The Lions’ latest heartbreaking loss shot their 2012 season even further into irrelevance, but there are still games left on the schedule. Detroit travels to Arizona this week to take on the woeful Cardinals and then finishes up the season against the Falcons and Bears at home. Other than a draft pick the Lions have little at stake, which makes Calvin Johnson’s pursuit of Jerry Rice’s single-season receiving record that much more significant.
Calvin Johnson has been the lone source of stability and consistency from this Detroit team, despite his own “struggles” early in the year. I use that word with caution. Calvin’s “struggles” over the first seven games saw him averaging 91 YPG, which had him on pace for a 1400+ yard season. That shows just how high expectations are, as Lions fans and fantasy owners alike complained that the star receiver was being underutilized. In the six since, Johnson is averaging an absolutely insane 151 YPG. His 908 receiving yards over the last six games are more than Christian Ponder has thrown for during that span.
There are a lot of very special receivers in the NFL. From AJ Green to Larry Fitzgerald, the talent at the receiver position never seems to deplete. Calvin has established himself as being head-and-shoulders above the rest of the NFL’s receiving talent and he is currently doing it with little help. Yes, Johnson has a quarterback throwing him the ball who can make big plays. Yes, the Lions are the most pass happy team in the league. Yes, practice squader Kris Durham was the starting receiver opposite Johnson in Sunday’s loss to Green Bay. As the season wears on, the Lions are forced to get the ball to Calvin more and more. Teams are employing more aggressive tactics in an attempt to stop him. Despite the lack of appealing offensive weapons outside of Johnson, there is simply nothing that other teams can do to slow him down.
Will the Lions make an effort to force Calvin the ball so that he can break this record? That’s a trick question. The Lions will force the ball to Calvin in any situation so a conscious effort to break the record is not even necessary. Barring injury, I don’t see a reason he won’t get it. He needs 303 more yards over the last 3 games. For most receivers that is a lot to ask for, but with Calvin I can only wonder will he get there in two games?
The real question for the Lions is how they are going to utilize their star receiver in the big picture. Detroit has an offensive weapon that any other team would die for. They have a receiver that automatically draws double or triple coverage and is still able to stay on record-shattering pace. With a depleted receiving corps around him and a lack of skill players to draw attention away, he still manages to dominate games. As Detroit makes preparations for next year they need to remember just how good this offense can be if Calvin has the right people around him. Until the Lions can sort out how to get quality production from their underachieving roster, this special talent will continue to be a dominant force in games that don’t matter.