The league's top cover cornerback
Gerald McCoy was talking about two of the NFL's transformative players, Lions receiver Calvin Johnson and Bucs cornerback Darrelle Revis, when handicapping Sunday's matchup at Ford Field. • "Everybody wants to talk about Megatron," the Bucs defensive tackle said of Johnson, who leads the league in receiving yards (1,083) and touchdowns (11). "But we've got Optimus Prime. And everybody knows how that ended in the movie." • The only meeting between Johnson and Revis followed the script of the Transformers cinematic trilogy with Megatron held to one catch for 13 yards. That was Nov. 7, 2010, when Revis played for the Jets. The Lions threw at Revis only four times, and Johnson's only catch came on the game's first possession. (A 15-yard catch was negated by a Lions penalty.) • Since that game, Johnson and Revis have developed a mutual admiration and respect. Revis said Wednesday of Megatron: "He's one of the best in the league. He is the best. I'd say he's the best receiver in the league."
The 6-foot-5, 236-pound Johnson, 28, returned the compliment: "One thing I do know from that game, he does a good job of playing the ball. That's something a lot of corners don't have. That's what makes him so good."
A lot has occurred since that initial meeting. Revis, 5-11, 198, tore his left ACL last season, was traded to the Bucs and has only recently worked back into optimum, or Optimus Prime, shape. The past three games, Revis, 28, has shut down the opponent's top wideout: Seahawks' Golden Tate (three catches, 29 yards), Dolphins' Mike Wallace (four for 15 yards) and Falcons' Roddy White (three for 36 yards).
Meanwhile, despite being the focal point of every defense, Johnson has improved. He no longer works exclusively outside the numbers. He can play all three receiver spots and moves in and out of the slot to dictate matchups and avoid jams at the line.
"You're talking about two of the best that ever played their position in all of football," Bucs coach Greg Schiano said. "The fan in me has to step away and say, 'We have to make sure we do everything we can to put our 11 guys in the best position to defend their whole offense.' "
The Lions have other weapons. Matthew Stafford is third in the league with 3,198 passing yards and Reggie Bush 10th with 654 rushing yards. Double-team Johnson, and tight end Brandon Pettigrew and receiver Kris Durham can make plays downfield.
"Even then, you watch plays that they throw it up to Johnson, there's three guys there and he just jumps up and catches it amongst the three," Schiano said. "Give me the coaching point for that."
Revis' physical nature and technique in press coverage has allowed him to neutralize bigger receivers.
"I don't know a receiver who wants to get jammed or pressed at the line," he said. "Just be physical with those guys and match what they bring to the table."
But Johnson has a physical advantage and speed.
"He's Megatron," Revis said. "That's what you've got to go with. If you talk about LeBron James, he's 6-8, 260. It's just what it is. Kevin Durant, he's 6-11. You've just got to bring that up because of how massive he is as a receiver. There are not a lot of receivers that are that big that can run that fast. It's like a created player … make him as big as you can and make him run as fast as he can. He's explosive."
Revis admits while every game presents its own challenges, there is extra motivation going against the No. 1 receiver in football.
"When you match up the best against the best, there's probably a little more of a chip on your shoulder because at the end of the game, you want to get the best of that person," Revis said. "I'm sure Calvin feels the same way. We'll see. It'll be fun."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]tampabay.com and heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-AM 620. Follow him on Twitter at @NFLStroud.