ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —** With one of the biggest weapons in the NFL in wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the Lions have the capability of breaking a big play on offense at any time. Broncos Head Coach Gary Kubiak knows that the three-time All-Pro will be able to create some explosive plays just based on talent alone, but he said it will be imperative to prevent those game-changing plays.
"The key is trying to limit the big, big plays," Kubiak said. "That's the big thing -- when you roll their way and you play trail on them and get somebody over the top and they still underthrow balls, and they make plays on you. Or sometimes you come out of games and you've got 70 or 80 yards in PIs [pass interference penalties] or things like that."
The Broncos have two talented wide receivers to cover in Johnson and Pro Bowler Golden Tate. At 6-feet-5 and 237 pounds, Johnson's reach and size make him tough for any cornerback to cover. Tate complements him well as a smaller, quicker receiver who inflicts much of his damage after the catch.
But the Broncos have similarly complementary cornerbacks with Aqib Talib's bigger frame and Chris Harris Jr.'s immaculate technique and quickness.
"That's a perfect matchup, man," Harris said. "We're lucky to have a lot of flexibility to where we can swich up a lot. Or whatever defense we're running, we have flexibility on matchups. We are very flexible. We can do a lot going into the game plan."
Johnson's ability understandably draws most of the attention from defenses because of his spectacular catches and consistent performances over the years. Harris was able to see that his rookie year, when Johnson caught six passes for 125 yards and a touchdown, including one reception for 56 yards.
"He makes those crazy plays that you don't ever see, and that's what he's known for," Harris said. "So we've got to eliminate those big shots, those big crazy, spectacular catches and no touchdowns. If we can continue to do that, force turnovers, we should be good."
But Tate is not to be overlooked either, especially when defenses try to key on Johnson and force QB Matthew Stafford to look for Tate more often.
"Every time you turn on the film, he's taking a five-yard catch and taking it 60," Harris said. "He's a guy that's explosive after the catch. We can't allow him to have any YAC [yards after the catch] at all, and he gets the ball a lot. People will be surprised because Calvin's double-teamed and Golden, he usually gets the guy that's in zero and a lot of single [coverage] and no help. So they target Golden a lot."
With the Lions 0-2, Harris recognizes that the challenge is greater than it might appear. Detroit will be anxious to get a mark in the win column for their home opener.
"When you're 0-2, you're desperate," Harris said. "And you've got an undefeated team coming in and a big game Sunday night. It's kind of must-win for them. [...] They've got their backs against the wall so we know they're going to come out with their hair on fire."