Ask Ravens players and coaches about Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson, and they’ll talk your ear off about the five-time Pro Bowler’s ability to put his stamp on a game.
“He’s a beast. He’s a freak,” defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano says.
“He’s a game-wrecker,” says cornerback Jimmy Smith.
“He has it all, man. He’s just a complete wide receiver,” adds cornerback Lardarius Webb.
I think it’s fair to say the Ravens will have their eyes on Johnson come Sunday afternoon.
Johnson, who stands at 6-foot-3, 226 lbs., will be hard to miss. He isn’t quite as tall as the Lions’ Calvin Johnson or as quick as New England’s Wes Welker, but in some ways, Houston’s big-play wideout is a mix of the top receivers around the league, in that he has pretty much every trait you could want in a pass catcher.
“He’s physical, he’s strong, he’s quick, he’s fast, he has ball skills,” Webb said. “He’s a complete wide receiver. We have to know where he’s at on every play. He’s a game-changer. He could change the game right now. He’s very important to that offense, along with (running back) Arian Foster. We have to bring our A-game with this guy, because he’s the complete package.”
The Ravens know first-hand the type of damage that Johnson can do to a defense. He went off to the tune of nine catches for 140 yards and two touchdowns in a game against Baltimore in December of 2010, and pulled in the game-tying touchdown pass with under a minute left in regulation by elevating to catch a high Matt Schaub pass and then tip-toeing the sideline to get his feet inbounds.
It’s that type of leaping ability which makes Johnson that much tougher to defend. Even if a defensive back plays with perfect technique, runs step-for-step with Johnson and has good position on him, the athletic wide receiver can still go up and rip the ball away from the defender (or defenders) that are covering him.
“You can D him up perfectly and it’s still a possibility of him coming down with the ball,” Webb said. “It’s going to be a challenge, and I’m up for the challenge and ready to play ball.”
The Ravens can look back to last season’s game against Houston for pointers on how to defend Johnson, but they can’t garner any further information from the 2011 matchup between the two teams. Johnson didn’t suit up back in the Week 6 battle at M&T Bank Stadium because of hamstring issues, which caused the nine-year veteran to miss nine games this season. He also has been dealing with a knee injury of late.
While Johnson says he’s been feeling pretty good this week, he admits that he’s still lacking a little bit of the burst which usually allows him to beat even the quicker defensive backs downfield.
“At times, I don’t feel like I’m explosive as I was before I had the surgery and everything,” Johnson said this week on a conference call with Baltimore media. “I think as weeks go on, and the more I do, my explosiveness is starting to come back. I think that’s just going to come back with time.”
Johnson looked just fine last week in Houston’s wild card win over the Bengals, making five grabs for 90 yards and a touchdown despite seeing somewhat limited reps as the coaching staff tries to ease him back into action.
The Ravens aren’t sure if Johnson will have a cap set on the number of plays he’ll see on Sunday, but they are sure of one thing - if they don’t locate him on every play and make sure they’ve got multiple defenders in his area, the “game-wrecker” has the ability to take over.
“He can score at any point in the game when he gets his hands on the ball, so as far as defenses, you’ve definitely got to strategize for him,” Smith said. “You’ve got to double-team that guy.”