EAGAN - It's Packer week for the Minnesota Vikings, which means the annual reunion for the defense with quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
So while co-workers and neighbors work on their strange wagers and talk trash, the Vikings’ defense spends a bulk of the week in team meetings and practice diagnosing how to contain No. 12. You’re not going to completely stop Rodgers. He’s a lock for the Hall of Fame when he’s done playing, and the Vikings hope that’s sooner rather than later.
The focus this week is creating pressure on one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL without abandoning assignments.
“You have to be careful about the way you rush him because he has the mobility to get out. When he gets out, a lot of bad things can happen,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said. “So we have to be guarded in our rush, we have to understand the rush plan, how we’re going to do it and what we’re going to do. It’s not just lay your ears back and go with him because he’s too dangerous when he gets out of the pocket.”
Last week, Zimmer dialed up the heat right away on Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan. First play of the game, Everson Griffen beats his opposing offensive lineman and clears a path for Anthony Barr on a blitz. Ryan gets sacked.
Griffen, Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph all got sacks on Ryan as he faced pressure most of the afternoon.
“I think that was a great game for us to remember not only how we played, but how we started. We’ve got to start that way each and every time,” Griffen said. “We’ve got to start fast, we’ve got to end fast. Sixty minutes, all gas pedal and just play smart.”
Facing Rodgers is an entirely different ballgame. He kills defenses with his ability to extend plays with his feet, and find targets downfield when the defense thinks they have him stopped. He’s thrown for more than 43,000 career yards and 339 touchdowns to just 80 interceptions.
Last season, he had more than 4,400 passing yards, 25 touchdowns and just two interceptions. Two. The Vikings’ defense actually kept him largely in check in their two 2018 games. In Week 2, he had 281 passing yards and one touchdown with a 97.4 rating. In Week 11, he had 198 yards and one touchdown.
The Vikings were one of just three teams to hold Rodgers under 200 yards passing in a game last season. It comes down to getting pressure on Rodgers and getting him flustered before he can find an open receiver.
The Vikings sacked Rodgers eight times in the two meetings last year.
“He’s not an easy guy to fluster so I don’t know if I’d go that far, but Zim’s pretty good at this stuff. So that’s normally what we’re trying to do,” safety Harrison Smith said.
Including playoff games, Rodgers is 12-8-1 against the Vikings in his career as a starter. In those 21 games, he’s completed 68 percent of his passes for 42 touchdowns and six interceptions with a 109.7 passer rating.
He has a 100-plus rating in 12 of his 21 starts against the Vikings.
Just when a defense thinks they have Rodgers contained, he can make a big play at any time. It’s why “rush plan” has been a buzz phrase at TCO Performance Center all week.
“He’s such a dynamic talent that he makes the most of every situation that he’s in. Guys got to be disciplined with their eyes, disciplined as far as leverage in coverage and we’ve got to do a good job with our rush plan up front,” defensive coordinator George Edwards said.
The Packers’ offense is a work in progress under new head coach Matt LaFleur after their 10-3 Week 1 win at Chicago. Rodgers finished that game 18-of-30 passing for 203 yards and a touchdown to Jimmy Graham.
Priority No. 1 for the Vikings is not letting him scramble, freelance and buy time to make plays.
“You’ve got to rush Rodgers differently than you rush anybody else. Rodgers is a great player, Hall-of-Famer one day, first ballot,” Griffen said. “You’ve got to respect him in that way. He gets the ball out of his hands quick, he can throw any pass and he also can scramble. We’ve got to rush him the right way, we gotta affect the quarterback. Affect the quarterback doesn’t mean sacks, you gotta get around him, make him feel you and don’t let him have an escape angle.”
The Vikings are 2-2-1 under Zimmer at Lambeau Field. After losing his first three games the Packers, Zimmer is 5-1-1 in the last seven meetings with Green Bay.
The Packers lead the all-time series 59-53-3, and they’re 23-19-3 against the Vikings at Lambeau Field.