One of the reasons the New England Patriots have been the most consistent winner in the NFL this century is that they’ve had coaching consistency. Bill Belichick has been the head coach the entire time and his coaching tree is expansive.
The Vikings have a new coaching staff, but they’re far from spring chickens. Head coach Mike Zimmer has been viewed as a defensive innovator for years and offensive coordinator Norv Turner has earned the respect of the coaching brethren for his decades of being an offensive coordinator and head coach.
The coaching staff of the Patriots knows that, as much as the players will decide who wins or loses, the battle between the coaches will be just as intense. For his part, Belichick has an immense amount of respect for the Vikings coaches and has seen how quickly the defensive players have embraced Zimmer’s vision and how much they look like Zimmer’s Bengals teams of the last few seasons.
“It’s a lot of four-man line, over front with a one- and three-technique,” Belichick said. “They do a decent amount of pressuring with their linebackers. When they get into sub, they’re a nickel team, kind of like Miami. That’s kind of from the same family there too, with (defensive coordinator Kevin) Coyle being in Cincinnati. It’s a lot of five DBs, two linebackers, an extra linebacker in secondary pressure, an extra man zone pressure, man pressure. They do a good job of keeping it moving. But there’s definitely a decent amount of pressure.”
Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels echoed Belichick’s sentiment, contending that the Vikings have the Zimmer stamp on it, even though they’ve only been together for a matter of months.
“All of Mike Zimmer’s defenses that I’ve had an opportunity to go against are well-coached,” McDaniels said. “They are disciplined within their scheme, they play very fast and aggressive and they rarely make a mistake and give up many opportunities to create big plays. (That) forces an offense to do a good job of being disciplined and driving the ball. You’re going to have to convert some third downs, and I think this is one of the best third-down schemes and groups that you’re going to see.”
The key to Zimmer’s defense is to pressure the quarterback. If they can accomplish that with their front four, they’re happy. If they can’t, pressure will be coming via the blitz.
The Patriots and Tom Brady are no strangers to Zimmer’s defense and they’re fully aware that Brady will have to be getting rid of the ball quickly because, one way or another, the Vikings are going to be coming as they look to win their home opener in the process.
“They rush the passer well,” McDaniels said. “Their front is very active and aggressive. They have a really good blitz package that is challenging. They’ve got good players at all three levels of the defense that are active and make a lot of plays. You can tell they’re playing with confidence, they’re playing fast. They played really well against St. Louis this past week, and this will be the first home week, so you’ve got to add that in there, too, because I’m sure there will be plenty of noise.”
As impressed as the Patriots have been with the new-look Zimmer defense, they feel the same sense of respect for Turner’s offense. The Vikings have talent that shows up on film and they expect Turner to have them hitting on all cylinders – Sunday and throughout the season.
“It’s very much the Norv offense,” Belichick said. “Kind of all the characteristics that we all know with Norv – a lot of shifting, motion, change of formations. He loves the tight ends, so (Kyle) Rudolph, he gets a lot of play out of him. A lot of misdirection plays, screen passes, a good amount of throwing the ball down the field. They’re sound. They’re aggressive, but they’re sound. They have things picked up and they’ve got an answer. Norv’s got a lot of experience. He’s pretty much got an answer for everything. Whatever teams try to do against him, they have their ways and strategies of beating it. They have a smart quarterback with (Matt) Cassel who can run it and handle all the volume that Norv has.”
Cassel, who learned under Belichick as Brady’s backup, has the weapons at his disposal for Turner to take advantage of. New England defensive coordinator Matt Patricia will have the assignment of keeping the Vikings offense off-balance and contained.
Just as the Pats’ offensive coaching staff have concerns with the aggressive Vikings defense, Patricia has the same trepidation at the big-play ability of the Vikings offense.
“(Minnesota is) a team that is very explosive; has some dynamic players in both the run game and the pass game, followed up with a very smart quarterback who has a handle on the new system very well,” Patricia said. “Norv’s system is very quarterback friendly and the quarterback is allowed to get the ball around to all the different skill players. He does a great job of using his tight ends and running backs in the passing game. They have some guys there that they’re really doing a great job with, along with their vertical passing game with the receivers: (Greg) Jennings, obviously, (Cordarrelle) Patterson doing a great job. And then he’s mixing in different types of ways to get the ball into their skill players’ hands and get some explosive plays. I believe they had quite a few explosive runs the other day.”
With all the concerns the Patriots have about individual players, they are fully aware that the most dangerous player on the field Sunday will be Adrian Peterson. After being gashed by Knowshon Moreno last week, the Patriots come into Sunday’s game fully expecting to see a massive dose of Peterson. While there are going to be several players of concern to the Patriots, Job One will be stopping A.P. After that, they’ll have to deal with the other potential game-breakers.
“You have to be able to stop the running game,” Belichick said. “They do a good job of using the tight ends and getting the ball down the field. Patterson’s an explosive player, Peterson is an explosive player, Rudolph is a guy that’s involved a lot in the offense. Jennings is an excellent receiver. They have a big offensive line; the line has been together for a couple years now. They’re very experienced and they handle things well. They’re a good offensive football team and they’re well-coached.”
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.
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