The early success of the Bears, who entered Sunday’s game against the Lions at 3-0 under first-year head coach Marc Trestman, is shaping up as one of the stories of the NFL this season. Today, though, they faced perhaps their toughest test of the young season – a trip to Detroit to face the Lions, the only other NFC North team with a winning record through three games.
Who’d get the best of the battle? Much of the answer to that question hinged on which star receiver had a bigger day. The Bears’ Brandon Marshall has been every bit as good as Chicago hoped he’d be since they acquired him from the Dolphins prior to last season, while the Lions’ Calvin Johnson is… well, he’s Calvin Johnson, and given teammate Nate Burleson’s broken arm, Detroit’s offense stood to be even more reliant on Megatron than usual. Which wideout reigns supreme? Below, our breakdown, presented by NFL Game Rewind, which lets you relive every NFL game online in HD. Read on below, don’t miss a moment, and enter the promo code BLS15.. by today (September 30) for 15% off NFL Game Rewind.
I. The Leadup
Performance this season: Both players showed fine form in the early stages of 2013. Through three games, Marshall caught 20 passes for 269 yards and two scores, while Johnson caught 17 balls for 268 yards and three touchdowns. As usual, Johnson is the bigger big-play threat, averaging almost 16 yards per catch, while Marshall proved as dependable as just about anyone in football (his 20 catches came on 28 targets – a 71 percent catch rate – while Johnson recorded a reception on just 57 percent of his targets). Still, both Marshall and Johnson did enough to make clear they’re among the best receivers in football.
Edge: even. Perform your own in-depth breakdown of both receivers’ performance with NFL Game Rewind’s Coaches Film feature, which lets you see the action from exclusive camera angles. And you can do it from anywhere, thanks to NFL Game Rewind’s tablet access.
Careers to date: This one’s closer than you might think, given the (entirely justified) hype surrounding Johnson in recent years. And it’s true that from 2011-2012, Johnson posted numbers that put every other receiver in the NFL to shame. He led the NFL in receiving yards both years, with his 1,964 yards last season setting an NFL record. Additionally, his 16 touchdown catches in 2011 trailed only Rob Gronkowski.
But before those breakout seasons, Marshall was a more consistent player. Johnson (and, in fairness, injuries and quarterback issues had something to do with this) didn’t post back-to-back seasons of 1,000 yards receiving until 2010-2011, his fourth and fifth seasons in the league. Marshall, on the other hand, began a streak of three straight 100-catch seasons (and a still-going streak of six straight 1,000-yard campaigns) beginning his second year in the league. And his string of 100-catch years was broken up only by two (still very solid) seasons with the perpetually quarterback-challenged Dolphins. A guy that consistent is a quarterback’s best friend, and e’re pretty sure Jay Cutler would agree.
Slight edge: Johnson. Marshall’s been a bit more consistent, but Johnson has evolved into the single best player in the NFL at his position. As good as Marshall is, that’s a claim he can’t make. Disagree? Prove it by breaking down Marshall’s past performances with NFL Game Rewind’s archive feature, which lets you watch full replays of every NFL game from 2009-2012.
II. The Game
Sunday performance: Well, for those expecting to see Marshall and Johnson go off, this one didn’t go quite according to plan. It’s not that either receiver had a bad game, but they’ve each had much bigger. Neither was his team’s leading receiver – in fact, both were outgained yardage-wise by a receiver and a tight end (Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett on the Bears and Kris Durham and Brandon Pettigrew on the Lions, respectively). And both Marshall and Johnson were targeted the most of anyone on their teams, so it’s not like Cutler and Matthew Stafford weren’t trying to involve them – they were, just often without much success.
Lest you think the game was a total loss for each, though, let’s lay out the numbers: Marshall caught seven passes for 79 yards, as well as a two-point conversion late in the fourth quarter that briefly made the Lions sweat in what looked like a blowout earlier in the fourth. And while Johnson’s four catches for 44 yards represented an unusually pedestrian output for him, included in that total was a two-yard touchdown grab in the second quarter, which turned out to be the Lions’ only score through the air on the day. And it wound up being a score the Lions needed very badly – they narrowly prevailed 40-32, evening the standings at the top of the NFC North.
Slight edge: Marshall. His team came up short, but his production fell more in line with what we expect of him in a typical game. Relive both Marshall’s and Johnson’s big moments with NFL Game Rewind’s Big Play Markers. And if you want to see the full game but don’t have the time, try NFL Game Rewind’s Condensed Games, which fit every play into about 30 minutes.
Edge: Johnson. That Marshall was so close in so many areas is a testament to just how good he is, because Johnson – regardless of unspectacular numbers Sunday – is well on his way to being one of the greatest receivers of all time. The Lions have hope as a franchise for the first time in a long time, and more than any other individual player, he’s responsible. He’s the rare player who came in with huge hype out of college and completely lived up to the billing. And if that’s not enough, he broke the Madden curse (even if the Lions didn’t). So no shame in losing a one-on-one battle against him, Brandon. You’ve got company in just about every corner Megatron’s ever matched up against.
Photos via Getty