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Lions receiver Johnson a big test for Eagles

SURROUNDED BY a swath of reporters on the Eagles' practice field at the NovaCare Complex, Andy Reid was asked about Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. He laughed.

Since 2008, Calvin Johnson has more touchdown catches (46) than any other NFL receiver. (Paul Spinelli/AP)
Since 2008, Calvin Johnson has more touchdown catches (46) than any other NFL receiver. (Paul Spinelli/AP)Read more

SURROUNDED BY a swath of reporters on the Eagles' practice field at the NovaCare Complex, Andy Reid was asked about Lions receiver Calvin Johnson. He laughed.

"When they give you the nickname 'Megatron,' that means you're pretty good," Reid said. "He's a really good player."

That would be an an understatement.

Since the start of the 2008 season, Johnson has more touchdown catches (46) than any other receiver in football. He led the NFL in both receiving yards (1,681) and yards-per-game (105.1) last season, helping the Lions break a 12-year playoff drought.

This year, Detroit was a sexy pick to claw back into the postseason, but the Lions have sputtered to a 1-3 start. Johnson has as many touchdown catches this season as Clay Harbor (one), yet his dynamic abilities and freakish frame - imagine a 6-5, 240 pounder blowing by you with 4.3 second, 40-yard speed - have kept opposing coaches and defenses up at night.

If the Lions are going to beat the Eagles on Sunday for the first time since 1986, it likely will be on the back of Megatron.

Johnson, 27, said on Wednesday that he has probably lined up in single coverage for no more than 10 to 15 snaps of the Lions' 309 this season.

Johnson has been double-teamed - and then some. Opposing coordinators have created a "box and one"-type scheme, blanketing Johnson while also trying to goad quarterback Matthew Stafford into throwing into that black hole.

For all of the talk about Johnson's subpar season, the only number lacking is touchdowns. He's still catching more than seven balls a game. Johnson is on pace to break last year's receiving-yards total, and he could become just the fifth player in league history to collect 1,700 yards in a single season.

"Everybody's game plan when they play the Lions starts with Calvin Johnson," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said in a conference call with reporters. "I think it says a lot about the talent of a player in that he's able to be successful even though people start their game plans trying to take him out.

"They'll double him and cheat somewhere else. But we have enough talent that when people try to play that way, we should be able to make them pay. We've been a little bit inconsistent in the first four games, but we certainly have the firepower."

The Lions' firepower is almost as questionable as the Eagles' ability to cover Johnson. If covering Larry Fitzgerald - a player just as physical as Johnson - 3 weeks ago in Arizona is any indication of how the Eagles will perform, the secondary could be in for a long day.

The Eagles did not double Fitzgerald, with the rationale being that the Cardinals would be expecting that. Fitzgerald lined up often in the slot, roasting the Eagles for 105 yards in the first half alone.

This time, the Eagles know Johnson will be in the slot - something Schwartz conceded would not have been an option 4 years ago when he was hired.

"He was strictly an outside receiver," Schwartz explained. "He's developed a full repertoire. Calvin's done a really good job going from a one-dimensional, deep-threat, outside receiver to a guy that is still a premier deep threat but also really works well on the inside part of the field."

Reid was asked whether he would consider moving Nnamdi Asomugha to the nickel so he could cover Johnson. Rookie nickel back Brandon Boykin was victimized by Fitzgerald and lived up to his "candy bar'' nickname as the Steelers gobbled him up on two key third-down conversions during last Sunday's fourth-quarter, game-winning drive.

"If we need to, yes, we can do that," Reid said. "We'll see how it goes. They move him all over. They move him in the middle of 'trips' [3 receivers on one side], inside of trips, inside on the double wing side. He saw a variety [of coverage], but normally people are looking to cover him with a couple of people. He has earned that respect."

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie had two interceptions in his last game against Detroit (Dec. 20, 2009, with Arizona), but he struggled in the nickel last year.

Reid said Boykin and rookie linebacker Mychal Kendricks have "done a heck of a job" 90 percent of their time on the field. Boykin expects Johnson in the slot not necessarily to pick on him, but because it attempts to limit the double team and also opens up the full field of play.

Boykin is also listed at 8 inches shorter than Johnson, which could cause further matchup problems.

Both grew up in the Atlanta area. Boykin said Johnson is a close friend of his older brother - a fact Johnson shrugged off in a conference call with reporters.

"It will be a tough test for all of us, knowing how good of a receiver he is," Boykin said. "You could know him and know exactly what he is going to do but you have to go out there and make the play. We know how good he is. We know we've got to step up big time."