EAGAN, Minn. — The NFL schedule was released in April, roughly a month after Sheldon Richardson signed with the Vikings as a free agent.
But when the calendar was set, there was no doubt that the defensive tackle noted the Week 14 road game between Minnesota and Seattle on Monday Night Football.
Did Richardson get his pen out and circle that game?
“You could say I did,” Richardson said with a smile.
Tom Johnson likely zeroed in on that game, too, but from a different perspective. Johnson signed with Seattle in the offseason, but the Seahawks released him two weeks into the season due to roster numbers. He was signed by Minnesota on Sept. 19 and returned to action for the Vikings in Week 3.
A game that Johnson had marked for personal reasons against his former team is now important because it’s against his newest old team. The Vikings added Johnson a few days after he was let go by Seattle.
“Extra emotions?,” Johnson said slyly. “I guess you could say, yes. I’m motivated this week.
“They know what it is,” Johnson said. “To play them in Seattle and to have a good game … yeah, I would like that right now.”
Richardson has thrived in his first season in Purple, racking up 3.5 sacks and helping the Vikings be a top 10 defense against the run.
The 28-year-old said Friday that he’s embracing the hostile and loud environment that awaits at CenturyLink Field on Monday night.
“Just going to be fun going back there and playing in front of the crowd,” Richardson said. “It’s fun playing football.
“When we’re on the field it will be quiet,” Richardson added. “Hopefully it will be quiet when our offense is on the field if we’re doing our job.”
Johnson, meanwhile, also has 3.5 sacks this season in his second stint with the Vikings. The 34-year-old said he was more than happy to be reunited with Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson and his former teammates earlier this season.
“When the news hit, there were a lot of teams that reached out to my agent,” Johnson said. “Coach Dre was one that hit me up directly right after it happened. Like, under an hour when it happened. We were communicating back and forth.
“This was just the best place to be at, especially the time of the year that it happened,” Johnson added. “It was a good situation for me.”
But with Johnson spending spring practices and training camp with Seattle, is there any inside information he can share with the Vikings?
Both Johnson and Head Coach Mike Zimmer downplayed that nation a bit.
“It’s another set of eyes. I know their personnel and what they struggle with and what they like,” Johnson added. “I know a little about the defense, but that’s preseason plays.
“Most teams, from the first part of the season to the middle part of the season to the end part of the season, they’re constantly making adjustments,” Johnson added. “What was one thing isn’t the same thing now. But I was able to give the guys a little insight on what’s going on.”
Added Zimmer: “He can obviously tell you about some of the offensive linemen. He went against them every day … [but] a lot of defensive linemen don’t know the … they’re in their own little world.”
But both players said they understood that the Vikings team goals outweighed whatever personal motivation they might carry for this game.
The Vikings sit at 6-5-1 and would be the sixth seed (and second Wild Card team) in the NFC playoff picture if the season ended today.
Seattle would be the first Wild Card team at 7-5, meaning Monday night’s matchup will be a battle of teams vying for playoff spots with the regular season winding down.
“Monday … that’s what you play for,” Johnson said. “Monday nights, everybody is watching. You definitely want to make a big impact during those games and display your talent.
“For us, it’s in our conference, so this game is going to help determine how the playoffs unfold,” Johnson added. “We’ve got a lot on the line.”
Added Richardson: “Right now our mindset is lose and go home. That’s how we look at it from here on out. It’s crunch time.”
Playing the pass better
The Vikings defense was a frustrated bunch after the first month of the season, as Minnesota was allowing 277.5 passing yards per game.
The worst outing over the first four games of the season was in Week 4 against the Rams when Jared Goff threw for 456 yards in a 38-31 Minnesota loss.
A day after that loss, Zimmer pointed to the pass defense as an area that needed to get better in a hurry.
Fast-forward eight games later, and the Vikings defense has made plenty of strides in that area, as the Vikings have allowed just 204.1 passing yards per game in that span.
“Yeah, it’s been a lot better,” Zimmer said. “[We’ve been] changing up some things, really. Making different calls. Stuff like that.”
Zimmer said there were some schematic adjustments that the Vikings made, but “there were some technique things we had to clean up.”
The Vikings rank eighth in the NFL by allowing 228.6 passing yards per game.
“That’s one of the things we’ve been working on continually throughout the course of the year,” said Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards. “From week to week, looking at the big plays that we gave up early in the season and trying to limit those as we progress through the course of the season.
Not worried about the rain
The Vikings most recent game came in New England where there were misty and cloudy conditions.
Minnesota will now travel to Seattle, a city known for its rain. The forecast for Monday night is expected to be in the 40s with more wet weather.
But Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo said Friday that while the Vikings will prepare for such conditions, they won’t be enamored by them.
“You have a wet ball drill at the end of the week,” DeFilippo said. “To me, I think it’s like anything. If you over, I don’t want to say overhype something, but if you over[think it], ‘Hey, it’s going to rain. Let’s talk about rain all week. Rain, rain, rain.’
“Our quarterback has played in the Big Ten. He has played in some inclement weather. He is from Michigan,” DeFilippo added. “He’s played in inclement weather before, so we are fortunate that he can throw it pretty good with a wet ball.”
For the Vikings: Eric Kendricks (rib), Trae Waynes (concussion), Chad Beebe (hamstring) and David Morgan (knee) did not practice for a second consecutive day. Stefon Diggs (knee) was limited again on Friday. Mike Remmers (low back), Xavier Rhodes (hamstring) and Brandon Zylstra (foot) were full participants.
For the Seahawks: This will be updated when Seattle’s Friday practice concludes.