Sitting at 4-4 and last place in the NFC North, the Detroit Lions face a huge test Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings with the possibility of wide receiver Calvin Johnson sitting out.
The 27-year-old All-Pro is listed as questionable due to nerve damage in both arms suffered from hits he took in a Week Four loss to Minnesota, according to NFL.com. As a result, the "Madden 2012" cover star has had difficulty gripping the football.
"I had some nerve damage, so that was kind of messing with my grip a lot," Johnson said to The Detroit News. "Not to blame it on that, but the concussion could have had something to do with some of that."
Johnson mentioned a concussion, but team doctors and head coach Jim Schwartz reportedly said he wasn’t concussed, and instead he may be suffering from a stinger.
It’s difficult to tell how effected he’s been with two 100-yard receiving games since Week Four, including a seven-catch 129 yard performance in Detroit’s 31-14 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week Nine.
The Lions must have expected opposing defenses to key their game plans around Johnson, who had a monster season last year with 96 receptions for 1,681 yards and 16 touchdowns. Quarterback Matthew Stafford turned to Titus Young for a team-leading three touchdown receptions this year, but Young is also listed as questionable with a knee injury.
Tight end Brandon Pettigrew has had success against Minnesota and is the next best option for Stafford. He is second on the team with 39 receptions for 385 yards and a touchdown this year, and in seven career games against Minnesota, Pettigrew has 39 receptions for 362 yards and a score.
Even with Johnson’s supposed struggles, the Lions have steadied their season after going 1-3 to start, and look for their third straight win Sunday. Detroit fields the best passing game in the NFL, averaging 307.3 yards, but Johnson has only caught one touchdown this season.
Johnson still leads the team with 767 receiving yards, good for third in the NFL.