Respect in the NFL isn’t given, it’s earned. From the sounds of things in Denver, the Broncos have a lot of respect for Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer – to the point that Peyton Manning refers to defenses Zimmer runs or look like the one Zimmer runs by his name.
On Wednesday, Manning addressed the Colorado media about the challenge he will face from the Vikings. He’s no stranger to Zimmer, having played against his defenses when Zim was in Dallas and, more recently, Cincinnati. He hasn’t faced the Vikings’ brand of the Zimmer defense, but when he sees them on film, there is a definite fingerprint that the coach has put on his team that shows up on tape.
“Coach Zimmer, I've got a lot of respect for him,” Manning said. “I’ve played against him a lot and had some good dog fights with him at different places he's been. He's been doing it for a long time. You see he's a tough coach. I never played for him, but just from what I know about him, I know he's a tough guy. You see his imprint on this team. They've got a tough football team.
“You hear about the different types of offenses out there—the West Coast offense, the Bill Walsh type of offense. Zimmer, in my opinion, is a founder of the type of defense that he runs, that Cincinnati runs, that Miami runs, that different disciples (of Zimmer run). Now it may be somebody above him that was his founder or mentor, but we kind of refer to is as 'they're running the Zimmer defense.' When you've got your own defense, you're doing something good. That's big. There are some things they do. It's unique, that style of defense. You've got to be on top of it mentally and you've got to be able to execute mentally, as well.”
Coming from a Hall of Fame quarterback, such praise doesn’t come lightly. It’s a true sign of respect that he acknowledges that few coaches make life more difficult for him than the defenses Zimmer has dialed up to stop him.
That admiration goes a long way, including from Denver head coach Gary Kubiak. For years, Kubiak was running the show offensively for the Houston Texans as an offensive-minded head coach. He’s not stranger to Zimmer from his days with the Bengals and, like Manning, he sees the stamp of Zimmer on his aggressive, young Vikings defense.
Kubiak figures the Vikings are going to be coming at Manning and his offense with the same aggression that they used to batter, beat and bruise Matthew Stafford and Philip Rivers the last two weeks.
“He's a hell of a coach,” Kubiak said. “He was in Cincinnati, obviously, all of those years. I’ve known him and have great respect for him. He's got a football team that plays—we talk about playing hard all the time, being physical, being a consistent team from that standpoint. When you watch his team, that's what they are and one thing for sure: it's a big battle on our hands. Mike is a defensive guy and creates a lot of problems for you up front. It'll be a big challenge for our group.”
The Vikings have been putting some dominating performances on tape for the rest of the NFL to see the last couple of weeks and plan to bring their hard-hitting style into Denver Sunday in what may well turn out to be a statement game if the Vikings can knock Denver from the ranks of the unbeaten and set their claim as being a legitimate playoff contender after an offseason of building momentum.
The Broncos are looking to make their own statement by hitting the quarter-pole of the season with a 4-0 record, but they know it’s not going to come easy and that the Vikings pose a significant challenge to their unbeaten record.
“They're an excellent team from what you see on film,” Manning said. “Obviously, we haven't played against them, but they jump out on film. I've been studying their defense. They're good at all three levels—right at the front, the linebackers and the secondary. They're playing well together, communicating a lot and just complementing their team, as well. They're not giving up many points and just playing really good football.”
Perhaps it’s a byproduct of playing each other just once every four years, but there hasn’t been a lot of the tough talk and bravado that typically serves as the lead-in to a Sunday game. There is mutual respect being thrown out by both sides because each team knows that it is going to be a game of will and wits on Sunday and whoever has more of both – Manning and Denver’s offense or Zimmer’s swarming attack defense – will likely win the game.