The Odds Were Stacked Against Calvin Johnson and More NFC North News
We all know what an incredible season Calvin Johnson had in 2013, even as the team struggled.
ESPN's NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert cast some light onto how Johnson's year might have been even more incredible than we imagined.
According to Seifert and ESPN's Stats and Information database, the Lions saw six more defenses stack six or less players in the box against the run than any other team.
Hand in hand with that, they faced eight or more men in the box less than any other team in the league.
In other words, defenses reacted to Johnson the way they did to Adrian Peterson—they sold out to stop him.
They knew the Lions were going to pass, and they had complete disregard for Detroit's run game.
There are several staggering aspects to consider, if you stop and think about it.
First of all, despite all the attention, Johnson still nearly had 2,000 yards. We already knew it was an amazing feat (which is why I listed it first), but consider how few weapons the team had to help Johnson, as well as the inordinate amount of targets Matt Stafford threw his way and it's even more impressive.
Defenses knew where the ball would go 90 percent of the time, and yet couldn't stop him.
It does also put his extremely low touchdown total into context as well. Teams sold out to keep him out of the end zone, and there is only so much you can do as a receiver when you have defenders draped all over you in the red zone.
It's all you can do to make the catch at times.
Also, this tells you how bad the ground game was. They saw six or less men in the box and yet the backs only managed to average only 3.25 yards a carry.
Side note: NFL.com has the yards per carry at 4.1—that includes wide receivers and quarterbacks as well, which for our purposes isn't really helpful.
Now, it's impossible to say for sure if the backfield alone is to blame for this. Some poor run-blocking, a complete lack of help among the wide receivers and tight ends to take the heat of Johnson, and a very obvious tendency to throw all fed into this.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
By the same token, it's a huge problem, one that I don't think would have been solved by Jahvid Best, nor will it be changed by going after a guy like Reggie Bush (something Seifert has talked about).
Yes, a more dynamic back will help. However line play and offensive philosophy come into play as well and quite simply, you can't run the ball if you don't run it.
When you throw the ball 740 times and run it just 391 times (including all those wide receiver gimmick runs and quarterback scrambles) teams can see that pattern.
This has to change, it's just untenable.
That said, we should all just take a moment to appreciate what an amazing player Johnson is.
And hope that someone gets him some help—physically and philosophically—soon.
Now on to the rest of the NFC North news.
The Sun-Times' Sean Jensen says that former Bears wide receiver Johnny Knox has nothing but good things to say about his time in Chicago and is keeping his future football options open.
Dan Pompei answers some reader questions at the Tribune, most of which revolve around wide receivers.
MLive.com's Anwar Richardson takes a look at the five most important decisions facing the Lions this off season.
We've been talking running backs this week, so it's fitting ESPN Wisconsin's Jason Wilde delves into it as well to keep the theme going.
While the Packers aren't in the market for a quarterback, Tyler Dunne of the Journal-Sentinel reports that Geno Smith spent a ton of time watching film of Aaron Rodgers (sometimes during class) this past season.
We're all talking about the future of Percy Harvin but according to KFAN in Minneapolis (via ESPN), Adrian Peterson doesn't want him going anywhere.
Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune says that while he has baggage, Harvin also has far too much upside to risk going somewhere else.
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