Lions’ snap count breakdown: Calvin Johnson gets rest but still delivers

By Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson played 54 of the Lions’ 67 offensive snaps, sitting for far more plays than he has in recent years, in Monday’s 35-14 win over the New York Giants.

Johnson’s impact, though, was just as big as usual. He had seven catches for 164 yards, his most in a Lions opener, and two touchdowns.

While it might seem counterintuitive for the Lions to take their best player off the field, the team now has enough weapons to spell Johnson at times, which the Lions hope will preserve his long-term health.

“For the most part, nothing happens by happenstance,” coach Jim Caldwell said of Johnson’s snap count. “We go in with a plan with how we want things to work.”

Although the plan could change if the Lions are in a closer game, the coaching staff showed awareness by taking Johnson out for 13 plays, especially after he gave the Lions control with a 98-yard, two-score first quarter.

Here is a breakdown of the Lions’ snap counts from Monday’s game:

Linebackers: Stephen Tulloch 60 (of 60), DeAndre Levy 60, Tahir Whitehead 4, Ashlee Palmer 4.

Cornerbacks: Rashean Mathis 58, Darius Slay 57, Nevin Lawson 49, Bill Bentley 3.

Analysis: The Lions used their nickel package for most of the game, trying to lock down slot receiver Victor Cruz. And they did well, holding Cruz to just 24 yards on two catches, which was even more impressive considering how much Lawson played after Bentley suffered an early knee injury. We’ll have to wait to see how Whitehead handles his starting role. Palmer played some goal-line snaps.

Wide receivers: Golden Tate 55 (of 67), Johnson 54, Jeremy Ross 35, Corey Fuller 15.

Analysis: Johnson and Tate were the only receivers who had targets, and Tate was great in his Lions debut, catching all six of his targets for 93 yards. Ross looked like a fine option in the slot, and the Lions will continue to try to hit Fuller deep. If that hits, it will give defenses even more to worry about.

Safeties: Isa Abdul-Quddus 57, Glover Quin 55, Jerome Couplin 7.

Analysis: Abdul-Quddus played well in a spot start with five tackles and a quarterback hit on a blitz. The Lions were lucky Quin returned after leaving briefly with an injury, but it was good to get Couplin a little run.

Running backs: Joique Bell 35, Reggie Bush 30, Theo Riddick 5.

Analysis: Bell proved to be the better inside runner with 15 carries for 51 yards and the game-sealing touchdown. Bush, though, looked good in the pass game with 49 yards on six catches. So much for the Theo Riddick hype as he had just one carry for 4 yards.

Tight ends: Brandon Pettigrew 39, Joseph Fauria 29, Eric Ebron 20.

Analysis: Pettigrew was always going to have a big role because of his blocking, but Fauria played his way into a role this summer. The second-year player looked great on a 26-yard gain. Ebron, meanwhile, didn’t get open much and didn’t catch either of his two targets, though neither was a perfect pass.

Defensive tackles: Ndamukong Suh 50, Nick Fairley 31, C.J. Mosley 25, Caraun Reid 3.

Defensive ends: Jason Jones 40, Ziggy Ansah 39, George Johnson 27, Devin Taylor 21, Darryl Tapp 10.

Analysis: Johnson earned a role with his strong play this summer, but it was still surprising to see him play more than Taylor. Obviously, Johnson rewarded the coaches with 1½ sacks. At tackle, Fairley was indeed the starter, but Mosley played a big role as expected. Both players had one tackle. Even though the scheme looks different, the Lions will rotate defensive linemen just as they did in the past. Reid could play more when he’s 100 percent recovered from a shoulder injury, but he had a quarterback hit on one of his three snaps.