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St. Louis Rams Week One Target: Calvin Johnson


The St. Louis Rams, by all accounts, should be much improved in 2012. Some might say that the Rams defense - by season's end - could potentially be Top 10. No argument there… at least not from me. But only time will tell, and the time for speculation is about to expire. This Sunday, the Rams will look to restore their legitimacy, and reputation [on both sides of the ball] in the NFL, the media, and fans when they go on the road to face the Detroit Lions in the season opener.

If you're looking at 'keys to the game,' there are probably too many to count in regards to what it's going to take for the Rams to obtain their first win of the season - and their first opening day win since September 10, 2006.

With the Lions [potentially] missing several of their keys players on defense, Sam Bradford and the Rams have a window of opportunity with which they hope to take advantage. There are few breaks, however, on the defensive side of the ball for the Rams, where Calvin 'Megatron' Johnson is as healthy as he's ever been, and poised to repeat a season filled with spectacular, jaw-dropping plays.

The Rams will have no easy feat in stopping one of - if not the - best wide receivers in the NFL. Week One Target: Calvin Johnson. Standing at 6'5" and weighing in at 236 lbs, Megatron is a machine, indeed. There are a wide variety of components that can make a wide receiver lethal, and Johnson possesses them all. Whether it's size, speed, strength, reliable hands, or just the ability to make a play because he can out-leap the defender, put a check in the box. Having a wide receiver of this caliber is comforting for any NFL quarterback, and nauseating to opposing defenses and coaches. Is there truly any way to scheme a against a guy who's got it all? We'll find out on Sunday, when defensive-minded Head Coach Jeff Fisher sends his upgraded Rams defense out onto the field.

Johnson will undoubtedly see a lot of Cortland Finnegan this weekend. Finnegan, a former Titan who played under Jeff Fisher, certainly won't shy away from the challenge. Cortland is known for his physicality, tenacity, but more importantly how he plays every down to it's end. Widely regarded as one of the premier shutdown corners in the NFL, the former pro-bowler still recognizes that he's got his hands full this weekend:

"He’s a great, great model for the NFL and receiver in the NFL, a future Hall of Famer. So you have got your hands full with him always and you just try to contain him. It’s not stopping him, you just can’t do that. You’ve seen that all last year and in the playoffs."

And though Rams fans would probably prefer to see #31 lining up across from #81 for every snap on Sunday, it's not likely that those aspirations will come to fruition. At some juncture, rookie CB Janoris Jenkins will have the privilege of defending Megatron. Janoris has not, by any means, been void of having to cover elite wide receivers. While at the University of Florida, Jenkins earned the reputation for shutting down some of the SEC's finest. Locking up WR's like A.J. Green, Julio Jones, and Alshon Jeffery is no easy task. It's possible that a bit of chirping out on the field got into the heads of those receivers. Calvin Johnson's not worried about that.

"My coach says the best way to earn your opponent's respect is to go out and beat them on every play. It doesn't matter if he talks. If he does, that's just going to raise my intensity level even more. That don't help."

No, that don't. I'd find it hard to believe that Jenkins would be the first to use his assassin, ninja-like war of words to throw Calvin off his game. And if they did it in 2011, then Megatron is telling the truth. It's probably best not to say anything at all, and let your play speak for itself. Last season, Calvin made his 2010 campaign look mediocre, chalking up 1,681 yards on 96 catches, and finding the end zone 16 times. The Rams scored 19 TD's last season.

It'd be unfair to expect either Finnegan or Jenkins to shut down Johnson, however, if Matthew Stafford is consistently given ample time in the pocket to find his Target. Calvin is one of those guys that just makes plays, and therefore it's equally as important for the Rams front four to provide pressure and force Stafford to make errant throws. The Rams defensive line contains an extreme amount of potential, and could be one of the best - talent wise - by season's end. It's unfortunate that they'll be without first round selection Michael Brockers, who suffered a high ankle sprain in the third preseason game against the Ravens. The Lions offensive line is going to have it's hands full with defensive ends Chris Long and Robert Quinn this Sunday. It's fair to say that keeping Megatron at bay in week one is going to be a concerted effort by all eleven guys on Rams defense.

The Rams made very few moves to immediately upgrade at the safety position, unless you consider signing two undrafted free agents - Matt Daniels [Duke] and Rodney McLeod [UVA] - bolstering the depth chart. Many do. Quintin Mikell, Darian Stewart, and Craig Dahl - though decent at times - are going to be instrumental in safeguarding against big yardage plays where Megatron gets beyond the corners. Did I mention the front four needing to provide pressure on the QB?

There is hope for the Rams this weekend, and it'll be - in large part - their ability to shut down the potent offense of the Lions, who'll likely have to shake off a bit of week one rust. That 'rust' however doesn't mean that Matthew Stafford isn't going to find his favorite receiver. It's not a matter of 'if.' Keeping the Lions in the ball park of 20s [in terms of points] would probably behoove the Rams. Allowing the Lions to score in the 30s is probably going to prove difficult to keep up with for a very raw Rams offense.

A Rams win this weekend isn't impossible, and odds makers think a few extra field goals might seal the deal. Keeping Megatron out of the end zone would certainly help. It all starts and ends with Week One Target: Calvin Johnson