EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. –The Packers have been eliminated from the playoffs, but Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer still expects a tough matchup on Saturday.
Zimmer told Twin Cities media members on Wednesday that he "doesn't think that's a big factor" in the upcoming rivalry game at Lambeau Field.
"It's a division game. We have a lot to play for. It's important that we go out [and perform]," Zimmer said. "What I talked to them about [after losing at Carolina we] had a new sense of urgency and a new focus, and that's what we need to do again.
"Just because we won [the division] last week doesn't mean, 'OK, we can go back to how we were' and end up getting beat," Zimmer continued. "We're just trying to stay on point with everything we do and continue to move forward and continue to try to get wins."
When Zimmer took the reins in Minnesota back in 2014, he immediately recognized the Packers as a team that it would be important to play well against.
He acknowledged a talented roster and also highlighted Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy. He also emphasized that it was more about learning to play against good teams than it was about the border-rivalry aspect.
"When I came here, it was all about a process of trying to get better each day. Trying to get the football team the right way and get the right kind of guys in here and then continue to move forward from there," Zimmer said. "Division games are obviously really important, but we really didn't put more emphasis on a division game than we have.
"Each game is really important for us because that's how it goes," Zimmer added. "I have a great deal of respect for the Packers and the things they've been able to accomplish. The history, everything about them. The organization, the head coach and everybody else."
Here are four other topics Zimmer covered during his podium session:
1. Pro Bowl ponderings
The Vikings on Tuesday announced that Adam Thielen received his first career Pro Bowl nod. Along with Thielen, Xavier Rhodes, Everson Griffen and Anthony Barr also were voted into the all-star game.
When asked if he was surprised that only four Vikings were selected, Zimmer reminded reporters that he doesn't get too invested in the Pro Bowl process.
"I don't really worry about that," Zimmer said. "When you look at it, they take three safeties, three quarterbacks. Do I think some other guys probably should have made it? Yes."
Added Zimmer: "The good thing about these guys, every one of them that I texted them last night that made the Pro Bowl, they all talked about how that's not really their goal. That was nice."
2. Happy with Hunter's progress
After putting up 12.5 sacks in 2016, Danielle Hunter just notched his seventh of the 2017 season last week. Zimmer said the defensive end is making a significant impact on the game nevertheless.
Zimmer praised the third-year player, saying he was especially impressed by his performance against the Bengals on Sunday.
"I thought last week maybe he played his best game. I'm hoping it continues to go forward here," Zimmer said. "Like a lot of young guys and when they first start becoming a full-time player, they never want to make a mistake."
Zimmer said that quality can sometimes prohibit players from playing freely, and he wants to see more from Hunter "like he did last week and just go."
"React and use his athletic abilities and not so much rely on his thinking or [being] careful that, 'I might make a mistake here or there,' " Zimmer said. "I think that's been a [learning] process for him this year. Last week he did that, and I hope it continues to move forward that way."
3. Spotlight on player safety
In the wake of Packers receiver Davante Adams suffering a concussion as the result of a hit in last week's game against the Panthers, Zimmer was asked his thoughts on player safety and the NFL's measures to ensure it.
"I think the NFL is trying to do an awful lot on it. I think it's important we try to take the hits to the head out of the game the best we can," Zimmer said. "You don't want to see people get hurt or get injured. One of the hardest ones, and I've said this many times, is when you're going backwards toward your own goal line and somebody's coming forward because typically the guy's not looking."
Zimmer suggested the player placing a screen, similar to the technique used in basketball, rather than a direct hit in those instances.
"You can knock the heck out of them even if you don't hit them in the neck and head area," Zimmer said. "You can screen them, get the job done, and you know you're not going to get anybody hurt. I had [former linebacker] Keith Rivers play Pittsburgh one time, and he ended up getting his jaw broke on a very similar hit like that. He ended up missing the whole year. I think we got to continue to be safe with all those things."
4. Comparing quarterbacks
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers returned to the field against the Panthers after missing eight weeks with a broken collarbone.
On Tuesday, however, the Packers announced that Rodgers had been placed on season-ending injured reserve, meaning the Vikings will instead face backup quarterback Brett Hundley.
While there is the obvious difference in experience and accomplishments, Zimmer said that, technique-wise, Rodgers and Hundley operate similarly.
"You can tell he's watched Rodgers for some years, and he's got a lot of the same mannerisms and a lot of things," Zimmer said of Hundley. "They've changed a little bit on some. There's a few different runs here and there and a few different throws. But, there's really not a lot."
He also said that both signal callers will make adjustments at the line of scrimmage.
"[Hundley] changes a decent amount," Zimmer said. "He does signals and the hard counts the same, and a lot of things are very, very similar."