Lions spreading the ball around more this year

ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Calvin Johnson’s season has started out just the opposite of how last season went for him.

A year ago, Megatron caught a lot of passes but rarely got into the end zone for the struggling Detroit Lions.

This year, his total receptions are down but he’s scoring touchdowns and his team is winning.

“It’s not strange,” Johnson, in his seventh NFL season, said of not being force-fed the ball quite as much. “I’ve been in this position before. I’ve seen where I get the ball maybe 15 targets a game. There might be times I get four targets a game. I’ve seen it all. You’ve just got to be patient with it.”

Here’s the statistical breakdown on Johnson through four games this season compared to last year’s totals:

• He’s tied for 24th in the league in receptions with 21 (5.3 per game). New England’s Julian Edelman leads with 34.

In 2012, Johnson led the NFL with 122 catches (7.6 per game).

• Johnson ranks 19th in receiving yardage with 312 (78 per game). Atlanta’s Julio Jones is No. 1 with 481 yards.

A year ago, Johnson broke the NFL single-season record with 1,964 yards (122.8 per game).

• Johnson has been the target for 40 passes (10 per game), which ranks 14th in the league. Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Jacksonville’s Cecil Shorts both have been targeted for 51 passes.

In 2012, Johnson had the most targets in the league with 205 (12.8 per game).

• His four touchdown receptions are tied for fifth, two behind the leader, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham.

Last season, Johnson finished tied for 40th with only five touchdown catches all season.

Johnson missed practice Wednesday for the second straight day because of a lingering knee injury that goes back to training camp, but he’s expected to play Sunday at Green Bay.

“I’m all right,” he said. “Can’t talk about injuries, though. That’s our rule. We leave that up to the coach.”

Johnson, who caught four of the 10 passes thrown to him in last Sunday’s victory over Chicago, wouldn’t say whether the injury has affected him in recent games.

Coach Jim Schwartz, meanwhile, had no comment on Johnson’s physical condition.

Instead of having to force the ball to the 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson time after time like he did last year, quarterback Matthew Stafford is spreading the ball around a little more this year.

Nate Burleson ranks second on the team behind Johnson with 19 catches in the three games he played before breaking his left arm in a car accident last week.

Running back Joique Bell has 18 receptions, tight end Brandon Pettigrew 12 and running back Reggie Bush 11.

The Lions also have gotten timely contributions from tight end Joseph Fauria (four catches and two touchdowns) and receiver Kris Durham (three receptions for 58 yards against the Bears).

Three other players who have three receptions each – receiver Ryan Broyles (coming off knee surgery), receiver Patrick Edwards (missed last two games with ankle injury) and tight end Tony Scheffler (odd-man out so far) – still could play a bigger role over the final 12 games.

A year ago, it was mostly just Johnson, Johnson, Johnson.

He finished with 63 more catches than anyone else on the team (Pettigrew was second with 59).

“We were down on some personnel last year, it was by necessity,” Schwartz said, referring to season-ending injuries to Burleson and Broyles along with the disciplinary issues involving Titus Young.

“It’s hard to say you rely too much on Calvin,” offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said. “I don’t think that’s possible. You give Calvin any opportunity he can get.”

But getting others involved has helped take some of the burden off Johnson, especially with him not at full strength.

 “It gets everybody in a groove,” Johnson said. “When you get everybody in a groove early in the game, (they’re) ready when their number’s called (later in the game). That’s a good thing.”

For now, being in first place and scoring those touchdowns is just fine with him, even if he’s not on track to get anywhere close his numbers from a year ago.

In fact, Johnson said the 3-1 start “definitely makes it much easier to come to work” for everybody.

“Guys come with a smile on their face, talking about big plays that were made, being able to watch film and not have a nasty taste in your mouth about it,” he said. “There’s good team camaraderie going around here right now.”
Receiver Kevin Ogletree, who was added to the Lions’ roster after getting released by Tampa Bay, is best known for his career-best performance in last year’s nationally televised opening game when he was still with Dallas.

He finished with eight receptions for 114 yards and two touchdowns against the New York Giants.

“That would be nice to get that going again,” said Ogletree, who practiced with the Lions Wednesday for the first time.

Ogletree is hoping to be in the lineup Sunday, but that might not be necessary if Edwards returns.

• Cornerback Chris Houston hasn’t practiced since suffering a hamstring injury late in Sunday’s game.