Matchup to watch: Calvin Johnson vs. the Saints

Thinking ahead to the Week 13 schedule in the NFL, the one matchup that stands out from a game plan perspective is the Sunday night tilt in New Orleans. Saints’ defensive coordinator Gregg Williams vs. Lions’ WR Calvin Johnson.

Here are a couple of notes I wrote down when looking at Williams’ blend of coverage and pressure vs. Johnson’s skill set.

Calvin Johnson ICONLook for Gregg Williams to use some 2-Man and Cover 7 vs. Johnson on Sunday night.

- Possible we will see some 2-Man (2-deep, man under) over the top of Johnson when he is the No.1 WR aligned outside of the numbers. I saw the Packers use this in their Thanksgiving win at Detroit and it allows the CB (rolled up in a press position) to sit hard with an inside shade with a trail-man technique. Take away the base inside breaking concepts (think dig, post, option, slant, etc.) with the help of a safety over the top to handle a double-move or a straight 9 (fade) route.

- Combination man—or “Cover 7” in Williams' playbook. This scheme allows the secondary to make calls and take away route concepts. The Lions will align Johnson in multiple spots on the field—which plays right into the coverage. Go with the “slice” call (in and out scheme) if he is in the slot or a “Fist” (man-under) if he is outside of the numbers. Bottom line with Cover 7: make QB Matthew Stafford come off Johnson and move to his second option.

- We know we are going to see pressure from the Saints, but what kind of pressure? New Orleans will use multiple fronts in their sub packages and we should see five or six DB looks vs. the Lions’ spread sets. Williams will call some base-man pressure (Cover 1 and Cover 0) in third and short-to-medium with his DBs playing off-man technique. However, his top blitz concepts are zone based in the secondary. Look for the Saints to play some “Gold” technique vs. Johnson (CB will drop the vertical release to the safety and look inside to No.2) or some three deep with the FS shaded to Johnson’s side of the field.

- Base Tampa 2 and what Williams calls “Tent Anchor” (drop eight with a three-deep shell in the secondary). The issue with playing Cover 2 vs. Johnson is the release at the line of scrimmage and his ability at the top of the route stem. You must get a jam to re-route his release and take some stress of the safety. Plus, when he gets to a depth of 12-15 yards up the field, you can see a double-move (think corner-post). The same route Johnson beat the Bears with earlier in the season on Monday night. Both Tampa 2 and Tent Anchor are good calls to take away the vertical game, but there is still the possibility of Johnson winning down the field.

- The goal line fade route? Your guess is as good as mine—because I have no idea how to stop this route. Drill technique through the week of practice and get your DBs to put hands on Johnson at the line of scrimmage. Even then, you could be in trouble. Maybe see Williams put FS Malcolm Jenkins on Johnson inside of the 5-yard line to play the fade.

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