Megatron is Detroit's best offensive weapon and obviously provides the Lions better chances of scoring.
On the contrary, the Falcons' defensive strength for much of 2012 has been their coverage. Despite allowing 230 yards passing per game, Atlanta has recorded 18 interceptions while only giving up 13 touchdown passes.
Factor in Detroit's inconsistent rushing attack and it's a matchup of strengths in Week 16.
The Lions rank No. 1 in passing offense and Johnson is also on pace to shatter Jerry Rice's single season receiving record. For the Dirty Birds to fend off Megatron and claim the NFC's No. 1 seed in the process, he must be isolated.
And to see how Johnson can be shutdown we revert back to Week 8. There, the Seattle Seahawks limited pro football's top receiver to just 46 yards on three receptions at Ford Field.
After, we'll check out what makes Atlanta's coverage capable of blanketing Megatron and forcing some turnovers.
Seahawks Minimize Johnson, Lose Game
The tricky part about playing the Lions is shutting down Megatron and winning at the same token.
Seattle kept him in check, but ultimately lost 28-24. Fortunately for Atlanta, the Falcons possess an offense capable of matching Detroit's pace, should Johnson dominate anyway.
What the Seahawks were able to do, though, is force multiple underneath routes because of a deeper shield downfield. On this play, Johnson is in the slot and facing press coverage.
The important aspect here is the defender forcing Johnson to go around. This elongates his pattern and allows the outside cornerback to react after making his drop.
The red line indicates Johnson having to go around the first defender and it greatly assists the cornerback.
As you can see, Johnson isn't even turned around by the time Stafford has already thrown the ball. Instead of that timing being simultaneous, Johnson must attempt an acrobatic catch while getting hit.
So, there was a quick physical jam at the line followed by the hit stick of Brandon Browner. That initial reroute, however, also forced Matthew Stafford to hang on to the ball a bit longer than anticipated.
Well, Megatron dropped the pass and it paid dividends later on.
The second play we check out shows Johnson again in the slot. Only this time, there is no defender at the line for press coverage.
Naturally, anyone's first thought is more open space underneath. Although true, the Seahawks have a zoning linebacker waiting that Matthew Stafford fails to look off.
Had Stafford also looked elsewhere, there is an open target crossing underneath Johnson. Based on how the behind coverage players are positioned, Johnson is not the open target by comparison.
Still, Stafford goes to his No. 1 receiver.
But just before the 'backer makes contact, Johnson drops the ball.
In short, Atlanta must play physical every chance it gets. Combine that with a mixture of Cover 2 and Cover 3 and Megatron won't impact like Detroit needs him to.
What the Falcons' Coverage Brings
In Week 15, the Falcons played their best game of the season.
Hosting the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, Atlanta bashed Big Blue 34-0. At the same time, the Falcons picked off Eli Manning twice and held him to just 161 passing yards and a 52.0 completion percentage.
Here, we look at Atlanta's two picks of Eli.
The first comes from a delayed blitz that is backed by excellent man coverage.
As the blitz goes right toward Manning, the back fails to pick up completely. Manning is then forced to make a pass that is slightly off-timing with Hakeem Nicks.
Given the routes that developed, everything is blanketed underneath and there's no time to let anyone get downfield. Asante Samuel jumps the ball and the Falcons offense turns that into six points.
The second interception is disguised man coverage. Safety Thomas DeCoud is rolled down in the box, but ends up taking inside man coverage leverage of Hakeem Nicks.
Samuel at cornerback drops back and Manning doesn't see any of it.
Upon making the throw, DeCoud is already in position and records the turnover. The end result is more points for Atlanta's offense.
All this is part of what the Falcons must do against the Lions to eliminate production from Megatron.
Blitz, play physical coverage and bracket Johnson between zones. Rolling down DeCoud for underneath man-to-man is capable of confusing Stafford and turnovers will be the end result.
Everyone is aware of Johnson's ability to take over a game and get a defense on its heels. Atlanta cannot afford to get exposed by Detroit, because regardless of the outcome, that then makes the Falcons more transparent.
And other offenses such as the Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers, Seattle Seahawks and Washington Redskins possess the personnel to capitalize on Detroit's potential success. For the Dirty Birds to gain supreme confidence entering January, demolishing the Lions and making Johnson a non-factor is imperative.
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