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Bears must be like Vikes to cover Lions’ Calvin Johnson

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Updated: November 23, 2012 6:15AM

Containing Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson is a daunting challenge.

But the cover-2 might be the best way to do it. Johnson’s least productive game this season came against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 4. Like the Bears, the Vikings employ a cover-2 system. Unofficially, they’re the only teams that use it as their base scheme.

Against the Vikings, Johnson was targeted 12 times but had only five catches for 54 yards. His longest reception was 19 yards. Of his five catches, three of them came when he was lined up in the slot, including his 19-yard reception.

“You have to game-plan for him and do different things,” Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “We’re lucky we have [cornerback Charles Tillman], so we can somehow match up with him with a bigger body. But you’re never going to cover him with just one guy.”

Everyone knows the Bears are going to put Tillman on Johnson as much as possible. At 6-2, Tillman doesn’t have that much of a height disadvantage against the 6-5 Johnson, whereas cornerback Tim Jennings (5-8) and nickel back D.J. Moore (5-9) would.

“[Johnson’s] just not a tall guy, he’s a guy that can get up, too,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We feel pretty good about Charles matching up with big receivers.”

Against the Bears last season, Johnson had five catches for 130 yards and a 73-yard touchdown in the Lions’ 24-13 win on Oct. 10, 2011. He got behind ex-Bear Chris Harris.

In their second meeting, Johnson had seven catches for 81 yards in a 37-13 romp for the Bears on Nov. 13. Tillman had a 44-yard interception return in that victory.

Like the Vikings did, the Bears will have their safeties positioned to prevent Johnson from making big plays. The Lions, of course, want big plays from QB Matthew Stafford and Johnson. It didn’t happen against the Vikings’ cover-2 and their other zone coverages.

On their first play from scrimmage against the Vikings — which is diagrammed above — Stafford went deep to Johnson with the Vikings in a cover-3 zone (essentially the two corners and a safety handle deep thirds of the field) in their nickel package.

Johnson failed to catch the pass with a corner and safety to contend with, but the Vikings were called for pass interference, giving the Lions a big gain nonetheless. Overall, though, the Vikings did well by jamming Johnson at the line and impeding his routes, while having a safety keeping a watchful eye on him.

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