At 6-foot-5, he’s too tall for any cornerback.
With a 4.35 clocking in the 40-yard dash coming out of Georgia Tech in 2007, he’s too fast for most cornerbacks.
With a 42.5-inch vertical jump, he can outjump most cornerbacks, too.
Nonetheless, the Green Bay Packers feel good about their options -- or at least as good as they can feel about their options – heading into Sunday’s NFC North showdown at Ford Field.
After Johnson missed the early-season game at Lambeau Field with a knee injury, Sam Shields’ play against Johnson was one of the few highlights of the Thanksgiving rematch in Detroit. While the Lions won 40-10 and Johnson caught six passes for 101 yards and a touchdown, Shields played well in his first time mostly matching up against the game’s top receiver. According to cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt, the Lions targeted Johnson seven times with Shields in coverage. Johnson hauled in three passes while Shields defended three passes, including a leaping interception in the end zone.
“I think they both use their skill-sets,” Whitt said. “Calvin has the height and weight and catch radius, and Sam has speed, he’s very quick, he has great ball skills. They use their talents, their good against good, and one of them is going to win and one of them is going to lose some plays. Sam does have the ability to keep up with him and then, when the ball goes up, both of them are going to have to go get it.”
What might be Shields’ best trait is his confidence. He’s generally risen to the occasion against top receivers. Not only did he play well against Johnson but he turned in excellent performances against the likes of A.J. Green, Torrey Smith, Josh Gordon and DeSean Jackson last season.
“Yes, it has to,” Shields said of top competition bringing the best out of him. “You’ve got to give it your all, your best, going against a guy like this. If you don’t, he’ll torch you. He’ll embarrass you. I don’t think anybody wants to get embarrassed. It’s just doing your keys, having confidence, going out there with confidence.” In past seasons, it was Tramon Williams getting the call against Johnson. Johnson had some big games during that span, but Williams is on top of his game. Nerve damage in his shoulder, sustained in early 2011, and a knee injury, which sidelined him for almost all of training camp in 2013, are distant memories. Starting with the last handful of games last season and continuing through the first two games of this season, Williams has been excellent.
“Any time you play against a guy of that caliber, you want to go out and battle him,” Williams said. “You know it’s not going to be easy but you also know that you have ability to do it. We know who’s going to be talked about but you still have to have the confidence in yourself. You’ve got to go in there and get the job done. It ain’t going to be easy but the confidence and the capability is there.”
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers could go in two directions with his primary defender against Johnson. One, like last season, he could match Shields against Johnson when Johnson is out wide, then put Williams on Johnson when Johnson goes into the slot. The other option would be to simply put Shields on the right side and Williams on the left side in base, and Shields on the right side, Davon House on the left side and Williams in the slot in nickel.
House, at 6-foot-1, might be the wild card. He’s 2 inches taller than Williams and Shields.
“The Davon House that played last week is the one I’ve been waiting for,” Whitt said. “Hopefully he continues to play like that the rest of the year.”
Whoever lines up across from Johnson, it’s going to be a team effort. Shields called him a “beast” and Whitt made no bones about the fact that Johnson is the game’s premier receiver.
“It’s what ‘we’ have got to do,” Williams said. “When you’re facing a guy like that, it’s more of a ‘we’ than an ‘I.’ It’s what ‘we’ have to do.”
Johnson vs. Green Bay
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com, and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.