One of the most interesting match-ups for tomorrow’s Battle of Ohio will be defensive end Michael Johnson against Browns’ All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas. Johnson has evolved into a contract-year superstar, finally putting it all together just in time to make himself a rich man.
With his speed, length, and added bulk, Johnson is a player who has all the tools needed to be a great defensive end. He has rushed with great instinct, knowing when to reverse his rush and transition back upfield. He has five sacks through five games and has already faced off against two of the best tackles in the game, Thomas and the Dolphins’ Jake Long.
Heck, even though he went down with injury, Johnson was making headway against the Redskins’ Trent Williams, arguably one of the up-and-coming left tackles in the league.
At the same time, Thomas has looked sharper in recent weeks. Against the Giant’s formidable pass rushing combination of Jason Pierre-Paul and Osi Umenyiora, Thomas and the rest of the Browns’ offensive line kept Brandon Weeden relatively clean. Even though one of his interceptions was due to pressure, Weeden is notoriously lead-footed.
On that interception, Weeden also made a rookie mistake by forcing a ball he should have thrown away.
This will be a shot for Michael Johnson to continue to prove that he is just as an important piece of the Fisher-Price Package as Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. With Thomas rounding into form and blanking some of the biggest names in the game, Michael Johnson has a chance to make a name for himself.
Will the Michael Johnson we saw terrorize Robert Griffin III show up? Or will it be the Georgia Tech product whose motor was criticized entering the draft, accused of taking plays off? If Johnson wants to earn his next contract, he needs to maintain a level of consistency throughout the season and show up on the biggest stages.