EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -** The Giants will have to contend with a lot of opposing talent when they visit the Detroit Lions Sunday in Ford Field.
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Go inside the Giants locker room The 7-7 Lions are the only NFL team with a player chosen first overall and three selected second overall in their respective drafts. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was the top choice in the 2009 draft. Running back Reggie Bush was second in 2006, wide receiver Calvin Johnson was second the following year and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was the No. 2 choice in 2010.
"They're a very talented team," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose team is 5-9. "They have a lot of skill."
That is most evident on offense, where the Lions are ranked third in the NFL in yards per game (405.3) and ninth in points (25.9 a game). Stafford has thrown 28 touchdown passes, but it's Johnson who causes opposing defensive coordinators to have sleepless nights.
His nickname is Megatron, which fits both his size and extraordinary accomplishments. Johnson is 6-5 and 236 pounds and is second in the NFL with 1,449 receiving yards and 12 touchdowns. He has 81 catches. Last week, Megatron caught six passes for 98 yards vs. Baltimore to become the first player in history to amass 5,000 receiving yards in a three-year period.
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"He is definitely one of the best, if not the best receiver, in the league," safety Antrel Rolle said. "I think he's earned the right to be called that. He's a guy that I know works extremely hard for it, so he's definitely a force to be reckoned with."
"He's tall," defensive coordinator Perry Fewell said. "He's got great hands. He runs good routes and so you really have to be on your game and even if you're on your game, he's just capable of making the difficult catch. It's one of the tougher challenges that we face this season just because of his skill level and his ability to break the game open.
"He lines up in a lot of different spots and I think that's smart on Detroit's part. He lines up at the number one, number two, number three, and so to try to follow a guy around and match your coverages and stuff like that against a guy that lines up in multiple positions is a very difficult thing to do. That's the real challenge they present to you because of the multiple places that they move him on the field. So obviously we'll have a plan of what we'd like to do, but they do a good job of moving him around in different spots on the field."
The plan is sure to include cornerbacks Prince Amukamara, Trumaine McBride and Jayron Hosley. Amukamara is six feet tall, but McBride is 5-9 and Hosley is 5-10, so they are several inches shorter than Johnson.
"I've been this small forever," said McBride, who returned to practice yesterday after missing the previous two days with a groin injury. "Everyone I go against is always bigger. With me personally, I just have to find ways. With him being so tall, I can't jump with him. It doesn't make sense for me to try to jump with him. It makes more sense for me to play his hands when he's coming down and knock the ball out. That's one of the things that I could do, possibly."
"I just look at it as just a great opportunity," Amukamara said. "Whoever wants to be the best, they have to go up against the best. It's obvious that Calvin Johnson is one of the best wide receivers in the game right now, so I think it presents a great challenge to any defender who goes up against him."
Bush seems to have found a home in Detroit after previous stops in New Orleans and Miami. He leads the Lions (and is 11th in the league) with 940 rushing yards and is second to Johnson with 47 receptions.
Stafford is a five-year pro, but is already Detroit's career passing-yardage leader with 17,018. He has thrown 17 interceptions this season and the Lions' 31 turnovers are second in the league to the Giants' 39. Fewell hopes his unit can take advantage of Detroit's occasional carelessness with the ball.
"We'd love to," he said. "You've got to put your offense in positions and we've got to score on defense a little bit. We've got to do some things to generate some turnovers, obviously, and we hope it's an opportunistic day for us from that perspective."
Offensively, the Giants will attempt to advance the ball against one of the NFL's most formidable defensive lines. Suh and Nick Fairley comprise what is widely considered the league's best tandem of tackles.
"They have tremendous agility," center Kevin Boothe said. "You can see Fairley, how well he runs for a 300-pounder. I think everybody knows how athletic Suh is. They're phenomenal players."
The Giants could well try to block them with a pair of inexperienced guards. James Brewer made all four of his career starts this season and is questionable with an ankle injury. Right guard David Diehl is doubtful with a knee injury, so Brandon Mosley could start for the first time in his career in Diehl's place.
"Whoever's in there, I trust them," Boothe said. "They studied the playbook, they know what it's like and you can only get mental reps over the course of the year, because you're not going to get many physical reps until your time is called. Those guys have definitely stayed in tune to what we're doing and they're able to hop right in. I think everybody has full faith in everyone on this team."
That faith will be tested on Sunday against a Detroit team with several outstanding players.