Mega-challenge for Eagles

Posted: December 06, 2013

Another week, another mega challenge for the Eagles defense.

After doing a decent job on Larry Fitzgerald last week, the gas gets turned up a bit with the arrival of Calvin Johnson and the Lions on Sunday.

Though the Birds have been better lately, no team in football has allowed more receptions to opposing wide receivers than the Eagles (204). Ditto for most yards (2,599) and most touchdowns (18).

Detroit's receivers and tight ends are strong, long and wrong for a secondary lacking confidence. The surging Eagles say they are ready.

"We know it's a challenge," said Eagles cornerback Cary Williams. "At the same time, we're not going to back down."

Johnson's nickname is Megatron, which was given by former teammate Roy Williams as a nod to the villain in the popular Transformers series. But there is nothing fictitious about his abuse of opposing secondaries.

"The combination of his size and speed and explosiveness," Eagles coach Chip Kelly said. "I don't think there's anybody like that in this league."

Johnson missed practice this week to rest his right knee but should be fine to play.

Johnson (6-5, 236) set the NFL record with 1,964 receiving yards last year and earlier this season established the single-game regulation record when he torched the Cowboys for 329 yards. Flipper Anderson's 1989 record of 336 yards was padded with 40 in overtime.

About the only request from fantasy owners was for Johnson to get in the end zone more often. Of his 122 catches last year, only five were touchdowns.

This year, Johnson has scored 12 touchdowns in 11 games. At 28, he is very much in his prime.

"He continues to amaze me," said Jim Schwartz, who has been Johnson's head coach since 2009. "I was a defensive coordinator for a long time and I know how difficult it is to defend guys like that. Even when your scheme is good, he can still make a play."

Last year, the Lions helped put Juan Castillo out of his Eagles' misery by rallying to beat the Birds in Week 6. Johnson had five catches for 107 yards in the fourth quarter/overtime as Castillo changed up coverage despite holding Johnson to one catch the first three quarters. Two days later, Castillo was fired.

This will be Johnson's fourth game against the Eagles. He got hurt early in the 2007 meeting and had just two catches for 58 yards. In 2010, he had four receptions for 50 yards and a score.

The Eagles defense has improved against opposing receivers lately, save for the missed tackles on Fitzgerald's touchdown last week.

"Larry's a tremendous player, but Calvin possesses a different challenge," said Williams, the Eagles corner. "He's 6-6, 230 pounds, runs a 4.3-40. He's more of a physical presence. He's a glorified basketball player playing football."

Contest of the week

How many receiving yards will Calvin Johnson get this week against the Eagles?

The reader who comes closest to projecting Megatron's receiving yardage total will win a Daily News fantasy football t-shirt. In case of a tie, one winner will be chosen randomly.

Send an email to FantasyFootball@phillynews.com by noon on Sunday. The lawyers want us to mention that Johnson has to be in for at least one play on Sunday or the contest will be voided.

Johnson is averaging 118 yards per game and the Eagles have given up as many as 142 to an opposing wide receiver. See the chart to the left for more details.

Position watch

Quarterback: It'll be a challenge for Russell Wilson to stay hot as Seattle visits San Fran this week. The Niners held Wilson to just 142 yards passing and one score in Week 2. They made life even worse for the other read-option QB they've faced by holding Robert Griffin III to 118 yards and no TDs in Week 12. Wilson didn't do much (122 yards, one pick) in last year's visit to San Fran, though he did throw four TD passes at home against the 49ers in Week 16 . . . Those in keeper leagues were thrilled to hear Nick Foles will be the Eagles' starter for the next thousand years.

Running back: Good luck to LeSean McCoy owners. The Lions haven't allowed a rushing touchdown to an opposing running back since Week 4 and haven't given up 100 rushing yards to an RB all year . . . Oakland's Rashad Jennings (concussion) has practiced the last 2 days, but should only be considered a flex. The Jets have the best run defense in the NFL . . . Adrian Peterson sat out practice yesterday (groin), but is in no jeopardy of missing this week's game at Baltimore. Peterson had 35 and 32 carries in the last two games.

Wide receiver: The Saints' Marques Colston has 596 receiving yards and two touchdowns this season. Cleveland's Josh Gordon has 623 yards and four TDs over the last three games. Gordon owners are praying that Browns quarterback Jason Campbell can last the whole game.

And finally

Apparently LaDainian Tomlinson has no issue starting Seattle's quarterback this week at San Fran.

"I don't care who Russell Wilson is playing, he's a go each game," Tomlinson said on his SiriusXM fantasy show. "Matter of fact, if Russell Wilson called me today and said, 'LT, I need you to come out of retirement and play this game with me,' I'm suiting up. I'm suiting up with Russell Wilson."

Ed Barkowitz, who sends best wishes to the family of recently deceased war hero and South Philly legend Babe Heffron, has been writing about fantasy football in the Daily News since 2001.


On Twitter: @EdBarkowitz

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