Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer
Q: What are your memories of the first time you played Tom Brady in 2003 with the Cowboys?
A: We played really good on defense that day. It was up there in Foxborough. I remember a couple blitzes that I called, but I don’t remember much else honestly. We played him once to start the season when I was in Cincinnati, and he killed us. Played him once in Cincinnati and we beat him, I think the score was like 14-7 or something like that. He had the ball in the two minute drill and it just started pouring down rain, and I was like, “Yes!” I was actually saying a few more things, but I was happy that it rained and we ended up winning.
Q: In what ways if any has Brady changed over the years?
A: The thing that really surprised me, I remember when we were going in Cincinnati I’m watching him pregame and he was just throwing these darts, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, we’re in trouble today.” But his accuracy, I think he sees so many things now, I think with the experience. I don’t know that he’s changed all that much. I don’t remember when I was with Dallas. But I think like Belichick said about [Aaron] Rodgers, I’m glad he’s not in our division.
Q: Is there something New England is doing with play action that’s different than before?
A: Yeah, I’m not sure. I see him once every four years, really. It’s hard for me to say what’s different. They are the best play action team in the NFL in my opinion though. They do a great job of getting linebackers and safeties to suck up on the play action, on the runs and then finding the open spots behind them, which makes it really difficult. The runs look exactly like the play actions, which is what a good play action team does.
Q: Do you ever see a drop off in production when Brady is missing some of his weapons like he was earlier this season?
A: Pretty much the same. They’ll use guys a little differently if they’re skill set is a little bit different. Obviously when they had different tight ends and not [Rob] Gronkowski, they used them a little differently. But no, not really. They had some of their backs out and they used Cordarrelle [Patterson] some there, but I think they do a good job of using the player’s skill set to run their offense.
Q: What have you seen from the way New England is using Cordarrelle Patterson?
A: They’re doing really good with him. Everybody knew Cordarrelle was an outstanding athlete, strong runner, great when he had the ball in his hands. We probably could have done a better job when we had him, after watching them.
Q: Did it ever occur to you guys to make Patterson a between the tackles running back?
A: You know we tinkered around with it, but we had Adrian [Peterson] at the time, so you’d [have to] take him out and put him in. But I still think we could have used him more in some of those kind of ways, yes.
Q: With Andrew Sendejo on injured reserve, is Anthony Harris now your starter?
Q: Did Sendejo have a setback in the week of practice before Detroit?
A: Obviously, yes.
Q: The Patriots are the best team with quarterback sneaks, and you guys have had success with it too. Why does that play work so well in third and short or fourth and short?
A: Brady has the option a lot of times of sneaking it if the A-gaps are open, so that’s part of it. But he’s a big guy, he puts that foot back and drives and their inside guys get nice and low. A lot of times he has the option of doing it if there’s an A-gap open.
Q: The sneak that Kirk Cousins succeeded on this week, was that something he saw he could succeed on or was it just called by design?
A: I don’t know.
Q: The Patriots regularly rotate in eight or nine defensive linemen. How much of a challenge is it to account for the different personnel?
A: They have a lot of different personnel groups and they use them in a lot of different ways. Each week seems to be a different type of game plan based on who they’re going against. They’re always going to try to make you beat them left handed if they can. You know what I mean; if you’re right handed, they want you to win left handed. So I think that’s got a lot to do with it.
Q: They don’t get a lot of sacks, at least this year. Do you still see them putting pressure on the quarterback?
A: Yeah, they’re like third in the league in quarterback pressures and knockdowns, and things like that, but they have not been getting a lot of sacks. But as I’ve said many times, sacks aren’t the most important thing, it’s trying to get pressure on the quarterback. They are blitzing a little bit more this year than I’ve seen them in the past. I think that’s kind of based on some of their skill sets as well.
Q: On that front, how much does the pressure you’re getting with just your four down linemen help in a game like this one?
A: I hope it helps. They do a good job of getting in no backs and spreading the ball around, getting the ball out quick. Protection wise they change up on you quite a bit so they can get extra hands on your pass rushers. The play action quite honestly helps them quite a bit because they sell the run so well with it. If it was just a straight passing game every snap I think we’d have a good opportunity.
Q: How good do you think Cousins has been under pressure this year?
A: I don’t look at all those stats. Somebody told me about those stats, but I don’t. I just look at his overall body of work and I like what he’s doing, the toughness that he plays with, the competitiveness. I like the way he handled the game a week ago. That’s kind of the style that we have to play.
Q: They’ve been successful running Sony Michel on first down. What makes him a successful back in that situation and also getting away from contact?
A: Well, he’s a good back. They do a good job of blocking the point of attack, allowing him to try to get into the secondary, and I think the receivers do a nice job of trying to block the safeties if you’re in single-high defense. I just think they do a good job of creating some space for him, but there’s been a lot of times where he’s come out the back door and been able to accelerate and make some long runs.
Q: Do they seem more willing to stick with the running game when Michel is available?
A: I mean they still run the same runs with every back that’s in there. Yeah, I think so. You know they’re one of the best teams at running the ball in the red zone and one of the best teams at stopping the run in the red zone. When you can run the ball in the red zone that typically leads to points, touchdowns because you don’t get into third and longs where you have to throw it in a condensed situation or area. I think that helps them there as well. They’ve got perimeter runs, they’ve got line-up-and-get-up quick to snap the ball, they’ve got hard ball runs, they’ve got toss sweeps where they’re running cracks. They give you a lot of different looks.
Q: What do you think Bill Belichick does best as a defensive schemer?
A: Like I said before, I think he really tries to make you win left handed. He’s going to try to take your best players away all the time. He’s going to try to exploit your weaknesses best he possibly can. He does a great job in everything as well. I have a lot of respect for him and the fact that his teams are extremely disciplined. They don’t beat themselves. To be able to maintain the success that they’ve had year in and year out, different players, and injuries, and things like that I think that’s a credit to coaching. It’s hard, honestly, you go 13-3 a year ago and the expectations are so high and they’ve been to so many Super Bowls the expectations are so high that you have to really be good to maintain that.
Q: Do you think he’s able to identify little things about your team that other coaches can’t?
A: Yeah, I think so, yeah. I think he’s big on understanding our personnel – each guy from one to 53. Then trying to figure out, “How we can beat this one particular one and how can we scheme it all together?”
Q: Would you expect to have Xavier Rhodes available Sunday?
A: I think there’s a good chance, yes.
Q: Where has Holton Hill made the most progress since he’s been here?
A: I mean, it’s been a lot of ways. Obviously, we play a different technique than he played at Texas, different scheme than he played at Texas. The schemes, learning the technique, understanding those things. He’s still learning obviously like most young guys are. He’s got a lot of really good competitiveness. Obviously, he’s a really good athlete and I think that the more, and more, and more he continues to learn about the game of football, because most of these guys when they come in as rookies they don’t understand football. A lot of them understand their position or they might understand the secondary, but they don’t understand football. So when you’re trying to take young guys and you’re trying to teach them about what offenses are trying to do, how they’re trying to attack you, how the defense is trying to combat that – all those things that really make a difference.