Adam Levitan

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Curious case of Calvin

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Calvin Johnson has zero 100-yard games in the last five weeks. During that span he has one touchdown. Over the last four weeks, he is fantasy’s No. 33 wideout. What the heck?

Johnson didn’t suddenly shrink, lose his leaping ability or his hands. Some ideas as to what might be going on:

1. Regression to the mean: After four games, Johnson was on pace for a 96/1284/32 line. After eight games, his pace was at 94/1608/22. Simply put, that’s unsustainable. The breaks that were going his way early on eventually fall the other way. It’s a thin line. Owners that sold simply on the idea of a natural regression are laughing their way to the bank now.

2. Defensive attention: The Lions’ running game has gone in the tank, allowing defenses to keep six men in the box. That means they can assign two or three defenders to Johnson in bracket -- and even gunner -- coverage. Teams are applying this coverage especially in the red zone. Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke has the pictures here for proof.

3. Other weapons: Based on point No. 2, Matthew Stafford is actually doing the right thing. On Titus Young’s 57-yard touchdown catch against the Vikings last week, Johnson cleared out the entire field by taking the safety and corner with him. Call it a hockey assist. Stafford has shied away from forcing it to Calvin after throwing nine picks in Weeks 10 through 12.

Still, all hope is not lost for Megatron owners as we head into the fantasy semifinals. The Lions know that the four targets he saw last week are not enough. Coach Jim Schwartz conceded that they could have been more aggressive in targeting Johnson last week.

"I still remember Jamaal Lewis when he was playing running back for the Ravens, and he gained 2,000 yards, and they didn't have a very good passing attack and everybody was in an eight-man front to stop the run -- he still had 2,000 yards," Schwartz said. "I think that Calvin is similar in that regard. People have been trying to take him out; he's still been productive. But it was probably an unrealistic pace but, with Calvin, there's nothing that's really unrealistic."

Johnson is set up to bust out of his slump against the Raiders this week. Our initial projections have him as the No. 1 play at the wideout spot.

I’ve hit on Frank Gore in this space a few times over the last few weeks. He’s no longer a part of the passing game (four catches in the last seven weeks), has lost his burst and the 49ers are looking toward the playoffs.

To make matters worse, Gore faces the red-hot run defenses of the Steelers and Seahawks in the next two weeks. And in a death blow, coach Jim Harbaugh admitted Monday that Gore is playing at less than 100 percent. That’s the reason he got just 10 carries last week.

If you have other options in Week 15, it’s time to explore them.

We know Greg Jennings (knee) will be out until the NFL playoffs. What we don’t know is exactly how the Packers will replace his production.

One guy that will almost certainly benefit is Jermichael Finley. Before Finley went down with a knee injury in Week 5 of last season, Jennings was very quiet. Ever since then, Finley has been a decoy and Jennings has been a beast. Look for the Packers to finally highlight their insanely talented tight end against the Chiefs this week.

In terms of wideouts, we can safely expect Jordy Nelson and James Jones to play the most snaps. Randall Cobb and Donald Driver will rotate in as well, but Jones is the best add here. We know how explosive he is and now he gets the chance to show it.

Kevin Kolb revealed he had suffered two major concussions before last week. Look for John Skelton to get another start. … Javon Ringer (hand) is done for the year. … Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) has been deemed questionable for Monday, but we’re expecting him to play. … Christian Ponder (hip) will start in Week 15. … James Starks’ (ankle) Week 15 status is unknown. … The Packers are optimistic on Brandon Saine (concussion). … Darren McFadden (Lisfranc) doesn’t need surgery but appears no closer to a return.

The Saints aren’t expressing much concern over Jimmy Graham’s back. … Nate Washington is dealing with back spasms in addition to his sprained ankle. … Emmanuel Sanders has inflammation in his surgically repaired foot. … Stevie Johnson (hand) is expected to be fine going forward.

Mario Manningham played 32 snaps in Week 14. Victor Cruz played 72. … Interim coach Romeo Crennel may turn to Ricky Stanzi this week. … Injuries did not play a part in Chad Ochocinco’s four-snap game last week. … Devin Aromashodu has played almost every Vikings offensive snap in two straight weeks. … Ryan Torain is now behind Evan Royster on the depth chart. … The Cowboys signed Sammy Morris to be Felix Jones’ backup.

Adam Levitan is in his sixth season covering football and basketball for Rotoworld. He won the Fantasy Sports Writers Association award for Best Series in 2011 and 2009, and ESPN's overall fantasy football title in 2000. Find him on Twitter.
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