EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — For more than a decade, a common question by teams preparing for the Saints has been how to limit damage by Drew Brees.
The sure-fire — in terms of future Hall of Fame status and completion percentage record holder — quarterback has flourished since donning the Fleur-de-lis on his helmet.
Brees, who is in his 17th pro season and 12th in New Orleans, has led the NFL in completions six times, attempts four times, completion percentage four times, yards seven times, and touchdown passes four times. All of those marks have occurred since Brees joined the Saints in 2006.
The Vikings limited Brees to 9-of-14 passing for 71 yards in the first half of their 29-19 Week 1 victory, but Brees finished the game 27-of-37 passing for 291.
It can be tough to apply pressure to Brees because he quickly distributes the football and because the Saints move the pocket effectively and open throwing lanes for the 6-footer.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer on Wednesday was asked about trying to pressure Brees when the Saints visit Minnesota for a Divisional round game at 3:40 p.m. (CT).
“Each week we have a rush plan going into the ball game, depending on who the quarterback is and where he sets, how fast he gets the ball out and all the different things,” Zimmer said. “They move the pocket well. Sometimes they run sprint-outs and sometimes they run boots that are maximum protection things, shots down the field. All those things you have to be aware of. But yes, we have to rush him differently than we would some other guy. I’ve always said that when you play a great quarterback, it’s always a combination of rush, coverage and disguise.”
Sacks totals by the Vikings have decreased slightly each season since 2015, going from 43 to 41 to 37, but they’ve continued to affect quarterbacks. Minnesota’s defense finished 2017 ranked first in scoring defense (15.8 points allowed per game) and total defense (275.9 yards allowed per game).
Here are three other topics covered by Zimmer:
1. An Outstanding Motor
While Brees’ height is considered a little shorter than most prefer at quarterback, he’s enjoyed tremendous success.
When Zimmer has built defenses, he’s had success implementing tall defensive ends with long arms that allow them an easier reach for quarterbacks.
Everson Griffen is 6-3 and a little shorter than defensive ends that had excelled under Zimmer for previous teams, but Zimmer outlined why the three-time Pro Bowler has succeeded.
“Well, he was a little shorter, but the thing about Everson was that he had great quickness, great power, and great strength,” Zimmer said. “I’ve had some shorter guys, but they’ve all had those qualities, without going and naming some of those guys. Quickness, power and strength to overcome the lack of length, and I think he has that. Plus, his motor is outstanding.”
2. ‘Didn’t drive my whole life’
Wednesday fell on the two-year anniversary of Minnesota’s first playoff game under Zimmer, a Wild Card matchup that Seattle claimed 10-9 on a minus-6-degree day at the University of Minnesota. Zimmer was asked about that game, and he explained that he appreciated the way fans turned out to support the team and the way they’ve made U.S. Bank Stadium a tough place for opponents.
“Obviously it’s good to be in the playoffs. That means that you’re one of the better teams in the league,” Zimmer said. “But [the loss] didn’t drive my whole life.
“I think we have a great opportunity to play in front of our home fans, hopefully they’re going to be loud as all get-out. They were good in that playoff game, but it was minus-6 degrees. It’ll be a little better weather this time. Our fans have been great all year, and I expect them to be outstanding in this ballgame, and I expect us to play well.”
The Vikings have now returned to indoor football with an outdoor element provided by the use of clear ETFE on 60 percent of the stadium’s roof and a west wall of glass that features five of the world’s largest pivoting doors. Zimmer was asked if the doors will be open or closed for a day that is currently forecasted to have a high of 12 and low of minus-6.
“If it’s minus-2, we’re going to have the doors open so they have to wear their long johns,” Zimmer quipped. “No, they won’t open the doors. They’re afraid the pipes might freeze, and then we’d have a lot of issues.”
3. This year is ‘next year’ for scouts
As the calendar flipped to 2018, the Vikings have enjoyed the opportunity to rest during the first round of the playoffs and prepare for Sunday’s Divisional game.
The coaches and players are locked in on New Orleans, but the personnel department is preparing for college all-star games that will be held this month.
Zimmer said he’s provide General Manager Rick Spielman with a “wish list” of sorts as the scouting department’s evaluations reach more milestones.
“Rick has gotten my wish list for next year already,” Zimmer said. “There are some things where I think we could be really good on defense if we get a couple other things.
“ ‘Make sure you’re looking for this for me in the draft,’ things like that,” Zimmer later explained. “It’s not really a wish list, but I tell him, ‘When you’re out on the road, this is what I’d like to have.’ ”