View images from the Wednesday, October 29 practice at Winter Park.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Their brains have gone head-to-head and their units have gone toe-to-toe, but the battles were always kept behind the scenes of the practice fields of the Cincinnati Bengals.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Redskins Head Coach Jay Gruden worked on the same staff, respectively, as defensive coordinator and offensive coordinator for three seasons before they were offered their current positions in 2014.
The Bengals made the playoffs all three of those seasons as Zimmer's defenses ranked ninth, eighth and fifth in the league in points allowed, and Gruden's offenses ranked 18th, 12th and sixth in points scored.
Zimmer said Wednesday that he and Gruden talked about different scenarios in passing and added "it wasn't anything real serious, just joking around about this or that."
It's sure both men will be serious from about noon until 3 p.m. (CT) Sunday when Minnesota (3-5) hosts Washington (3-5) at TCF Bank Stadium.
"I'm pretty familiar but he's pretty familiar with me as well," Zimmer said. "He's done a great job. When he was in Cincinnati with me, he did a great job with the young quarterbacks, he did a great job with the offense and the skill guys, especially. He's very innovative, changes a lot from week to week from what they do, tries to use the players to the best of their abilities."
Gruden said during a conference call Wednesday that it's one thing to know about what a coach likes to implement but another to know when a particular defensive call will be made.
"He does a great job with his defense of coaching his fundamentals, his techniques and he's sound versus pretty much everything you do," Gruden said. "You try to attack defensive styles, you try to do your own stuff, what you're good at offensively and you try to give them the looks that Coach Zimmer is going to give you. The problem is he's going to give you so many different looks, especially in the blitz. He's the 'blitz doctor' so we've just got to be on top of what we do and protect the quarterback. Obviously we know how important the quarterback position is.
"It's probably going to be overhyped a little bit of me knowing him and him knowing me, but, I don't know when he's going to call his blitzes and call his zones," Gruden added. "It's very important for our guys to play the game and do what we do and be fundamentally sound."
Zimmer said maintaining proper focus on how to best utilize players should trump any changes to counteract the level of familiarity that two coaches may have with one another.
"What you don't want to do is mess up your players," Zimmer said. "That's the most important thing is your players. You're coaching the players to do what they know how to do and you always change a little bit from week to week. It just depends on how much the players can handle, and somebody asked me this the other day, I honestly don't like going against my friends just because at the end of the day one of us is going to be upset. It is what it is. I'm sure he'll have his team ready to play and hopefully I'll have mine ready to play."
Gruden said "you can definitely tell it is Coach Zimmer's defense" when reviewing film.
"He's got a few staples that he likes and does. He's very consistent, a very good coach," Gruden said. "They're very sound in what they do and very disruptive. They like to disrupt the receivers and get their hands on people, knock you off your routes, give the defensive line and linebackers time to get home, and they've got enough stunts to make you stay up late at night trying to deal with them."
RUSHING THE PASSER: Minnesota is entering the game with 25 sacks on the season, including 15 in the past three games. Some questions remain on if Washington QB Robert Griffin III will return to the lineup or if Colt McCoy will remain in the spot after leading the Redskins to two straight wins after replacing Kirk Cousins at halftime against Tennessee in Week 7.
Gruden said Griffin is "making progress" on the ankle injury he suffered early in Week 2.
"That's the one thing he's continuing to do, and with more progress comes more reps," Gruden said. "We just have to see at the end of the week where he is health-wise and his ability to handle the offense."
Gruden said Griffin's evaluation will include a look at his mobility during practice this week, but it was reported in Washington Wednesday that Griffin will start.
Zimmer said Minnesota will prepare for Griffin and McCoy this week.
"Well the offense will be the same; it's just certain plays you'll have to prepare for," Zimmer said. "Colt McCoy, he's a movement guy, too, maybe not to the extent of Robert, but he's a movement guy. Every time I've played him he's tried to run some. They're not going to change their entire offense, I don't believe, if the other quarterback plays. They've got a staple of plays that they like to run just like everybody does."
KING OF CASSEL'S HOUSE?: A foot injury in Week 3 sidelined veteran Vikings quarterback Matt Cassel, but he's stayed involved by watching film with QBs Teddy Bridgewater, Christian Ponder and practice squad member Chandler Harnish.
Cassel is expecting to see a unique show Thursday when he hosts Bridgewater, who is in his first year out of Louisville, and Ponder, an alumnus of Florida State, for the televised matchup of their alma maters.
"I think they've got a little thing going on, so I said, 'Let's have it at my house and see what happens,' " Cassel said. "It will be fun to see those guys go up against each other. I'm actually there to watch everything."
Bridgewater confirmed "there is a ton of trash talking" between he and Ponder leading up to the game.
Cassel said his recovery is going well. He's been utilizing a four-wheel, non-motorized scooter with a bench seat as a knee pad to keep weight off his foot as he navigates the halls of Winter Park. He expects to be able to walk again in about two more weeks and will continue to help the other Vikings QBs.
"Anytime you have an injury and you're out a substantial amount of time — this is the longest I've been out at any time in my career — it's always difficult at first but I think you try to find different ways to still be involved," Cassel said. "When I come in the room, I'm able to help out in different ways and watch film. I ask coaches for projects, whether it's a red zone review or something like that, just to contribute in some way and help out Teddy and Christian in that room as much as I can."
BARR NAMED PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Rookie linebacker Anthony Barr was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week Wednesday for his role in Minnesota's 19-13 overtime victory Sunday at Tampa Bay. Barr forced a fumble, recovered the ball and returned it 27 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
Asked if the award came with a prize, Barr said, "Yeah, a pat on the back and 'good job.' "
Barr said forcing fumbles is "kind of a mindset" but added "you've got to pick and choose" the timing of the attempt.
"If there's an opportunity, you try and take it, but you can't go for the ball every time," Barr said.
NOT RESTING ON RANKING:The Vikings have vaulted up to fourth in the NFL in pass defense, allowing a meager 212.1 passing yards per game.
Veteran cornerback Captain Munnerlyn was asked about the ranking and said the Vikings can't rest on that.
"Are we number four? Wow, I didn't know that one," Munnerlyn said. "We're trying to work each and every day and get better. We want to be number one. Our goal is to be the number one defense, not just in passing but overall, so we're just working every day. It's a long season. To be ranked fourth halfway through, that's pretty good, but we've got to keep it up. We know in eight games, you can go from four to 32 easily, so we've got to keep this intensity going and keep competing."
PARTICIPATION: Brian Robison (glute), Kyle Rudolph (abdomen/groin) and Jabari Price (hamstring) did not participate Wednesday. Josh Robinson (ankle), Sharrif Floyd (ankle/knee), Gerald Hodges (hamstring), Antone Exum Jr. (ankle/shoulder) and Chase Ford (foot) were limited.
For Washington: Ryan Clark (ankle/shoulder) and Trent Williams (knee) were limited. Ryan Kerrigan (wrist), Trent Murphy (knee), Tracy Porter (hamstring), Perry Riley Jr. (knee), and Keenan Robinson (shoulder) were listed as full participants.
WEATHER: The temperature at Winter Park was 39 degrees Fahrenheit at the start of practice with an 8 mph wind and a blanket of clouds.