You would think the Green Bay Packers would relish facing the Minnesota Vikings without their three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
But the Packers know the Vikings new starter, 14-year veteran Brad Johnson, who earned the role after Culpepper tore three knee ligaments on Oct. 30, presents his own challenges.
"They're a different team. You've got to prepare for a different guy. So it somewhat gives them the edge," cornerback Al Harris said. "We know what we're getting with Daunte. With Brad we haven't faced him a lot."
From 1992 to 1999 Johnson went through his first stint with the Vikings, playing the Packers twice-a-year. But none of the current Packers defensive players were with the team during that era.
But as they watch tape, the Packers are quickly learning some of the attributes Johnson brings to the table. He has great leadership skills honed while guiding the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to the XXXVII Super Bowl title. Johnson also has a quick release and a keen ability to read the defense. With that knowledge he will make more audibles, changing the play from pass to run or vice versa, than Culpepper.
"Obviously Daunte is and has been the leader of that football team," Head Coach Mike Sherman said. "But Brad has come in and done a nice job of managing the game for them and been accurate."
Indeed Johnson has thrown three touchdowns and zero interceptions on the season while Culpepper threw twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. One could argue that Johnson had served as a steadying influence, quarterbacking the team to back-to-back wins.
The Packers defense, however, will have two less things to worry about. Johnson does not possess the arm strength of Culpepper or stretch the field in the same way. Culpepper averaged 7.2 yards-a-completion while Johnson averages 5.5.
"The short passing game is his forte," Vikings head coach Mike Tice said.
Johnson is not the scrambling threat of the man he replaced either. Culpepper burned the Packers for 41 rushing yards on seven carries during their last meeting on Oct. 23, but the 37-year old Johnson has only topped that mark during an entire season four times.
"We're not going to have a whole lot of quarterback draws in our system," Tice said.
Although the Packers will tweak their defensive schemes according to each quarterback, they will not drastically change their gameplan.
"We just play our foundation," safety Mark Roman said. "That's the way we go out and attack people. We're not just trying to go out there each and every week and invent a whole bunch of new schemes. We'll keep it pretty textbook and do what we do."
As usual the Packers defense will focus on stopping the running game first. For the Vikings that consists of the two-headed attack of Mewelde Moore and Michael Bennett.
When it comes to stopping to the passing game, the Packers know that while Johnson has never thrown for 4,717 yards and 39 touchdowns like Culpepper did last year, he has played in two Pro Bowls.
"It's not that Brad is a better quarterback than Daunte or Daunte's a better quarterback than Brad," Harris said. "They're two different guys, and you really can't compare the two."