DETROIT – The Raiders have developed a habit of letting great skill players be great. Take the last two weeks for example.
Antonio Brown, considered among the NFL’s best receivers, caught 16 passes for 284 yards leading Pittsburgh to victory. He was unstoppable, beating the Raiders pass defense over the top, through double teams and, late in the fourth quarter, essentially secured the win, turning a short pass into a big gain.
It was Adrian Peterson’s turn the next week. A 30-year old many consider the league’s best back rushed for 203 yards and a touchdown in Minnesota’s victory in Oakland.
“It is a challenge,” Raiders defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. “Every week there’s a challenge.”
This Sunday is no exception, even with the 2-7 Detroit Lions on the docket. They still have receiver Calvin Johnson and canon-armed quarterback Matt Stafford delivering the football.
While Johnson is battling an ankle injury and it’s vogue to say he has lost a step, Megatron is still a monster difficult to contain. He’s on pace for a sixth straight 1,000-yard season, with 740 yards and three touchdowns on a team-high 54 catches.
"He’s big, strong and long, a fast target with great hands and great concentration,” Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio said. “He’s a great competitor and a really gifted player."
Given the moribund state of the Lions running game and a relative lack of height in the Raiders secondary, Johnson should see a ton of activity Sunday at Ford Field.
Johnson stands 6-foot-5, 237 pounds. That’s taller, heavier and stronger than what the Raiders have to counter. He presents a different challenge than facing Brown, a smaller speedster tough to take down. Johnson is physical and aggressive downfield, equally difficult to stop.
David Amerson stands 6-foot-1 and seems to be a better option than TJ Carrie or DJ Hayden, who are a bit shorter. Double teams will certainly be required, with safety Charles Woodson providing support over the top. Should Stafford leave it hanging, the 39-year old can and will pluck it from the sky.
“The guy can still fly around,” Johnson said this week in a conference call. “You see him chase down Antonio Brown on one of the plays. He gets things done, so he can still run. He’s got great ball skills. He’s a good player, man.”
The Raiders will focus on stopping the run first, but those efforts won’t matter if Johnson consistently beats them on deep routes and third-down conversions. The Raiders are looking to bounce back on defense. Slowing Johnson will show marked improvement in that effort.