EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings are headed to The Big Easy, but they know Friday's game will be anything but.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke to media members Tuesday and noted the number of challenges the Saints present.
"Tough game coming up. The Saints have a very aggressive defensive mentality, play very hard. Good players at every level," Zimmer said. "[Trey] Hendrickson, Cameron Jordan. [Malcolm] Jenkins is a really good player. The linebackers are fast. Secondary does a really nice job of playing man-to-man. Good scheme.
"And offensively, they've got a Hall of Fame quarterback (Drew Brees) and [Alvin] Kamara and Latavius [Murray]," he continued. "Really solid offensive line, good weapons – Jared Cook [at tight end]. We're going to have to play really well on a short week and get back to it."
After Sunday's loss to Chicago, Minnesota (6-8) has all but been eliminated from the playoffs – there's still one scenario that could allow the team to sneak in – but hasn't lost focus on finishing the season strong.
The team doesn't need to find motivation from being the nationally televised Christmas Day game, Zimmer said.
"We don't really look at TV games or anything like that. We just try to go out and figure out how to play this team, who's a terrific offensive and defensive team. Really good specialists. So we don't really look at any of that stuff," Zimmer emphasized. "We're just trying to play good. We need to play good on defense this week against a really good offensive football team. And then we'll worry about all the other stuff.
"We'll let all the prognosticators do their deal, and we'll go out and try to play their very best," he added.
Look back on photos from past games between the Vikings and the Saints.
Here are four other topics Zimmer covered during his media session:
1. Need to contain Kamara
The Vikings are preparing for a Swiss Army knife in Kamara, and they're doing so less than a week after allowing Bears running back David Montgomery to rack up 146 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Kamara through 14 games has 165 carries for 777 yards and an impressive 10 rushing touchdowns. But he also has 80 catches for 739 yards and another five scores through the air.
"We didn't play very well against the run [against Chicago]. We didn't tackle very well," Zimmer acknowledged. "Kamara's obviously a great back. He's got really, really good feet like Dalvin [Cook]. He's hard to tackle, like Dalvin is. They use him in more variety of ways. We're just going to have to do a better job in some of the cutback and power runs than we did last week."
2. Brees won't be a breeze
The Vikings are well-acquainted with Brees, whom they'll be playing for the fifth time since the start of the 2017 season – including two playoff games in which Minnesota knocked New Orleans from the race.
Zimmer said familiarity isn't necessarily an advantage, though.
"You play [Aaron] Rodgers twice [every year]; you play [Matt] Stafford twice," he pointed out about two talented NFC North passers. "I mean, good quarterbacks are good quarterbacks. They do a great job offensively with their scheme. Drew's obviously very smart, very productive. I think he does a great job."
The Saints Week 15 loss to the Chiefs was Brees' first game back from a rib injury and collapsed lung that he suffered in Week 10.
"He [still] looked like Drew Brees to me. He hit a deep ball. He's probably – I don't know, you'd have to ask him how he [felt] starting out," Zimmer said. "But the Chiefs are a good defensive team, as well. They probably had some new wrinkles for him initially."
3. Progress report on rookie CBs
Zimmer was asked about the development this season of rookie cornerbacks Cameron Dantzler and Jeff Gladney, who experienced growing pains but nonetheless have shown improvement.
"I think they both have a chance to be really good players. Dantzler, he's had some good matchups on some really good receivers," Zimmer said. "Gladney has done a really good job, in my opinion, of moving inside and outside. Sometimes he makes mistakes, but he's a tough kid, and he's starting to see things better. I think they're both going to be really good."
4. Friends forever
The Vikings-Saints matchups have felt like an increased non-division rivalry under Zimmer's tenure, particularly considering the frequency of meetings over the past four seasons. It's also well-known that Zimmer and Saints Head Coach Sean Payton have a longstanding friendship, dating back to their years on the Dallas coaching staff.
Zimmer was asked if he and Payton discuss their games, in particular the Vikings playoff wins in January 2018 and January 2020, or if the topic creates any tension.
"Well, Sean and I have always been good friends. My daughters babysat his kids when we were in Dallas together," Zimmer said. "We talk a little bit in the offseason about [that]. I know he texted me after the [Minneapolis Miracle] game and said, 'That'll be one first to remember.'
"But you know, Sean and I have such respect for one another that I don't think, even as cocky as he is, I don't think we ever want to affect our friendship any," Zimmer added.