Key Matchup: C.J. vs. CBs

While the Vikings have owned the Lions over the last decade, Calvin Johnson has routinely produced against Minnesota the last three years. His presence becomes even more important with Antoine Winfield out.


There are few things the Vikings realistically have to concern themselves with heading into Sunday's rematch with the Detroit Lions. The Vikings-Lions rivalry has been like the rivalry between a hammer and a nail. The Vikings have won the last four meetings, 14 of the last 15, and 18 of the last 20. They have owned the Lions, yet have struggled to shut down wide receiver Calvin Johnson, making his battle with the Vikings' cornerbacks this week's key matchup.

Despite beating the Lions in almost every game they've played, the Vikings have struggled to keep Johnson out of the end zone. Sunday will be the 40th game of Johnson's professional career. In the 34 games he has played against the rest of the NFL, he has scored 13 touchdowns. In the five he has played against the Vikings, he has four.

He has never smoked the Vikings for a dozen catches or 100 yards, but has proved to be dangerous whenever he touches the ball. In two games last year, he caught just seven passes, but they covered 169 yards and two of them went for touchdowns. In Week 2, he led the Lions with five catches for 51 yards and their only score. There's no questioning his ability to make plays against the Vikings. The only question is who will be trying to stop him?

With Antoine Winfield ruled out of Sunday's game, it will be up to Cedric Griffin, Benny Sapp and Karl Paymah to keep Johnson under wraps and from getting deep down the field. It is a tall order for any corner, because at 6-foot-5, 235-pound Johnson is almost impossible to jam at the line and, once he gets his stride going, he eats up chunks of yardage with every step. He is likely going to demand coverage over the top from one of the safeties to bracket him and keep him from getting deep, but, as history has shown us, he finds a way to break free at least once a game for a big play.

The Vikings are heavy favorites coming into Sunday's game (16½ points on the Vegas line) and are expected to roll over the Lions. However, Detroit has played the Vikings tough in each of the last three games – the Vikings won their two games over the winless Lions by a total of six points and trailed at halftime in Week 2. The Lions may lose almost every game they play, but they come ready for a fight against the Vikings. If they can stay close into the second half, Johnson may become their primary and only weapon down the field.

It would seem whether the game is tight or the Vikings open up a big lead and force Detroit to pass often during the game, Johnson is going to be the centerpiece of the offense. Without Winfield, the Vikings corners have struggled to close out games against Baltimore and Green Bay. While Detroit isn't in their class, Johnson is probably the most talented wide receiver the Vikings have played to date.

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