‘ top target, Calvin Johnson, which is something that no defensive mastermind has been able to figure out over his record-setting seven year career.
If there is one advantage Philadelphia has entering their Week 14 matchup with the Lions, it’s that their defense is riding a hot streak, one in which they have held opponents to 21 points or less in each one of their four consecutive wins. Their front four has come back to life, especially Trent Cole. In his last four games, the former Pro Bowl defensive end has notched five sacks, and his revival has sparked the Eagles’ pass rush.
While Detroit’s offensive line has done a good job in protecting Matthew Stafford, the unit will have one of their tougher tasks this week against an Eagles defense that ranks eighth in the league with 35 sacks. If Philadelphia wants to contain Megatron, their best chance of doing so will have to come from up front.
The Achilles’ heel for Philadelphia’s defense has been the play of their secondary. On paper, it’s a matchup where Johnson should feast on the 32nd ranked pass defense in the league.
Cary Williams has stepped into a leadership role, while the rest of the group has struggled to maintain consistency. Over the course of the team’s four-game winning streak, however, Williams has played very well against the opposition’s No. 1 option. The Green Bay Packers’ Jordy Nelson was limited to six catches for 56 yards in Week 10, while the Washington Redskins‘ Pierre Garcon had a similar line of six for 68 in Week 11. The former Baltimore Ravens corner had his most daunting task to date this season last week against Larry Fitzgerald. He was held in check throughout the game until he broke a 43-yard touchdown catch with Brandon Boykin covering him. William’s physical nature will be put to the test when countered with the stature of Johnson at 6-fo0t-5, 236 pounds.
Despite Williams playing much better in recent weeks and more like how he performed during his days in Baltimore, he’ll need help over top from his safeties and fellow corners. It’s nearly impossible for any corner to keep Johnson in check one-on-one. Bradley Fletcher, playing opposite Williams, will see Johnson at some point. Like Williams, Fletcher will try to play physical with Johnson right off the snap. Both corners will have to rely on help over top from Nate Allen, who recorded his first interception last week, and Patrick Chung. The only way to contain Johnson is through double teams and sure-tackling.
With 72 receptions, 1,299 yards and 12 touchdowns, it’s expected that Johnson will get open on occasion. It’s impossible to shut him down completely. The thing the Eagles will have to do is to limit his big plays, and the best way to do that is to keep two guys on him and when he does catch a pass, to make sure to cut him down before he can turn upfield.
Of course, all of this is easier said than done, but with the way the Eagles are playing defensively and the way their front four are applying pressure, there’s definitely opportunities for this unit to keep Johnson in check this Sunday.