EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. – Adrian Peterson boasts of rushing for 2,500 yards this season, making his personal goals well-known as he tries to run down Eric Dickerson’s 29-year, single-season NFL record.
The league’s top running back makes such lofty predictions seem possible. The NFL’s top wide receiver enters 2013 not making any grand statements and leaving his personal goals, well, personal.
Maybe it’s because Detroit’s Calvin Johnson set a coveted NFL record last year, while Peterson fell eight maddening yards away from Dickerson’s record. Johnson, with a late push similar to Peterson last year, broke Jerry Rice’s 17-year record for single-season receiving yards last season, finishing with 1,964 yards.
Yet, Johnson’s not heading into this season saying he’s shooting for 2,000 yards, at least not publically. His 122 receptions last year are tied for the fourth-most in a single season, just one behind Wes Welker (2009) and former Lions receiver Herman Moore (1995) and well behind Marvin Harrison’s record of 143 catches set in 2002. There’s no public push from Johnson to reach 144 catches.
“Calvin, it’s hard to get him to say anything,” Detroit coach Jim Schwartz said Wednesday on a conference call with Twin Cities media. “Adrian Peterson, I have so much respect for him and I think Adrian’s one of the few guys who can say something like that and it doesn’t come across as bragging. Calvin’s the same way. Both of those guys are supremely talented players, two of the best at their position in the NFL right now, and both of them have the potential when its all said and done to be guys that are all-time greats.
Johnson got the record, Peterson got the MVP last season. Both cause headaches for their opponents and are doing so again this year with the Vikings at Detroit for the season-opener on Sunday.
“He’s one of those guys when you game plan, much like with Adrian, you have to have a plan for Calvin Johnson,” Minnesota coach Leslie Frazier said. “He’s a tremendous player. Even though you may know that he’s going to be getting the football, you can’t always stop what he does.”
Which makes Johnson’s 2012 season even more impressive.
The Lions slipped to 4-12 last season and the offense became even more one-dimensional with the spotlight solely on Johnson. Johnson, the 6-foot-5, 236-pound nightmare matchup had eight straight 100-yard games before finishing the final game with just 72 yards and the record already in hand.
He had two 200-yard games during the stretch, including a 12-catch, 207-yard effort in the second matchup of the year with Minnesota. He had four straight games with double-figure catches at one point.
During his run, Peterson had 100 or more yards in nine of the last 10 games in pushing the Vikings into the playoffs, including 171 rushing yards against the Lions in that second matchup.
“Both of them have that dynamic that they’re very difficult to take out of a game plan,” Schwartz said. “Calvin got doubled all year last year. We didn’t run the ball very well. We lost a lot of wide receivers, didn’t have enough ability to make teams pay for doubling him, but he set that NFL record even though every game he was doubled. Every defensive coordinator that played him started their game plan when they started looking at film, saying, ‘OK, we’ve got to stop Calvin Johnson, No. 1.”
Adrian Peterson’s the same way. Every defensive coordinator that starts a game plan says, “OK, we’ve got to stop Adrian Peterson.” He still got 2,000 yards last year. So, both of those guys are supremely talented. Their difficult to take completely out of the game plan, and both of them have the ability to score from anywhere on the field.”
Scoring more might be possible for Johnson, who was tackled at the 1-yard line six times last season, and dropped from 16 touchdowns to five. But everyone in Detroit, Johnson included, hopes he doesn’t need to challenge any records.
The Lions added running back Reggie Bush and are hoping for a more balanced offense and healthy returns from receivers Nate Burleson and Ryan Broyles. Better distribution would mean smaller numbers for Johnson and no record chasing, but it could mean a return to the playoffs.
“Man, if we get the win, nothing else matters,” Johnson said on a conference call Wednesday. “If I have to take less and Reggie comes up and balls-out and we get to where we want to be at, that’s great.”
Johnson knows he’ll still see double coverage from opposing defenses. He might shy away from talking about records or goals, but his numbers speak for themselves and the Vikings, playing Johnson twice a year within the division, know how impossible he is to stop.
“You can’t completely shut him down it seems,” Frazier said. “They target him enough that he’s going to catch some balls. You’ve just got to try to limit those explosives. They were the leaders in the league a year ago with explosive passes and explosive plays. We’ve got to kind of limit that number and try to control him to a degree.”
Johnson tries to shrug off the attention, just as he does small cornerbacks trying to take him out of a play.
“You know you’re going to get some unfavorable coverages, but my mindset, our mindset, is just go beat it,” Johnson said.
“He is incredibly, incredibly competitive and he wants to go out and do well,” Schwartz said. “More than anything, it’s about what the team does. Calvin’s not a selfish player at all. He wants to win. He wants to do what’s best for our team.”
And so, Johnson’s isn’t placing a number, yards-wise, on his personal goals.