GREEN BAY — It has become an annual tradition, one that is entering its sixth year — though the Aaron Rodgers-Mike Zimmer mutual admiration society actually dates further than 2014, when Zimmer became the Minnesota Vikings coach.
Nevertheless, it continued Wednesday, in advance of the Green Bay Packers’ first matchup of 2019 against Zimmer’s Vikings: Rodgers, the Packers’ quarterback, yet again extolling the virtues of Zimmer’s challenging scheme and aggressive defensive style. And Zimmer returning the favor.
“He’s a great coach. I have a ton of respect for Mike Zimmer and what’s he’s done in this league,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “I love his demeanor. I have a lot of respect for him and the way him and his staff have gone about their business over the years. He obviously presents a really difficult challenge and an even greater challenge when you look at the personnel he’s got to work with, the number of Pro Bowlers on that side of the ball. It’s a tough week. You definitely think about all the different things they can do.”
To be clear, this isn’t Rodgers taking a page out of longtime college football coach Lou Holtz’s playbook — remember how the old Notre Dame coach would always build up every upcoming opponent, even the cupcakes who didn’t have a prayer of beating his Irish? — and poor-mouthing an opponent. He genuinely respects and admires Zimmer’s coaching.
Rodgers has long talked about the brilliance of Zimmer’s innovation of bringing a host of defenders to the line of scrimmage and then sending some after the quarterback and dropping others out. He created it while working as a defensive coordinator and other coaches have attempted to duplicate it since Often, he has a pair of defenders looming over the center — the “Double-A Mug Package,” Rodgers called it Wednesday — and unlike other defenses, the Vikings are excellent at hiding their intentions.
“He has been the innovator and then adapted as teams try to figure out ways to pick it up,” Rodgers said. “You have Pro Bowl-caliber players on every level of the defense, great inside linebackers, two guys off the edge who can rush really, really well and then a back end that can really cover, one of the top safeties in the league in Harrison (Smith) and obviously a great corner combo with Trae (Waynes) and Xavier (Rhodes). They do a great job of playing their scheme. They’ve been together for awhile. They’re a tough team to try to attack.”
Zimmer, of course, downplayed his success against Rodgers, even though the Vikings defense has limited Rodgers significantly since Zimmer’s arrival. In nine games Rodgers has started against Zimmer’s Minnesota defenses, the Packers are 4-4-1. That does include a 2017 loss in which Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr broke Rodgers’ collarbone on a first-quarter hit after Rodgers had thrown only four passes. Even throwing that loss out, the Vikings are still 3-1-1 against Rodgers in their past five matchups that Rodgers has started and finished.
In his nine meetings with the Vikings under Zimmer, Rodgers has completed 172 of 272 passes (63.2%) for 1,925 yards with 15 touchdowns, two interceptions and 25 sacks (99.6 rating).
“He’s had our number many times, as well,” Zimmer said in a conference call with Wisconsin reporters. “I don’t really take much stock into (past success against him) because each week’s a different week and each game that we play him is always a tough, competitive game.
“He’s a great quarterback, a great leader, can throw the ball anywhere and the game’s never over until that final gun goes off with him. It’s a sleepless week for me. It’s just tough playing a guy like that. He’s just so good — maybe one of the best that’s ever played the game.”
The Packers were probably fortunate last week that Chicago Bears coach Matt Nagy didn’t call more running plays in the season opener. Playing without a second experienced inside linebacker to line up alongside Blake Martinez — ex-New York Giants linebacker B.J. Goodson ran into travel delays after being acquired in a trade and never got to practice with the team before the game — Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine used safety Raven Greene for much of the game as a hybrid linebacker/safety. The Bears only ran the ball 15 times, so the Packers’ ability to stop the run without a second true inside linebacker was never really tested.
That likely will change Sunday. The Vikings ran the ball 38 times in last week’s win over Atlanta, and running back Dalvin Cook, who had 111 yards and two touchdowns against the Falcons, surely will get the ball a lot.
That means that Goodson, who will have four practices under his belt (Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday) by game time, should be on the field plenty, too.
“I would anticipate seeing him quite a bit out there,” coach Matt LaFleur said. “He’s been all (about) ball since the moment he got here, and (we) just started to learn and get to know him as a person.
“But I know our defensive coaches that have spent a little bit more time with him; (inside linebackers coach) Kirk Olivadotti has been really impressed with him. I think he’s impressed with his football knowledge and how into football he is. You could see it the other day in practice on our bonus day, it looked like he’s been here for a while. So, yeah, I would expect to see some of him.“
Although the Packers listed 15 players on their injury report, they had just two players who did not practice at all Wednesday due to injury: inside linebacker Oren Burks (chest) and wide receiver Darrius Shepherd (hamstring). … Right tackle Bryan Bulaga and cornerback Tramon Williams both were limited for “veteran rest,” not due to any specific injury. … Cornerback Ka’dar Hollman (neck) remains limited to non-contact work. … Cornerback Kevin King, who overcame a training-camp hamstring injury to start last week against the Bears, is on the injury report with a chest injury in addition to his hamstring injury. He was limited Wednesday.