EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings haven't played the Colts since 2016, but they have a recent familiarity with Indy's new quarterback.
The Colts signed veteran QB Philip Rivers this spring, making 2020 his first season with a team other than the Chargers since his 2004 rookie campaign. The Vikings faced Rivers in Los Angeles last December and defeated the Chargers 39-10 after forcing seven turnovers.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke with media members on Wednesday and was asked if the recent meeting with Rivers will be helpful in prepping for Sunday's game.
"It is quite a new system," Zimmer noted, "and Rivers is a tremendous, competitive player. Still can make all the throws. He's really, really smart and sees a lot of different things. Even though you played him recently, it's always tough playing those guys. They are good players."
It also works to Rivers' benefit that he's playing behind a stout Colts offensive line anchored by center Ryan Kelly, whom Indianapolis drafted 18th overall in 2016.
"Well, this offensive line is definitely one of the best in the league. They've got two big, long tackles (Anthony Castonzo and Braden Smith), the center is a really good player, and [left guard Quenton] Nelson is maybe the best guard in football," Zimmer said. "It's just a little bit more time [for Rivers], which I'm sure he appreciates. But he's throwing the ball great. A lot of [shotgun formation] – a lot of being in the gun."
Here are four other topics Zimmer addressed during his media session:
1. Reuniting with Rhodes
Rivers won't be the only familiar face in Indianapolis this weekend.
The Vikings will face cornerback Xavier Rhodes for the first time since he departed Minnesota in free agency.
"I love Xavier. He's a great kid, a good competitor. We had a lot of good times together," Zimmer said. "We worked really close for a number of years. I hope he has a good year and is staying safe and healthy."
After being with the Vikings since 2013 and with Zimmer since 2014, Rhodes is now in a new system under Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus.
Zimmer said he thought Rhodes "did well" in a Colts jersey against the Jaguars in Week 1.
"They obviously play a little different scheme than we do, but the things that Xavier was asked to do, he did fine," Zimmer added.
In Minnesota, Rhodes often "traveled" with a team's top receiver. But Zimmer doesn't necessarily expect him to shadow Vikings receiver Adam Thielen on Sunday.
"You never know in each game. Maybe because he knows Adam pretty well and he's gone against him in practice a lot, maybe he will," Zimmer said. "But I don't think that will be the case."
2. No more Mack attack
The Colts will be without starting running back Marlon Mack, who suffered a season-ending Achilles injury against Jacksonville.
Zimmer said he doesn't think Indianapolis' offense will change much, though, without Mack in the lineup.
"[Jonathan] Taylor's a top draft pick for them. Marlon Mack, obviously, he was a great player. We really liked him coming out, as well. But I think Taylor does a great job, and the other back (Nyheim Hines) is also the returner, so he's a scat guy, he likes to get out," Zimmer said. "So I think they'll continue to do what they do with those guys. And then they're good on the screens, so they'll use those guys on the screens.
"Their offensive line does a great job of getting out in front of those screens, and they do a great job in protection," he added.
3. Adjusting to the new 'normal'
This weekend will be the Vikings first road game of the 2020 season, meaning it will be the team's first time traveling since COVID-19 protocols were put in place.
Zimmer said he doesn't expect it to be much different from home-game processes, though, other than being required to stay inside the hotel upon arriving in Indianapolis Saturday night.
"You get tested before you leave, you don't get tested on game day. Typically guys go out to restaurants the night before, and they can't do that," Zimmer explained. "Those things are going to be different, but once you get to the stadium, I think this week will [feel] more 'normal' than it was last week. Last week there was a lot of things going on, a lot of uncertainty. 'What's the crowd going to be like?' I had one player come up to me before the game and said, 'Do you think we should make our calls quieter because the other team can hear us?' I think they just understand a little bit better now what it's really going to be like."
4. Getting Ngakoue up to speed
Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue suited up for the Vikings season opener just two weeks after signing with Minnesota in free agency.
He played 56 percent (44 snaps) of the Vikings defensive snaps but didn't make a particularly big splash in the game.
Zimmer said he expects Ngakoue to settle in and make a bigger impact as he gets up to speed in the system.
"It was tough on him coming in that late and trying to get all the techniques and everything we're trying to get done, done," Zimmer said. "So, I'm sure as the season progresses, he'll continue to understand things more."
Asked if Ngakoue will have an advantage against the Colts, having shared a division with them during his time in Jacksonville, Zimmer said, "I don't know. I hope so."