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Presser Points: Zimmer & Vikings Prepare for New Wrinkles from Familiar Foe

EAGAN, Minn. — Twice a year every year.

The Vikings defense has started each Lions week since 2009 (except either game in 2010) by forming a plan on how to minimize the potential damage caused by Matthew Stafford.

The franchise quarterback, however, hasn't played since Nov. 3 because of back and hip injuries.

Detroit initially turned to Jeff Driskel, who started three games before landing on Injured Reserve. Undrafted rookie David Blough made his first start on Thanksgiving and opened the holiday tradition with a quick 75-yard touchdown pass before the Bears eventually prevailed 24-20.

Although Blough will become the second consecutive road-team QB to make his second career start against the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium (Denver's Brandon Allen on Nov. 17), the Vikings might have a little bit more familiarity than normal.

Vikings assistant offensive line coach Andrew Janocko served as the East's offensive coordinator of the East-West Shrine Game in January and worked with Blough in the week leading up to the game. Vikings linebackers coach Adam Zimmer worked as head coach of the West team, which prevailed 21-17.

Blough completed 10 of 15 passes for 149 yards and two scores for a passer rating of 138.6 in the showcase for prospects.

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Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked Wednesday about Blough's most recent outing, when he completed 22 of 38 passes for 280 yards with two scores and an interception for a passer rating of 87.6.

"I thought he threw the ball well, moved in the pocket," Zimmer said. "He's a very smart guy; one of our coaches coached him in the East-West game, so we tried to get a report on him the best we could. But I thought he played really well, made some really good throws, had a chance to win the game at the end. It was 24-20, but they just ran out of time. He has our ultimate respect, just like everybody else we play."

Stafford completed 30 of 45 passes for 364 yards with four touchdowns and an interception (passer rating of 111.7) against the Vikings on Oct. 20, and much of the supporting cast is still there.

"They haven't really changed [the offense] all that much," Zimmer said. "They've still got a lot of deep play action shots, they still want to get the ball to Marvin Jones [, Jr.,] and [Kenny] Golladay. As far as the running game, it's still some of the gun-and-runs, play actions. It really hasn't changed all that much, just continued to do what they've been doing."

Zimmer did add that there could be a few "new wrinkles" now that the Lions have had more time to prepare with Blough at QB.

"But for us to say, 'OK, well he's going to do this,' or, 'He's going to do that,' is just kind of guessing, and so we'll probably have to make some adjustments during the ball game like every other game and go from there," Zimmer said.

Here are three other topics addressed by Zimmer on Wednesday:

1. Defense can and needs to do better

The Vikings allowed 218 rushing yards on 43 attempts, including 15 separate carries by the Seahawks that gained five or more yards, in Monday's 37-30 loss at Seattle.

That output, which was padded by a 29-yard gain on a fake punt, is the second-most rushing yards allowed by the Vikings since Zimmer's hire in 2014, trailing only 230 by San Francisco in the 2015 season opener that also was on Monday Night Football.

In 92 regular-season games under Zimmer, there have been 17 occasions of opponents rushing for 150 or more in a game.

"For us to have the ball run on us like that was kind of a misnomer; it hasn't been like that in quite a while," Zimmer said. "We've got to do a better job, really all the way around. Perimeter run force, being in the right place, being in the right gaps, being more disciplined. We probably panicked a little bit the other night."

Asked a follow-up about saying "panicked," Zimmer explained it was more of players trying to press to make a play.

"Sometimes when things aren't going exactly how you would expect them to go, they start doing things on their own, 'Okay, I'm going to go make this play. Even though the block tells me to do this, I'm going to go do this.' That's kind of what we did, and it happens from time to time," Zimmer said. "We've just got to get back and get settled in and get back to work."

Seattle now has three of the top seven rushing performances against the Vikings (218 on Monday, 214 in 2018 and 173 in 2015).

2. Tunnel vision

As the days wane in a regular season, the talk of playoff scenarios ramps up, but Zimmer and the Vikings plan to keep their vision narrowly focused.

Minnesota is currently the No. 6 seed in the NFC Playoffs with a one-game lead over the Rams for the final spot. The Vikings also can still win the NFC North but will need help from one of Green Bay's other three opponents as well as a victory over the Packers on Dec. 23.

"We just have to go win games and count them up at the end," Zimmer said. "I'm not going to worry about, I know a lot of people jumped off the wagon after the other night, [but] we're just going to try to win some more games, and the most important thing is win as many as we can and try to get in the tournament at the end and then see what happens."


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3. Keys to rookies' contributions

The Vikings have turned to rookies for different types of contributions this season, but particularly their first three picks of 2019.

Garrett Bradbury stepped into the starting center role immediately. Tight end Irv Smith, Jr., has been implemented more and more as the season has progressed, and running back Alexander Mattison has been a strong complement to Dalvin Cook.

"Really, all those guys are pretty smart guys. Mattison is smart, obviously Bradbury and Irv," Zimmer said. "They're all pretty smart guys. I think the coaches have done a great job with them, not overloading them as much either, just kind of working them in as the season goes. Now, they've been in there quite a bit. Bradbury makes a lot of really important decisions at the line of scrimmage and has done a really good job. That's all part of it, being able to handle the load of the intelligence factor as you're going forward."