By John Boyle Herald Columnist
RENTON — Well of course we spent a bunch of time this week talking about Transformers.
That’s a completely normal part of the build-up to an NFL game, right?
Well, maybe it isn’t the norm, but with the Seattle Seahawks set to face the Lions and their All-Pro receiver Calvin Johnson, who goes by the nickname Megatron, that old 1980s comic book and cartoon turned movie franchise has been front and center this week. Johnson, arguably the best receiver in the NFL, would garner plenty of attention heading into a showdown with one of the league’s best secondaries regardless of what anyone said or did in the days leading up to the game. But thanks to (who else) cornerback Richard Sherman, who changed the name on his Twitter profile this week to Optimus Prime — the Transformers good guy whose job was to stop the evil Megatron — the matchup of Johnson vs. Seattle’s talented cornerbacks has taken on a life of its own.
Not since Michael Bay was trying to squeeze every last dollar — not to mention last bit of soul — out of the classic franchise (even if it meant asking us to suspend disbelief and accept Shia LaBeouf as a credible action hero who could land the likes of Megan Fox) have we heard this much about the Transformers.
But as entertaining as all of this is, it’s also a little unfortunate that the perceived smack talk — and let’s clear something up here, despite the way some Lions players are reacting, Sherman didn’t actually say anything inflammatory, he just changed the name that shows up on his Twitter account — has distracted from what should be a fantastic battle in today’s game.
After hauling in 16 touchdowns last season, Johnson has only one through six games this year, which makes this something of a disappointing season. But even in a down year, Johnson is on pace for more than 100 catches and 1,500 yards, making this a disappointing season the Seahawks would love to have from a receiver. And you have to think Johnson and quarterback Matt Stafford are due for a breakout game at some point this season, but finding their 2011 form will be no easy task against Sherman and Brandon Browner, a pair of big, physical corners that Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll loves precisely for matchups like this.
“He’s a great athlete,” Browner said. “He’s fast for a big guy — faster than me. Then he gets double the targets that the next man on their team gets, so you’ve got to be on your game when you’re line up against him, because he’s probably going to get the ball.”
Indeed Johnson will get the ball thrown his way. A lot. And trying to stop him will be two of the biggest corners in the league, so when you’re watching today’s game, the natural instinct may be to follow the ball, but keep an eye on the one-on-one battle at the top or bottom of your TV screen.
Yet as entertaining as Johnson vs. Browner/Sherman could potentially be, Sherman doesn’t make a big deal out of facing a Pro Bowl receiver.
“Same challenge as every week,” Sherman said. “It ain’t no different for me, I don’t care who’s out there. It’s the league, you’re going to have a good receiver out there every week.”
Sherman doesn’t say that to be disrespectful of Johnson’s considerable talent; he just believes in Seattle’s defense, and to him that means if the Seahawks take care of their own business, the opponent shouldn’t matter. Sometimes sticking up for himself and his team has gotten Sherman a bit more attention than he was intending — such as when some postgame trash talking directed at Tom Brady became a national story. But the confidence and the swagger Sherman and several of his teammates possess are part of the reason this defense has performed so well, and part of the reason that this Megatron vs. Optimus Prime battle is so intriguing.
“We have to play him really well, I hope our corners can match up, and I think our guys have as good a chance as anybody,” Carroll said. “Our guys will be as big of corners as he sees. … So we’ll see what happens. They’ll be ready to go and we’ll see if we can get some plays made. Our guys are tough too, so we’ll give them some problems. We’ll see how it goes when matchup time comes.
“I’m anxious to see them both go against him. I’m looking forward to see how they do, they have a lot of respect for him.”
So while I’m fairly confident that we won’t see vehicles transform into robots and start fighting on the field in Detroit today — though that would be something if we did — we are in for a pretty good show when Johnson takes on Seattle’s secondary.
Herald Writer John Boyle: firstname.lastname@example.org.