DAVIE, Fla. — In a battle billed "Megatron vs. Optimus Grimes," Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson and Miami Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes will face off Sunday at Ford Field to see what happens when the NFL’s most dominant wide receiver goes head to head with the game’s hottest cornerback.
No longer relishing its 37-0 shutout victory over San Diego in Week 9, Miami’s pass defense, which ranks second in the league allowing 201.1 yards per game, expects to have its hands full with Johnson in a matchup of teams each aiming for a fourth straight victory.
The thought of having to shut down Johnson, a 6-foot-5, 236-pound freak of nature, nearly had Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle picking up his phone and asking the Miami Heat for a favor.
"We tried to see if Dwyane Wade wanted to come and join us for a weekend," said Coyle, who spoke for the team in the absence of head coach Joe Philbin. "No, he’s rare. There’s a few guys we see every year, and we’ve seen some early in the season, but certainly there are very few players in the league of his size, athleticism.
"It’s a big challenge, but we are going to do our best. We anticipated he was going to play. It’s been a number of weeks that he’s been out. I think they’ll be healthier than they’ve been in some time. We’ll get their best shot."
After five weeks of being questionable, and having sat out Detroit’s past three games with an ankle injury, Johnson, a four-time Pro Bowler, likely will be looking to make a statement in his return against Miami. In five games this season, he has 22 catches for 348 yards and two touchdowns.
"He’s 6-foot-15," Miami cornerback Cortland Finnegan said of Johnson. "He’s great at what he does, in and out of breaks, going up high for the football. The way they use (Johnson) is efficient. We’ve definitely got to game plan around him, but at the same time you gotta go out there and play football and take your lumps and just try to minimize his big gains."
For the Dolphins, minimizing big gains has been one of their biggest keys to success this season. Through their first eight games, they have allowed just 20 completions of 20 or more yards and just two completions of 40 yards or longer, the fourth and second fewest totals in the league, respectively.
Johnson, who reeled in five receptions longer than 20 yards before his injury, should give Dolphins secondary its greatest challenge of the season in terms of defending the deep ball. And even if some ill effects from Johnson’s ankle injury linger, Grimes knows that a wounded Lion won’t be any less lethal on the field.
"He’s a great player," said Grimes, who is 5-foot-10. "Everybody knows what he can do, what type of plays he can make and the problems he can make for a defense. I always say, I know I probably get a little repetitive, but week in and week out it really comes down to just playing your game, fundamentals, technique and trying to make them make mistakes, and if they do make a mistake, capitalizing on it."
In the midst of yet another Pro Bowl-worthy season, Grimes has proven to be better at capitalizing on mistakes than most. When opportunity comes knocking, rarely does the door go unanswered.
Named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday for his two-interception performance against San Diego, Grimes has a team-high four interceptions, which rank second in the NFL, along with 36 tackles, one tackle for loss, nine passes defensed and one forced fumble.
"I still look at it as a team accomplishment," Grimes said of his most recent accolade. "Even though they singled out one person, I wouldn’t have gotten those interceptions without our D-line and our linebackers getting pressure on the quarterback all game."
Preparing to face Johnson for the third time in his career, Grimes boasts a 2-0 record against him, with victories in 2008 and 2011, but he knows he will need a few big plays if he hopes to bring the matchup to 3-0 and the streaking Dolphins to 6-3.
"It’s a tough matchup, he’s a great player, one of the best receivers ever," Grimes said. "Those are the facts of the matter. You just have to compete. That’s what this league is all about."