Always-opinionated Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was perhaps still steaming from the 329-yard performance Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin “Megatron”, Johnson, had against Dallas on Oct. 27, when he issued a bold statement in the wake of his team’s 31-30 loss.
On a radio appearance following the loss, which dropped the Cowboys to 4-4 this season, Jones said Johnson’s near-record day would have never happened against former Cowboys cornerback Deion Sanders.
“You’re talking about the greatest cover guy maybe that's played this game," Jones told KRLD-FM on Tuesday. “I do think he could do a real good job on Johnson. Johnson’s going to get some probably, but I think he could do a great job. Deion's a great player.”
Sanders earned the moniker “Prime Time” for shutting down the best of receivers in his day, but he never faced a wideout with the combination of size and talent that the 6-foot, 5-inch Johnson possesses. Could Sanders have shut down Johnson? Perry Green and Stephen D. Riley of the AFRO Sports Desk debate the question.
Riley: You could point out Johnson’s four-inch advantage over Sanders’ 6-foot, 1-inch frame, but size rarely matters when it comes to open field coverage. As a pure cover corner, Sanders was unequaled. His speed, timing, ball skills and understanding of opposing offenses made him virtually impossible to throw against. Johnson would be forced to make catches on quick slant patterns and over the middle, because everything downfield would belong to Sanders. He was spectacular in the open field and I could see him limiting anybody, no matter the size difference.
Green: Megatron is uncoverable, plain and simple. At 6-foot, 5-inches and 240 pounds, you can;t downplay size when comes to two athletes who probably run the same 40-yard time. Johnson is way too physical for corners to cover and we all know that physicality wasn’t one of Sanders’ strong suits. Receivers in the 80’s and 90’s just didn't have the physical tools that Johnson possesses. He’s a freak-of-nature type of talent who NFL defenses don’t have an answer for. Even if you gave an opposing corner the same physical measurements as Johnson, it would still be a task to limit him. That’s no disrespect against Sanders, because he was one of my favorite players, but no one is stopping Calvin Johnson.
Riley: Sanders understood coverage, routes and where he was at on the field. He would use everything around him including the sidelines, other players and angles to limit Johnson. “Prime Time” would have forced every throw to be a perfect one—and if we’re banking on Detroit’s Matthew Stafford to do that, it’s an automatic win for the defense. A 300-yard performance undoubtedly made the scouts drool and elevated Johnson to another level, but should we ask whether the cornerbacks opposing Johnson are just substandard defenders? It was rare for receivers to even top 70 yards against Sanders, let alone 100-plus. Quarterbacks didn’t throw on Sanders and assigning him to Johnson would have made the QB think twice before releasing the ball.
Green: Sure, most quarterbacks feared Deion. But those who did take a chance and threw his way usually had a target who would go up and fight Deion for the ball. Before “Prime Time” was a Cowboy, he won a Super Bowl with the San Francisco 49ers. When the Niners faced Dallas, Sanders had his hands full guarding Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin. A big, extremely physical receiver, Irvin once had a dominant performance against Deion in the NFC Championship game of the 1994 season, catching 12 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns against Sanders. That was the last time Sanders would guard Irvin, as Deion joined Dallas’ roster the following year. But to this day, old school football fans still remember that beat down Irvin put on Sanders. And there’s no reason to believe Megatron wouldn’t have the same success against Sanders.
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