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What'd They Say: Brees, Payton on 'Long History' with & Respect for Zimmer

Sunday will mark the third playoff game between Minnesota and New Orleans in the span of 10 seasons but the first in that time during the Wild Card round.

Saints QB Drew Brees, currently in his 19th NFL season, has played in each of those contests and has plenty of familiarity with the Vikings organization but also Head Coach Mike Zimmer, who took the helm in Minnesota in 2014.

Brees spoke with New Orleans media members earlier this week about the history between the franchises. He specifically was asked about the past decade, which opened with a heartbreaking Vikings loss to the Saints in the NFC Championship Game on Jan. 24, 2010.

"There's just some of those storied organizations that have had many great teams throughout many different eras throughout the NFL, [and] the Minnesota Vikings are one of those teams," said Brees, who did not specifically address the 2010 postseason. "They've got a great fan base, they've had a great history and tradition for winning.

"You'd say during the Mike Zimmer era here over the [past six seasons], they've had a bunch of great teams and, certainly as I look at the side of the ball that I'm going against, some great defenses. Just the challenge of that makes [it an] honor to be able to play in a game like this."

Even before Zimmer earned a head coaching gig, he garnered a healthy respect for his defensive game plans by opponents.

Brees recalled playing against Zimmer-led defenses in Dallas (where Saints Head Coach Sean Payton was the assistant head coach from 2003-05) and Cincinnati before Minnesota hired the longtime defensive coordinator in 2014.

"There's a long history there; I've always respected his style, and he's had a ton of great defenses wherever he's been," Brees said. "Guys play hard for him, and he's a great football coach."

Payton also spoke on a few different occasions this week about his connection with Zimmer.

The Saints head coach spoke with Twin Cities media members via conference call and said that Zimmer has done "an outstanding job" in his time with the Vikings.

"You always know that you're getting a well-coached team," Payton said. "They're playing extremely well, and Mike's a great teacher. The irony for me is one of my closest friends in coaching happens to be the head coach of the Vikings, and it feels like we've played them now, three, four, five times over the course of three seasons, and this will be the second playoff game.

"I think he does so many things right. They're going to be fundamentally sound," he added. "I know [Mike] feels like their offense is really taking on the correct shape and form that he's looking for. I think they're playing very good complementary football when you watch the rushing numbers and all of the things that come from that. I just have a ton of respect for him."

Excluding the preseason game in August, the Vikings and Saints last met in Week 8 of the 2018 campaign.

And while it's certainly a new season and new team for each club, there could be some benefit to having familiarity with each other's tendencies.

"Well, we know this – we know there's some similarities in their structure defensively," Payton said. "Zim's been there that whole time and is actively involved in what they do defensively.

"I'm sure there's some nuances offensively. I thought they've rushed the ball real well this year," he continued. "So yeah, there's all the tape from this season, last season, go back as far as you want to, and a lot of it's just a matter of the plan that you're putting in place for this game. But it does feel like a team we play pretty regularly."

Here are other highlights from the Saints talking about the Vikings this week:

Payton on the Vikings recent use of a rotation at cornerback:

"I don't know if it directly impacts the preparation, because sometimes you go into a game and there's a corner assigned to [Michael Thomas]. Certainly, you study the techniques of those corners, the strengths and weaknesses. I think it happens more than you think during the course of a season, and it may not be because there's a rotation, but it's pretty common where all of a sudden a corner is out for a series or two. Maybe it's a small nick.

"You've got to plan for the defense first, and then you pay attention to the traits of each corner, the traits of the safety, the traits of the nickel and the personnel that you're seeing in your game plan. One of the challenges is game-planning for a base defense or a nickel defense and how they're going to see your own personnel. 'Are they going to treat this with base or nickel?' And predicting that type of thing. That's Mike's expertise, on the back end, so I think playing defensive back for Zim' is probably a challenge in a good way because he's so good at coaching that position, and his expectation of what he wants at that position is extremely high."

Brees on his connection to the Minneapolis Miracle game:

"… As far as this game being a 'revenge game' or anything like that, I don't look at it like that at all. These are two totally different seasons, right? That was two years ago. I will say this – a lot of the same players [are] on that team, on defense at least. So what that tells me is, those guys have done an done an excellent job of maintaining what I think is an extremely solid group on defense. Those guys play very hard, they play very well together, they're very well coached, so we've got our work cut out for us this week."

Brees on Vikings DEs Everson Griffen & Danielle Hunter:

"Which one? How about both of them? How about all of them? That's been the strength of this defense for a long time. Those guys' ability to get after the passer, they're one of the league leaders in sacks, and then that directly relates to their ability to take the ball away. They've got a ball-hawking secondary; they've got linebackers that are great at getting the ball out and just being around the ball. It's a very aggressive defense from that standpoint, and that's something they thrive on, so it's something we have to make sure we pay close attention to."

T Terron Armstead on memory of last season's win over Minnesota:

"It was a good game. I think we did a lot of things well in that game, especially coming off the loss in Minnesota. I think we imposed our will, especially toward the end of the game, and we were rolling. But this year, we just have to be ready to handle business Sunday, execute this game plan and get ready to go to Green Bay."

Armstead on Hunter/Griffen duo:

"Two very good players, for sure. Extremely productive. Yeah, we have some experience against them, but it's definitely going to be a tough challenge. Just going to have to be on top of our protection plan – what we're trying to do to them, what we're trying to take away – and get ready to play ball."

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