Vikings a Different Team with Johnson

For better or for worse, the Vikings' second half of the season will be executed with Brad Johnson as the starter. If the Detroit game was any indication, that means a different approach in the passing game, at the line of scrimmage and in the huddle, according to players and coaches.

Quarterback Brad Johnson's first start as a Viking since the 1998 season had many built-in advantages for him and the team – they were playing at home, against another weak NFC North team, one that had been depleted by injuries and suspensions, Minnesota's defense was starting to gain some players back from the injury pile, and that same defense gave the offense the ball inside Detroit's 20-yard line twice.

It all added up to an efficient outing for Johnson, who finished the game 15-for-22 with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a 115.0 passer rating.

After riding the bench for a year, Johnson's performance came as a surprise to no one.

"He's been around 14 years. He knows how to operate a huddle, changing up the snap count and doing things in our favor to help us out a little bit," left tackle Bryant McKinnie said.

Johnson's ability to manage the game became the most important factor in the Vikings' 27-14 win over Detroit. He didn't force the ball and his changing of the snap count and play selection at the line of scrimmage allowed the Vikings to experience their most productive rushing day of the season at 164 yards.

"We had a lot of checks, I'd say anywhere from 10 to 20 times (Sunday) we did some kind of check," Johnson said. "It is definitely something that is out of the ordinary, but we just felt like it was getting us to the optimum play. Whether it was a particular pass or run, a number count, I felt like we did a good job with that."

The Vikings definitely used more short passes with Johnson as their quarterback – their only completion over 20 yards was a 26-yard screen to running back Mewelde Moore, but rookie Troy Williamson couldn't hang on to a 42-yard bomb in the end zone.

Despite averaging a season-low 9.07 yards per completion, Loney said the offense wasn't limited in the deep passing game. However, they did look at the routes that Johnson likes to throw, the out routes, and used more of those.

That meant that the team's leading receiver to date, tight end Jermaine Wiggins, was almost a forgotten man, having a season-low one catch for a season low 11 yards. Loney said that wasn't done by design.

"When I call a play, I don't really think so-and-so is going to get the ball and I need to feed this guy the ball. I want the quarterback to read those things out," Loney said. "To me, the pass to the open guy is the most important thing. Teams look, and Jermaine has done extremely well the last two weeks and they may have been favoring that a little bit, which opened some other guys up."

While many observers say that Johnson doesn't have the arm strength and mobility of Culpepper – both true statements – Johnson brings a different atmosphere to the huddle as well.

"Daunte is a little more in-your-face, let's-get-going. Brad is a little more calm in the huddle. Daunte is more of a hype-you-up type," McKinnie said.

Loney agreed with that assessment.

"I know Daunte is a very excitable guy, a very competitive guy, and Brad probably is a little more laid-back. And that doesn't make one a good demeanor and one a bad demeanor, but I think in this situation Brad's demeanor is something we needed," Loney said. "We get in there and we lose just a great football player in Daunte Culpepper and Brad comes in and has the same demeanor he had when he's backing Daunte up – very confident but yet not trying to assume too much. We talked through the week and he tried to settle things down because it would have been easy to panic when you lose a player the caliber of a Daunte Culpepper."

With or without Culpepper, the Vikings face long odds in being able to overcome their road woes this Sunday when they travel to the New York Giants, but Johnson's demeanor may help if and when things get dicey.

Said Loney of Johnson: "It's kind of like when you were a little kid and there was a thunderstorm and you were with your dad, and your dad said, ‘Hey, everything is going to be alright.' He kind of had that effect on everybody – even though it's stormy out there, everything is going to be OK."




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