It would seem the Packers are being especially respectful and cautious about what they’re facing. Wednesday during their media sessions, the Packers big hitters discussed the Vikings for the first time all year, since their first meeting of the season doesn’t come until the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
Head coach Mike McCarthy said he is impressed with the progression the Vikings have made since the teams last met. He writes off their success to the players all getting on the same page with Mike Zimmer’s defense, which has been as strong as any defense in the league in keeping opponents off the scoreboard.
“I think what you see is that it’s Year 2 of a program,” McCarthy said. “They’re well-coordinated. Defensively they’re very sound – always have been. They schematically challenge you. They’re playing faster, quicker. Their confidence, you can see it building throughout the year.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been beaten and battered over the last three weeks, as Green Bay has lost all three and stymied offensively by the Broncos and Lions. He was limited in practice Wednesday with a right shoulder injury and admitted he is “banged up.” Seeing tape of the Vikings couldn’t have been a pleasant experience, because he sees how the team is executing its game plan effectively and shutting teams down for entire halves at a time.
Like McCarthy, Rodgers, a student of the game who has watched Zimmer’s defense in action for years, sees his DNA all over the Vikings defense.
“They have an excellent scheme,” Rodgers said. “They’re very well-coached. Mike Zimmer has been at the trend-level. He’s been starting a trend across the league since Cincinnati with his seven- and eight-up pressures, bringing different combinations. They’re a very well coached defense with very good players.”
The Packers have been focusing on what the Vikings defense is bringing from play to play and it would appear they’re impressed with what they’re seeing. Wide receiver James Jones believes that Zimmer is a puppet master who has all his players dancing the dance he’s calling and they’re performing his vision to uncanny accuracy.
“They’re all on a string,” Jones said. “I think that’s the best way I can say it. They’re all on a string. They all know their assignment very well. They all know where they’re supposed to be when they’re supposed to be there. They play hard and play fast and they’re well-coached.”
While the defense is a primary concern for the Packers, they’re also seeing a much different offense. When they played the Vikings last year, Adrian Peterson wasn’t there and Teddy Bridgewater was still getting his feet wet as the starter.
Just as he sees the Vikings defense unleashing punishment in Zimmer’s second year running the team, McCarthy is just as leery of the old-look/new-look Vikings offense. With Peterson back and Bridgewater battle-tested, there are legitimate reasons for concern what the Packers are up against as big a challenge on defense as offense.
“I would say really the exact same thing on offense,” McCarthy said. “Norv has always done a great job as far as rolling the personnel groups. They challenge you there, featuring Adrian Peterson. Teddy Bridgewater does a nice job, particularly the command at the line of scrimmage. That’s something I feel is a definite improvement.”
The Packers have owned the Vikings in recent years. It hasn’t been since November 2009 when the Vikings and Packers met in the regular season with the balance of power in the NFC North hanging in the balance. The Packers know what they’re up against. It’s been a while since they’ve been there, but they’re familiar with it.
Will the Vikings use the blueprint provided by the Broncos and Lions exposed in the Achilles heel of the Packers offense? Rodgers expects it.
The NFL is a copycat league that seeks out weaknesses and exploits in a sweep of sports Darwinism. What has worked for someone else can work for you. With their expectations on the line, Rodgers expects the Vikings to incorporate what worked so well for Denver and Detroit.
“Well, that’s the league,” he said. “The league is a constant ebb and flow of the defenses coming up with new schemes, offenses trying to combat it. Tempo has been on the offense’s side as of late, trying to make the defenses a little more basic. If you don’t have that tempo then obviously the defense can get into some of their stuff. We’ve always tried to be a high play-volume team, and I think we need to get back to that a little bit.”