Is Offense Johnson's Fault?

The Vikings offense has sputtered much of the 2006 season. But how much of that blame falls on Brad Johnson?

When you look purely at the numbers, Brad Johnson doesn't jump out at you in any respect except for one category -- wins.

Since taking over for Daunte Culpepper at midseason last year, Johnson has compiled an impressive 10-4 record as a starter, but beyond that, the numbers themselves have been pretty pedestrian.

Last year, when Johnson led the Vikings on a 7-2 finish, he had more games (five) in which he threw for less than 200 yards than over 200 yards. But, he had just four interceptions in 294 passes and finished the season third in the NFC with a passer rating of 88.9.

This year, however, Johnson has four interceptions in 170 passes and his passer rating is just 78.3. Only two quarterbacks in the NFL that have the required number of pass attempts have a lower rating -- Culpepper (77.0) and Brett Favre (76.7). Culpepper's ineffectiveness has led to his benching and the potential of being placed on injured reserve as the Dolphins now admit they may have rushed him back into action too soon. Favre has led the Packers to a dismal 1-4 start and, while not in danger of being benched or put on I.R., his reputation as one of the game's top quarterbacks has come into serious question.

The Vikings knew what they were getting in Johnson. His numbers aren't going to be impressive. In his 14 games as a starter, he has just 14 touchdowns. The biggest difference is the scoring that has accompanied him to the table. In his nine starts last year, the Vikings scored 20 or more points in eight of those games. In five games this season, they've topped 20 points just once and, if not for an interception by E.J. Henderson in the final two minutes of last week's win over the Lions, the Vikings would still be looking for their first chance to top 20 points.

There has been a lot of talk among Vikings fans that the team needs to open up the offense. Brad Childress has intimated that the media obsesses with these numbers. He may have a point. But, after so many years of Vikings fans becoming accustomed to 34-31 games (wins and losses), the idea of 19-16 games is difficult to swallow.

One thing that is certain is that the quarterbacks at the bottom of the passer ratings list are on teams that have struggled -- Jon Kitna (0-5), J.P. Losman (2-3), Culpepper (1-4) and Favre (1-4). The Vikings wouldn't seem to fit into that category.

Numbers don't tell the whole story. Some believe that, if not for a fumble late against the Bears that the Vikings should be 4-1. Others will argue that if not for a silly gadget play punt return by the Panthers and late defensive heroics, the Vikings could be 1-4.

Somewhere in the middle lies the truth. Johnson isn't the savior of the Vikings, but he isn't the villain either. Once fans realize that about half the league plays football like the Vikings are now -- minimizing mistakes and scoring as many or more field goals as touchdowns -- and finding ways to win, they won't obsess about touchdown numbers. Until then, as long as the wins keep coming, who cares what Johnson's passer rating is?

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