49ers noticed Cowboys' mistakes on Johnson

October 14, 2011, 2:02 pm
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SANTA CLARA -- As far as absurd utterances, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan set the bar pretty high two weeks ago.In the days leading up to the Cowboys' game against the Detroit Lions, Ryan said his cornerbacks would be taking a step down in competition playing against wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
After all, Ryan said the Cowboys' defensive backs work against "better receivers with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant" in practice.Then, Ryan added, "They're two of probably the premier receivers in football. But this guy's right there. He's almost that good."Austin and Bryant are good, to be sure. But Johnson this season he has been in a class by himself. He is the first player in NFL history to have nine receiving touchdowns after five games.And, predictably, he tore up the Cowboys two weeks ago.Johnson caught two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, including one in which he rose above three helpless Cowboys defenders for a 23-yard score. The Lions rallied from a 27-3 third-quarter deficit for the 34-30 victory, thanks to Johnson's 2-yard touchdown catch against single coverage on a fade route with 1:39 remaining.The 49ers believe they learned from the Cowboys' mistakes.First, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio certainly wasn't going to rip a page from Ryan's verbal playbook."Well, first off, I want to say he would be the best receiver on our team, not the third best," Fangio said of Johnson during his weekly meeting with reporteres. "So we have a tremendous amount of respect for him. He's a bigger Randy Moss in some ways, in that he's a downfield threat."He's tough to cover down the field in the jump-ball situations, like Randy Moss was. But this guy's bigger. He's thicker. He's listed at 235. I think he might be more than that. He's just a rare guy. He's that big, but yet runs as fast as he does."But the Cowboys' mistake that seemed to resonate among the 49ers' defensive backs was the play in which Johnson called his shot. He motioned to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford to just throw the ball up for grabs. Then, he came down with it between three Cowboys."Go up and compete with him for the football," 49ers safety Donte Whitner said. "When you have three guys just standing around watching him catch the football, of course, he's going to come down with it. We need three guys in the air going after the football. Either we come down with it or he doesn't."Rookie cornerback Chris Culliver said the 49ers need to attack the ball and attack the receiver to prevent such plays Sunday when they face the Detroit Lions at Ford Field."A lot of times people don't really compete with him when the ball's in the air," Culliver said. "Somebody should've blasted him. Nobody even attacked the ball. He just jumped. Do something. I wouldn't say there should be no way for him to catch the ball, but they could've put a good lick on him."Johnson is 6-foot-5, with a 6-10 wingspan and a vertical leap of 45 inches. He is the new prototype at wide receiver, and Fangio said there's no one answer for covering him."Everybody's wanted the big receivers for a long time now," Fangio said. "He's definitely one of the elite ones in that category. It becomes an issue. We're basically trying to cover power forwards with point guards."

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