For most of the 2008 season, teams that have played the Vikings have tended not to test cornerback Antoine Winfield, who, at this point of the season, would clearly seem to be a frontrunner to get a long-due start in the Pro Bowl. Teams haven't thrown his way often and, when they do, they've been burned more times than not.
As a result, teams have attempted to throw much more in the direction of Cedric Griffin. Sunday against the Houston Texans should be no exception. But, unless the Vikings alter their base defense to move Winfield from his spot, Griffin is going to spend much of the day lined up opposite Andre Johnson.
Griffin knows the M.O. of the Houston offense and where Johnson tends to line up. As a result, he also knows it generally will be right across of the line of scrimmage from him.
"He plays the edge receiver a lot – he goes away from the tight end a lot," Griffin said. "He's primarily to the right-hand side (of the defense) and that's my side. We're going to be faced up a lot and it will be a great test for both of us. He's physical. I'm physical. It should be a great matchup."
Johnson is truly in some rarified air when it comes to his recent performance during the three-game winning streak of the Texans. He can become the first receiver in league history to have at least 130 receiving yards in five consecutive games. He currently shares the record with Lance Alworth (1968) and Harold Jackson (1971-72). He could also set an all-time record with 10 or more receptions. He has caught 10-plus passes in three straight games, tying him for the all-time top spot with Brett Perriman (1995) and Reggie Wayne (2007-08).
He has become the focal point of his passing offense more than any other receiver in the league. It's no secret the ball is coming, yet Johnson and QB Matt Schaub continue to connect almost at will.
"We look at him like we look at (Denver's) Brandon Marshall," Griffin said. "Brandon Marshall got targeted about 14 times when we faced him last year. We know how to deal with guys that get the ball a lot. I'm sure with our technique and fundamentals, it will do us justice."
Hopefully for Griffin, things turn out better for the Vikings than they did in the season finale against Marshall last year – he caught 10 passes for 114 yards and a touchdown in a 22-19 Denver win. The Vikings believe they can take some of the things that Marshall did to them and try to eliminate some of those opportunities, but when you are a beast like Johnson, who has been compared to Terrell Owens – only faster and with more strength – keeping him from impacting the game will be difficult. But there is no way the Vikings aren't going to know where he's at every time Schaub drops to pass.
"They're finding ways to get the ball to him," safety Darren Sharper said. "He is bigger, faster T.O. He's a big guy who runs his routes well. He goes up and gets the football and makes plays down the field. He's an all-around receiver and we are definitely going to be aware of where he is at all times. Containing him and not letting him make the big plays will help us get the victory."
For his part, Johnson isn't playing the role of diva wide receiver – something that is much too common in the NFL these days. He's content helping his teammates dig out of an 0-4 hole with three straight wins and isn't looking backward or ahead to Sunday when it comes to individual achievements.
"I think if it was to happen, after the season was over, it would be a great accomplishment for a person to do something like that," Johnson said. "But that's something that you can't worry about. You just have to go out and play. You can't worry about records and things like that because when you worry about those things it kind of takes away from the game."
Texans head coach Gary Kubiak has been around the NFL block and has coached with and against some of the great receivers in the game. He said earlier this week that nobody he has ever been around has been as dominating as Johnson is right now. He is imposing his will from the wide receiver position – a rarity in the NFL, much less on a consistent basis with defenses designed to take you out as much as possible.
Schaub echoed those words, saying that Johnson's production as well as his willingness to go over the middle and take a big shot for a big gain that moves the chains has had a ripple effect on the entire Texans offense.
"We're feeding off of each other a lot," Schaub said. "It's not only me and him, but the other guys on offense. The offensive line gets pumped up when they see us connect because they know that wouldn't be possible if they weren't doing their jobs. And the other receivers running their routes and blocking downfield. It's a collective group effort, but we're hitting our strides and we just need to continue to do those things."
The Texans look to continue their winning ways and it is expected that it will come with large doses of Johnson. The challenge will be on the Vikings defense and Griffin in particular to make sure that he doesn't do too much. He will do something, but how much is the bigger question.
"We know Johnson is going to get his catches," Griffin said. "We're not going to say that we're going to take him out of the game. That's not possible. We're just going to go in with the attitude and the mindset that we're going to take six of those passes away. It's a big challenge to our secondary, our defense and our whole team. We're going in to accept the challenge and try to dominate."
Griffin expects heavy dose of WR Johnson
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