EAGAN, Minn. — For the first time in Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer’s tenure in Minnesota, his defense is preparing for a different look against the Green Bay Packers.
Zimmer’s crew will see a familiar face at quarterback in Aaron Rodgers on Sunday, but the defense had gotten used to going against former Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s system since Zimmer arrived in 2014.
McCarthy is gone now, replaced by 39-year-old Matt LaFleur, who is in his first stint as an NFL head coach.
But as the Vikings get set for Sunday’s matchup at Lambeau Field, there’s a chance Zimmer might show them clips of a familiar offense to get his team prepared.
“Screens. They love screens, all down and distances, hurry-up offense,” Zimmer said Wednesday about the trademarks of a LaFleur offense. “They’ve always done that wherever he’s been. A lot of the boots and nakeds.
“There’s a lot of similarities to some of the things we do,” Zimmer added.
Yes, the Packers new-look offense could share similarities with the Vikings new-look offense under Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary Kubiak.
Kubiak was head coach of the Texans when Matt LaFleur was an offensive assistant from 2008-09.
Additionally, LaFleur was Kirk Cousins’ quarterbacks coach for two seasons in Washington (2012-13).
LaFleur on Wednesday was asked about the biggest thing he learned from Kubiak in Houston.
“Just how important the run game is and how it can set up a lot of big plays in the pass game,” LaFleur said. “So, that’s something that I feel real fortunate to have worked for Coach Kub’, and it’s definitely shaped my philosophy.”
If you’ve been following along about the Vikings from January to now, you might have thought it was Zimmer, Stefanski or Kubiak who said those words.
Does LaFleur see the same scheme within both offenses?
“I don’t know. I think maybe it might have helped them having seen some of the concepts throughout training camp and the offseason program, just being familiar with some of the scheme stuff,” LaFleur said. “But ultimately, they’re going to have a game plan for our defense, and like I said, we know that even on the defensive side of the ball, it’s still a tremendous challenge.
“You look at what the Vikings were able to do last week against a team that I really respect in the Atlanta Falcons, and they were able to really control the game, and they did it through the ground game,” LaFleur added.
In terms of run-pass percentage, the Vikings had the higher run rate in Week 1, as they ran the ball on 36 of 47 plays (76.6 percent), excluding kneel downs, in an impressive 28-12 win.
Green Bay, meanwhile, ran the ball 20 times on 55 total plays (excluding kneel downs) for a run percentage of 36.3.
Over the course of the season, expect those numbers to possibly even out.
Heading into the Week 2 matchup, however, members of the Vikings defense said they’re relying on what they saw from the Minnesota offense in spring practices and training camp.
“I can see some similarities in what they want their identity to be in running the football and staying on schedule,” said Vikings safety Anthony Harris. “And taking shots when they can and controlling the clock.”
Added Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks: “Personnel and things like that, there’s a lot of similarities for sure.”
Cousins has run hundreds of play-action fakes in practices over the past few months, both dropping straight back and while getting on the move.
If Rodgers does that Sunday, Kendricks explained the difficulties of playing linebacker against that type of scheme.
“You have two assignments,” Kendricks said. “You have to guard the run, but then drop back to the pass for those intermediate routes.
“Our offense has worked really hard, especially in that aspect of the game, so that’s going to help us,” Kendricks added.
Kendricks and Harris each noted that it’s always a challenge going against Rodgers, no matter what the system is.
And Zimmer said Wednesday that his staff has gone back and looked at LaFleur’s entire coaching career to try and pick up tendencies.
“There’s some tape on him, so we kind of do our homework, but he could change based on the personnel that he has, I guess would be the biggest thing, and, obviously, the quarterback that he has,” Zimmer said of LaFleur. “There’s similarities from what he’s done in the past, but yeah, we have to be prepared for whatever happens.
“I mean, he was with Gary as a quality control guy,” Zimmer added. “He’s obviously with [Rams Head Coach Sean] McVay (who was also with Cousins in Washington), so you go back and you study all the different things. You look for plays that maybe the Rams were running last week or whatever.”
But when Sunday comes, the Vikings defense will be called upon to help deliver a win and help the Vikings get to 2-0 start and an early claim on first place in the NFC North.
The hope is that while they’ve been working against the new Vikings offense for the entire offseason, the defense has experienced a bonus of preparing for this game for months.
“I think our offense regardless, they get you ready for just about anything,” said linebacker Eric Wilson. “They have a great scheme with the running game and passing game and bootlegs, and everything combined.”
Zimmer was asked if practicing against his own offense, which could be similar to Green Bay’s, offers any sort of advantage.
“I hope so,” Zimmer said with a smile.