OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam nearly ran out of breath trying to come up with words to describe wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the main object of focus for the team’s defensive backfield Monday night in Detroit.
“Big, fast, athletic, unstoppable, freak,” Elam said.
Curiously, Elam went in another direction when asked how best to cover the 28-year-old Johnson, who’s amassed a club-record 9,184 yards receiving and 67 touchdowns in less than seven years.
“He’s pretty old, so I don’t know how physical he’ll be,” Elam said. “He’s a big guy, but he’s older. I guess when they get older they’re not going to be as physical, you know what I’m saying? We’re going to have to be physical, make him uncomfortable.”
Elam is 6 years younger than Johnson, but he’s also 7 inches shorter and around 25 pounds lighter. So he might not want to test his theory about Johnson’s physicality in a one-on-one situation in the open field.
The misinformed rookie only can hope the rest of the defensive backfield does its part to prevent that from happening.
“You’ve got to know when it’s time to double him, when it’s time to triple-team him,” Elam said. “You’ve got to keep your eye on him, because (Detroit quarterback (Matthew) Stafford wants to get the ball to him.”
Ravens backup defensive back Chykie Brown says the Ravens can’t afford to let Johnson’s reputation get in the way of their effort to keep him from having an impact on the game.
“We’re not going to get scared because of the name on the back of his jersey,” Brown said. “He puts his pants on just like we do. We’ve got to out there and do us — get physical on him, play tough on him.”
Johnson is arguably the most dangerous receiver in the NFL, and the Ravens have yielded 18 plays this season of at least 40 yards — including a 79-yard touchdown last Sunday to Minnesota’s Cordarrelle Patterson, who finished with 141 yards in the snow.
Baltimore’s pass defense will be severely tested by Johnson, who, despite Elam’s assessment, does not appear to be anywhere close to being over the hill.
“Megatron. Anytime someone has a nickname like that, you know, kid’s real,” said Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who’s been around long enough to know the value of showing Johnson his full respect. “He’s probably, arguably the best receiver in the game, and it’s going to take all 11 guys to tend to him.”
If Suggs can put the pressure on Stafford, then Johnson will have a more difficult time getting free.
“The pass rush is going to be key,” Suggs said. “But it’s also fun. You get to play against a guy like that, so I think we’re definitely looking forward to the challenge. And not only that, it’s going to be a big stage, and this guy has a tendency of having big games on big stages. So we get to see how we fare.”
Cornerback Jimmy Smith is expected to draw the assignment of covering Johnson off the line of scrimmage, and Suggs intends to see that Smith gets some help.
“The front four, us, we’re going to do our job in making sure he don’t have to cover him for long periods of time,” Suggs said.
If Johnson gets free, the Ravens (7-6) will have a difficult time extending their three-game winning streak.
“He can be a problem, a game-wrecker,” Elam said. “We’ve got to do our job and execute.”
Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press