By Chris Cluff
Wide receiver Calvin Johnson and the underachieving Detroit Lions really must be feeling down if they need Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman to motivate them when the Seahawks show up Sunday.
Sherman, whose side job this season has been talking trash to or about his opponents, decided to throw down the gauntlet to Johnson, against whom he figures to be matched up plenty on Sunday. Johnson’s nickname is “Megatron,” so Sherman changed his Twitter handle to “Optimus Prime,” who apparently was Megatron’s archenemy in “Transformers.”
Johnson and his teammates apparently didn’t think it was funny.
“Self-given nickname,” Johnson said. “Hey, if that’s who he wants to be, that’s cool. I can use it, definitely use it as motivation, no doubt about it.”
If that’s what it takes to get the Lions (2-4) out of their funk, they might be in bigger trouble than Lions fans think.
Johnson is in the league’s top 10 with 38 catches and 592 yards, and the Lions have the league’s No. 4 offense. But he and quarterback Matthew Stafford have connected for just one touchdown, and the Lions are scoring 22 points per game while allowing 25.
Johnson told Detroit reporters that he’s looking forward to playing against the Seattle secondary because it plays a lot of single safety deep, which the Lions haven’t seen much.
Of course, until Monday night, Johnson and the Lions also hadn’t seen cornerbacks with the size of Sherman and Brandon Browner — guys who play too aggressively, according to San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh.
The 6-foot-4 Browner, who is one of the few corners in the NFL who can see about eye to eye with the 6-5 Johnson, hinted that the Detroit star can expect the same kind of game he got Monday from Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman.
“I think the Bears did a good job with him,” Browner told KJR 950 AM. “They matched him up with Charles Tillman, and Charles Tillman is a big guy (6-2) pretty much like me and Ricky Sherman (6-3), and he played him pretty aggressive.”
Tillman held Johnson to a season-low three catches for 34 yards.
“I think the game plan the Bears played against him … was pretty good. He didn’t do too much in the game,” Browner said. “I think Charles Tillman set up a blueprint.”
If Stafford and Johnson can’t do anything, the Detroit offense will be stymied. It already is without running back Jahvid Best, whom the team declined to activate last week as he recovers from multiple concussions over the last few years. The running game averages 99 yards per game. Also, wide receiver Nate Burleson, one of four Sea Lions (i.e., former Seahawks) on the Detroit roster, is out for the season after suffering a broken leg against the Bears.
This figures to be a typically low-scoring Seattle game, and rookie QB Russell Wilson and the Hawks will have their own troubles against Ndamukong Suh and a Detroit line that is the best the Hawks have faced, according to Seattle offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell. That group includes defensive ends Kyle Vanden Bosch and Cliff Avril and defensive tackle Nick Fairley.
“If you don’t take care of the front four, it can screw up the whole game,” Bevell told The News Tribune. “That’s what they count on, and that’s what they’re working toward. So we have to have a conscious effort to make sure we take care of those guys.”
The Seahawks are 1-3 on the road and Wilson has thrown just two touchdown passes against seven interceptions. But the Lions have just two interceptions, and their six total takeaways are tied for the second fewest in the league.
“I think the biggest difference is we just have to play a little better,” Wilson told TNT. “Whatever it is, we’ve lost some very close games on the road. So we just need to finish those games, and that’s what it really comes down to.”
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Chris Cluff worked as a sports editor and writer for The Seattle Times for 11 years and has written two books on the Seattle Seahawks. Since leaving the Times, he has written about the Seahawks and Seattle sports for Bleacher Report and the blog he shares with a fellow sportswriter, outsidethepressbox.com. His work can be found on Examiner.com.