Defensive focus should be between the numbers

We’re going to have to be physical, make him uncomfortable.”

This quote from Matt Elam came when asked how to stop Calvin Johnson. He also said Johnson’s an older guy, and older guys don’t like to get too physical. A statement that was later shortened to “Elam calls Johnson old”. Thanks guys.

Calvin Johnson is going to get his. There’s just no two ways about it. I’ve looked pretty hard at the splits, and there are no discrepancies. Home vs. road, first half vs. second half, wins vs. losses; his numbers remain solid no matter what the situation dictates. Despite his nickname, he is human and the Ravens defense needs to figure out how to limit Johnson’s production.  

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Here’s a look at where Calvin Johnson gets his targets.


There is your discrepancy. That’s the edge. Right there, in the middle. Johnson has success everywhere, but 74.6% of Calvin Johnson’s catches come over the middle, right around Daryl Smith’s area, and Matt Elam deep as the last line of defense. The middle of the field is the area the Ravens placed emphasis on improving last offseason. That’s a tendency I would like to see the Ravens defense zero in on. 

In comparison, Brandon Marshall makes 61.5% of his catches between the numbers. Andre Johnson, 49.5%. A.J. Green, 43.6%. Josh Gordon, 50.7%. 74.6%…Calvin Johnson is almost telling you where he wants to go on the field!

In week 1 against the Vikings, Megatron finished with four catches on nine targets for just 37 yards.  They took away the middle of the field as Johnson caught three of six passes over the middle for little yardage.

Week 5 against the Bears, Johnson caught just two balls on five targets over the middle for 23 yards, as only 44 yards were to be had on the day.

Week 6 against the Browns we saw much of the same. Three catches on six targets over the middle for his only 25 yards on the day. Stafford only targeted him once outside of the middle of the filed in that game.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Dallas game we all remember from week 8 where he caught 14 balls for 329 yards. The Cowboys left the middle of the field wide open as Johnson caught nine balls on 11 targets there for 221 yards.

This tells me that Stafford certainly has a comfort zone with Calvin Johnson. If you take him out of the comfort zone, he’s not good at adjusting. (I wish I had some tape to back this up for you). Another sign that Stafford might not be making the proper adjustments, assuming the opposing defense does throughout games; Matt Stafford has a QB rating of 30.2 in the fourth quarter of his last four games. The Lions are 1-3 over their last four.

Taking away the middle of the field is the key to shutting down slowing down Calvin Johnson.

I mentioned Daryl Smith being the guy who will be tasked with meeting Johnson in his zone over the middle. He’s been very good in pass defense this season. He allows a 75.6 QB Rating when targeted, which is 4th best among inside linebackers. Six passes defensed, and two interceptions on the season. Pro Football Focus grades have him listed as the second best coverage ILB in the NFL. The 58.4 completion percentage he’s allowed is the best in the NFL among ILBs. Smith is up there with Karlos Dansby of the Cardinals when it comes to success in pass defense. Calvin Johnson faced Dansby in Week 2 with great success.

Against Arizona, Johnson notched all but three yards of his 116 that day over the middle, and less than nine yards from the LOS. Again, Karlos Dansby is one of the best coverage ILBs in the NFL. His eight passes defensed are tops among ILBs, and his 69.5 QB Rating allowed ranks second best behind Dannell Ellerbe (remember him) with 60.2. In that game, so much emphasis was on one of the NFL’s best young corners, Patrick Peterson, covering the best receiver in the game. Dansby was no help underneath as Peterson was beat one-on-one for four catches on six targets and 96 yards, two TDs. Dansby himself was responsible for two catches on both times Johnson was targeted in his direction, allowing 20 yards.

Daryl Smith occupying the middle of the field and helping Jimmy Smith, or Lardarius Webb in pass protection is huge. Chipping him at the line to throw his timing with Stafford off. Aggressive pursuit on the part of Smith. Make Matt Stafford adjust. Matt Elam was dead right about one thing this week. Being physical is the key. Make Kris Durham, Brandon Pettigrew, Nate Burleson beat you. Make them earn it. Most of all, don’t let Matt Elam become another victim of foot in mouth disease. 

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About the author

Mike Randall   

Ravens Analyst

Mike was born on the Eastern Shore, raised in Finksburg, and currently resides in Parkville. In 2009, Mike graduated from the Broadcasting Institute of Maryland. Mike became a Baltimore City Fire Fighter in late 2010. Mike has appeared as a guest on Q1370. Now a Sr. Ravens Analyst for BSL, he be reached at

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