Bengals WR Chad Johnson has learned that Cincinnati's offense occasionally works best when his own efforts are shut down
This season Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro wide out Chad Johnson doesn't have a catch of more than 18 yards – and he doesn't care. His team is winning.
In his sixth year in the league, the always outspoken Johnson has achieved his own personal Nirvana. It's enlightenment, he says, that comes from the realization that he doesn't have to win the game on his own.
What does that mean for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday when they take on Johnson and the 3-1 Bengals? Simple. Shutting down number 85 doesn't necessarily mean shutting down Cincinnati's passing attack.
"I think ultimately Chad's number-one thing is that we win football games," said Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis. "And I think as long as that is the case, he's going to be okay and people are going to consider him not so hung up on everything else. But he does like to talk about himself, and have fun doing it. Again, we just want to focus on playing football and if he keeps playing football right, everyone will know about Chad Johnson."
Through four games this season, Johnson has made 18 receptions for 201 yards and one touchdown. Those numbers are slightly down from his usual standards. Over the past three years – and through the same amount of games – Johnson has averaged 22 catches for 347 yards and two touchdowns. But the decrease in his numbers isn't a product of diminishing skills. Rather, it's the result of opposing defenses committing to stopping Johnson with double coverages and, at times, triple-coverages, courtesy of linebackers chucking him at the line of scrimmage.
"What I've done the past five or six weeks is have double or triple-teams and [allowed] everyone else being able to get off – with the running game being successful, T.J. [Houshmandzadeh] ballin', Kelley Washington and Chris Henry making plays all over the place," Johnson said. "So be it. At some point in time, my number will be called on, and when it is I've got to be ready."
Johnson still leads the Bengals in catches and receiving yards, but fellow Bengals receivers have contributed a solid 57 catches for 716 yards, including 13 catches for 189 yards by wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Houshmandzadeh tallied nine catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns. And in a Week Two win against Cleveland, now suspended receiver Chris Henry pulled in five passes for 113 yards. That's the multifaceted passing attack with which the Buccaneers secondary will be forced to contend this Sunday.
That increased production from his teammates has helped Johnson expand his approach to the game. Absent from his sideline antics are the tirades so prevalent these days among wide receivers clamoring for the ball from the first snap of the game until the final gun. Instead of singing his own praises, he now lauds his teammates and seems to have a genuine understanding of what does and doesn't help the team.
"It's changed it a lot," Johnson said of his attitude. "What it's basically done is really show my maturity, coming back from not just the Pittsburgh game of two weeks ago, but actually in the playoff game where I was down to one catch at halftime and I was ticked off, I was mad, I was ranting and raving at halftime because I wanted to help contribute and I knew what I could bring to the table as far as helping us win. It really doesn't help myself or my team when I do those things."
Johnson is of course referring to Cincinnati's playoff game last season against the Steelers where he was reportedly livid at halftime due to his lack of involvement. This season, against the same team, Johnson was held to one catch for 11 yards, but rather than rant, he lauded his teammates after the game for stepping up and securing a win against the defending Super Bowl champions.
"I do it in a different way - my ranting and raving now comes at three or four-in-the-morning on Tuesdays when I'm sitting upstairs with my coaches and we're making the game plan," Johnson said. "I have to [keep it away from the camera]. I have to because they'll kill me. Everything about Chad has always been positive, always – except the one incident in Pittsburgh last year at halftime. I try to keep that within the walls of this organization and always let the perception and image of Chad always be something positive."
And despite the slower-than-usual start, Johnson is still the man who topped the AFC in receptions and yards last season. He's still the man who has gained more than 1,000 receiving yards in each of his last four seasons and has caught at least 90 passes for three straight years. Stopping him will be key for the Buccaneers defense – just not at the cost of leaving the unit susceptible to the Bengals many other weapons.
"I think those touchdowns are going to come," Johnson said. "They are going to come. They can't continue to play me the way they're playing me right now and just allowing us to run up and down the field and T.J. and Chris to catch ball all over the place. At some point that's going to free myself up, and right now the way I've looked at – I really haven't looked at the numbers – but those people who usually finish at the top – myself, Steve [Smith], T.O. – we're all really in the same category right now, but the cream always rises to the top."
Maybe so, but Johnson is still bringing the utmost respect for Buccaneers defenders with him this Sunday. When asked if the vaunted Tampa Bay defense has lost a step, Johnson was abruptly to the point.
"No, not watching the film I'm watching," Johnson said. "They haven't lost a step at all. Now they're still a young – not young – fast, aggressive defense, and they play their scheme very well. Don't let their 0-4 record fool you…their record does not compliment how good Tampa Bay really is, at all. That's not fooling nobody."
Sunday, the Buccaneers will have a chance to live up to their reputation and "keep the cream from rising," at least for one more week.