Lions Shouldn’t Be Excused Without Calvin

10/7/13 in NFL   |   Andrew_Ericksen   |   230 respect

Sep 15, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson (81) looks on after trading jerseys with Arizona Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson (21) after the game at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY SportsThe surprise injury to Nate Burleson just about two weeks ago immediately put the Lions wide receiver depth under the microscope.  The team would need more production from second year players Ryan Broyles and Patrick Edwards and third year, former Seahawk Kris Durham to fill the void. 
 
Luckily, the team survived their first game without Burleson, beating Chicago thanks to Reggie Bush’s heroics and the multitude of turnovers caused by the defense.  But when the team suited up without both Burleson and the incomparable Calvin Johnson this weekend, the team couldn’t even muster a double-digit point total on the day.
 
Losing Calvin for the NFC North showdown was an enormous blow for the Lions.  Apart from taking Adrian Peterson off the 1-3 Vikings, the removal of Johnson from Detroit may be the most detrimental player removal from any NFL team without considering the quarterback position. 
 
But with the star receiver limited in practice all week, I can’t help but wonder why the Lions offense looked as perplexed by absence of #81 as fantasy football owners must have been.   Shouldn’t there have been more sync to the route running?  Shouldn’t there have been a way to set up Reggie Bush for another big outing?  Instead, the Lions were only able to score twice: a 53-yard field goal by David Akers to close the first half and a 13-yard pass from Matthew Stafford to Durham with two minutes to go.
 
The Packers defense was one of the league’s worst last season.  This year, there has been a noticeable improvement, but Colin Kaepernick still torched the team for 412 yards in week 1 and both Washington and Cincinnati found ways to move the ball effectively as well.
 
Without Johnson, the Lions still have an extraordinarily gifted quarterback in Stafford.  The main critique on Stafford, however, is that he relies too much on Johnson for his success, that Stafford would be unable to lead an offense on his own.  Sunday was the perfect opportunity for the young hurler to prove these theories wrong, but with only one touchdown drive, the Stafford critics will live to jeer another day.
 
However, I don’t think Sunday’s loss is as much on Stafford as it is on the Lions coaching and front office.  I blame coaching for not being able to find a game plan that could expose an underwhelming defensive unit.  The Packers defense had the upper hand all day, despite the fact that they were most likely prepping to face a Lions offense that featured a heavy dose of Calvin Johnson.  The Lions could have used Calvin’s late inactive announcement to tactically throw a curveball at the Packers defense, but there was nothing up offensive coordinator Scott Linehan’s sleeve.
 
Oct 6, 2013; Green Bay, WI, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford (9) walks off the field after failing a 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field. The Packers won 22-9. Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY SportsI blame the front office for failing to bring in the right personnel to both complement Calvin Johnson or to - god forbid - make up for his absence should he be missing from the lineup.  Broyles is a great talent who caught both passes thrown his direction on Sunday, but he’s torn his ACL twice in the past 3 years, so he’s anything but a guarantee for production.  Edwards and Durham were targeted a total of 13 times on Sunday, but totaled just 5 catches for 46 yards.  Why is the front office content with this three-some of wide receivers behind Calvin Johnson and Burleson?  Where was Martin Mayhew when the 49ers acquired Anquan Boldin for a measly 6th round pick?  Isn’t there any more experienced pass-catcher currently on the market?
 
What makes the loss even more frustrating is the solid performance from the Detroit defense once again.  The Packers scored 28 points in week one, 38 in week two, and 30 in week 3.  With their week 4 bye, the team had two weeks to prep for the Lions after their disheartening 34-30 loss to Cincinnati.  Still, the offense was only able to score 6 points against the Lions in the first half.  On the game, they totaled 22 points - their lowest total since week 15 in 2012 when they put up only 21 points against Chicago (Seattle was the only team to hold them under 21 last season).
 
While a win at Lambeau without Calvin Johnson is a tall order for the team, it’s reasonable to expect more of a concentrated all-around output then what we saw this weekend.  It was a big divisional game for the team, playing against someone who has consistently beaten them time and time again the past two decades. 
 
The rematch is slated for Thanksgiving and hopefully #81 won’t be relegated to a spectator role again.
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