Vikings' First Task: Stop L.J.

Despite a poor start by his standards, running back Larry Johnson is still the bell cow of the Chiefs offense, according to Vikings defenders. See how the Vikings view Johnson's start to the season and how he poses different challenges to their defense.

There are few things that can frustrate a defense more than a running back that they know is going to being a workhorse. The go-to running back has been an offensive staple of the NFL since the earliest days of the league and, for those who have them, they know the importance they bring to a franchise.

For several years, the Chiefs had such a player in Priest Holmes. A dangerous double threat that could run 25 times and catch 10 passes a game, he was the centerpiece of a Kansas City franchise that made numerous postseason appearances with him at the center of the offense. When he was injured in 2005, in stepped Larry Johnson and the Chiefs never looked back. Johnson not only replaced Holmes, he gave Herm Edwards a battering ram that set a league record for carries in a season.

While some coaches will talk about wanting his top running back to get 25 carries in a game, Johnson averaged 26 carries a game last season and had a higher percentage of touches compared to total offensive plays by his offense than any player in the league.

So it should come as no surprise that the Vikings' top defensive priority will be to stop Johnson. The team has been successful bottling up the bounce-around smaller backs that try to attack the outside in Warrick Dunn, Jerrious Norwood and Tatum Bell. Johnson is a different kind of running back. He runs primarily between the tackles and beats down an opposing defense. While the No. 1 goal of the defense is always to stop the run, having Johnson and his importance to the Kansas City offense is critical to shutting down the Chiefs.

While Johnson has struggled in his first two games, the Vikings aren't buying into the chatter that Johnson is worn down from his mammoth 2006 season. In fact, they believe he's just warming up.

"Because of his (preseason) holdout, he's only been playing for a couple of weeks," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "He's going to get it going. We know that. Their line is going to jell together. We have to expect their best shot, and their running game has always been their focal point."

The Vikings' front line, however, isn't going to change much of what it does against opposing running backs. But, unlike darters like Dunn and Bell that have built reputations by turning nothing plays into big gains by bouncing runs to the outside, knowing that Johnson is coming like a freight train does change some subtle aspects of run stopping.

"We don't change what we do as far as our scheme, but you have more plays where he's coming right at you," defensive end Ray Edwards said. "We're going to be playing the same gaps we did in the first two games. The only difference will be is he running at us or around us."

The Vikings aren't taking Johnson lightly after a lackluster first two games in which he has carried 26 times for just 98 yards – totals that rank him 15th in the AFC and the lowest rushing average of all but one of the players with more yards than he has. They understand that Kansas City depends on Johnson and that they're going to keep trying to bring No. 27 at them.

"They're going to try to pound it," Greenway said. "He is a threat down the field as well and has a lot of those 70-yard runs as well as being able to grind out yardage. You don't get to be one of the top four or five backs in the league without a track record. He's got it and they're going to try to establish him early."

The Vikings have been successful over the last year-plus stopping the runners that stretch out plays, but with Johnson, it's going to be more about geometry than anything else.

"The main thing (with different styles of running) is the way you cut down angles," Greenway said. "You don't change things up, you just need to be aware of how a team tends to run the ball. We're expecting him to come full steam ahead at us and not dance around."

With the Chiefs entering the game at 0-2 and in danger of falling off the radar in the competitive AFC West, they may not be a desperate team, but the panic button isn't too far out of reach. They need a win in the worst way or their season could go in a death spiral before October comes around. To win, they're going to have to play to their strengths. The Vikings don't want to drop to 1-2, so both teams are going to be in early season-saving mode.

"Everybody wants to get to Arizona in February," Edwards said. "(The Chiefs) do their best when he is running. It's our job to take that away. You can't overlook anyone in the league and we know what they're bringing to us. It's our job to take it away from them and make them look somewhere else."

Viking Update Top Stories