Jason Garrett is game-planning against Mike Zimmer this week, but years before the two became head coaches for the Cowboys and Vikings, respectively, Garrett was learning from Zimmer in Dallas.
Garrett was the Cowboys backup quarterback from 1993-99. In 1994, Dallas hired Zimmer as its defensive backs coach.
“I remember him being a really, really good coach and someone who the players really responded to and played really well under,” Garrett told Twin Cities media members this week via conference call. “I remember talking to Zim’ a lot about offensive football, defensive football, philosophies of how you defend things, and he was always so gracious with me.
“He made a really positive impact on our team here and a really positive impact on the guys,” Garrett added. “I think everybody knew right from the start that he was a hell of a football coach.”
Garrett recalled the caliber of DBs in the Dallas’ locker room under Zimmer and the difficulty of going against the Cowboys “really, really good” defense in practice.
“Talk about Deion [Sanders] and Darren Woodson and so many other guys that were great players in this league for a long time and really well-coached,” Garrett said. “They were obviously very talented guys, and it was a tremendous challenge for us on the scout team side of it every day.”
Now nearly three decades later, Garrett is preparing to face another challenging Zimmer defense, this one having stayed largely together in Minnesota since Zimmer took the helm in 2014.
Garrett addressed Dallas-area reporters on Thursday and commented on the Vikings defense.
“There’s no question about it; they’re really good on the front, [have] really linebackers and are really good on the back end. Their secondary’s outstanding,” Garrett said. “So, really good personnel, well-coached, they believe in their system and play at a really high level.”
Here are other highlights from Garrett and the Cowboys talking about the Vikings:
Garrett on Minnesota’s overall offense:
“They’re really good. They’re good on the offensive line, their runner’s outstanding, they do a great job with their scheme up there that complements off their run game. Their play-action stuff and movement stuff is outstanding, their quarterback is playing really well. They’ve got weapons at tight end, weapons at receiver, and they know how to use them. It all fits together really well. They’re a damn good offense.”
Garrett on the Vikings outside zone system:
“They’re really good at it. [Vikings Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Advisor Gary] Kubiak has done a fantastic job throughout his career with this scheme, and it’s something they believe in. They coach it really well, their offensive linemen are outstanding at it, and their runner’s really, really good. Your gap disciplines – setting edges, winning in your gap, being physical – all the things you preach every week, are critical. And then certainly tackling the running back. All those things will be at a premium and at the forefront of our minds this week.”
Garrett on familiarity with Vikings QB Kirk Cousins:
“He’s a really good player. He’s a really good passer from the pocket, you can see him make throws at all three levels of the defense, and he’s a very competitive guy. He plays with a great spirit, and he’s just done a really good job in every game we’ve played against him. He’s certainly one of those guys, like every quarterback, you need to affect somehow, some way. You’ve gotta get around him and make him uncomfortable, because he can really get going.
G Zack Martin on Minnesota’s defense:
“They’re very talented up front – very, very talented. We were watching some tape of when we played them back in ’16, and it’s pretty much the same defense. They’ve got a lot of consistency up there, so those guys know how to run that system, and they do it very well, at a high level. It’s going to be a huge matchup for us with that front seven, and it’s going to be fun.”
RB Ezekiel Elliott on what stands out about Vikings RB Dalvin Cook:
“His speed, his ability to stretch and cut and make guys miss. He’s definitely a special back.”
Elliott on memories of 2016 game at U.S. Bank Stadium:
“That’s a tough place to go play. Their defense was really good, just like they are now. Really good up front, really good on the back end, and it was a dogfight.”