Vikings’ Johnson knows Patriots ‘D’ well

Charlie Johnson faced the Patriots almost annually when he was with the Colts and saw how they change up game plans weekly. Johnson talked about his experience against the Patriots and why they should be better this year.

While the Vikings don’t play the AFC-residing New England Patriots often, there is one player that has decent familiarity with the Bill Belichick-led team beyond this week’s film study.

During his days with the Indianapolis Colts, Vikings guard Charlie Johnson faced the Patriots often and his teams had better success than most. His Colts were 4-2 against the Patriots during Johnson’s time there, from 2006-2010, and 2-2 in games that Johnson started against the Patriots.

Although it’s been four years since he has squared off against them, he knows their defensive style well – if it’s even realistic to say the Patriots have one certain style.

“The one thing that I’ve noticed about them is they’ll have a look of the week for an opponent,” Johnson said. “What I mean by that is it may not be something that you’ve seen on tape from the two weeks before. They’ll throw a different wrinkle in that you haven’t seen before that may be just game-plan specific to what you’re doing.”

That holds true on offense and defense. In 2006, when the Vikings last faced the Patriots in Minnesota, Minnesota had the league’s best rushing defense so the Patriots barely even tried to run the ball. Tom Brady attempted 43 passes, completing 29 of them for 372 yards and four touchdowns. Despite having Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon on that roster, New England only ran the ball 14 times on their way to a 31-7 rout of the Vikings at the Metrodome.

The Patriots alter their game plan dramatically from week to week on defense, too.

“Most teams may have a specific blitz of the week that you may see a blitz that they haven’t shown, but I know the Patriots will have a whole different look,” Johnson said. “They may go all four-down front when they’re normally a 3-4 team.”

That makes them difficult to game plan.

“I think it’s a great challenge for our team to find out where we’re at. We have the ultimate respect for them,” said Vikings coach Mike Zimmer, who is 1-2 against the Patriots. “They’ve got our attention – from Sunday about 5:30 they’ve had our attention.”

While the Patriots typically have a strong defense with Belichick calling the shots there, they are getting a shot in the arm with the return to health of a couple very key players.

Linebacker Jerod Mayo missed the final 10 games of 2013 after tearing a pectoral muscle, and 6-foot-2, 325-pound behemoth nose tackle Vince Wilfork missed the final 12 games after tearing his Achilles’ last year.

Both played in the Patriots’ season opener in Miami.

“Those are probably their two leaders defensively that they missed a bunch of time last year,” Johnson said. “I think that’s the biggest thing that sticks out is that those guys are back and it kind of tightens them up a little bit.”

New England hopes so. Without Mayo and Wilfork for the majority of last season, the Patriots defense suffered. They finished last year 26th in yards allowed – 30th against the run and 18th against the pass.

That’s a far cry from 2006 to 2011, when the Patriots had a defense ranked in the top 11 overall each of those years. But over the last four years, they haven’t been ranked any better than 25th in yards allowed.

But the addition of Wilfork back in the middle should help.

“Naturally, he’s a big guy. Everybody can see that. I think what gets lost with him a little bit is he’s a lot more nimble and agile than you would think somebody that size is. He’s got a little more shiftiness to him than you might look at him and think he doesn’t have,” Johnson said.

“I think for the defense, the 34 that they run, I think if you look throughout the league you’d be hard-pressed to find one better.”

So how much does Zimmer rely on his players with experience against an opponent? Not much.

“Sometimes they’ll offer things but not really,” Zimmer said. “We just try to do what we do and do the best way we can that we think can be affective against the other team. “

Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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