When the Vikings and Patriots face off on Sunday afternoon, two students of Hall of Fame Coach Bill Parcells will each look to lead their team to a win.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer and Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick shared mutual respect for one another earlier this week.
Belichick, who is 222-77 in the regular season with New England, called Zimmer “one of the best coaches in the league, no question about it.”
“We always watch what they do,” Belichick said during a conference call with Twin Cities media members. “Certainly looking at it this week, they’ve a very talented group, and they give you a lot of problems schematically. If you make a mistake, they do a great job of taking advantage of it, either getting you off the field or turning the ball over.
“There’s just not a lot of margin for error with the way the Vikings play defense,” Belichick added.
The longtime coach sang the same praises during his weekly session with New England media, during which he was also asked about Zimmer.
“Defensively, this is as good of coaching as we’ll face,” Belichick said.
The Vikings and Patriots only see each other every four years, so there are plenty changes on their rosters between matchups. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, however, has played the Vikings twice (2010 at New England and 2014 in Minnesota) since being drafted 42nd overall in 2010 by England.
Minnesota’s defense has certainly changed since Gronkowski last faced the team, but he’s quite familiar with the likes of Everson Griffen (who also was drafted in 2010), safety Harrison Smith, whom the Vikings drafted in 2012 and Xavier Rhodes (2013).
“They’ve got good safeties, good linebackers, and their D-line can rush and stop the run,” said Gronkowski, who returned last week to action after being sidelined with an injury. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge, both in the pass game and the run game. Just have to go out and be prepared for both.”
Here are other highlights from the Patriots talking about the Vikings this week:
Belichick on Minnesota’s third-down success defensively:
“They do everything well. Good players, good pass rush, good coverage. Very well-designed schemes. They put a lot of pressure on the offense to handle the protection and be able to get open with the pass routes. They mix the coverages up so you’re not always working against the same thing. Really a well-designed scheme with great players. They do a good job. It’s really hard.”
Belichick on what DT Sheldon Richardson adds to the Vikings D-line:
“He’s a great player, and he was certainly a problem when he was in this division. The Jets used him, really, in like an outside linebacker position his last year there, and they had a lot of depth on the defensive line. I think it’s just a testament to how athletic he was, to be able to play out there. I think he’s playing at a more natural position now with the 3-technique.
“He’s strong, he’s hard to knock off the ball. He’s smart; he reads blocking schemes well. He’s athletic and quick and explosive on the pass rush, so he can run through guys and he can run around them. And he does a good job of recognizing schemes and play-action and blocking angles and so forth to be able to make the right reaction and put himself in a good position. He’s a hard guy to handle inside, and they have a great edge rush. [Linval] Joseph does a great job inside. Their whole front’s a problem.”
Gronkowski on Vikings S Harrison Smith:
“He’s a big guy, and he’s physical, tough, and he’s gonna be bringing it. He’s just got all-around game, and the size that he has, too, definitely stands out.”
RB James White on Minnesota’s defense:
“They’re really good. They don’t do anything crazy, but they’re really good at what they do. They’re good on the defensive line, good at linebacker and good in the secondary. … They turn the ball over a lot as a defense, so it’s going to take our best effort.”
DB Devin McCourty on facing the Vikings offense:
“It’s something we’ve talked about all week – everyone has to show up. It’s not a game where we say, ‘Let’s just stop Thielen.’ Because I think even the guys that no one talks about, they do a great job. We turned on the Detroit game, [Chad] Beebe catches the first two or three third downs for conversions. It’s everyone playing well. If we’re in zone, it’s knowing where everyone is, because when you play against a team with so many weapons and a really good quarterback, if you try so hard to take one thing away, [Vikings Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo is] just going to go to the other thing. They have too many talented guys to just let them go. It’s a test for us, really, as a whole, as a defense.”
McCourty on WR duo of Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen:
“They’re definitely up there. You can go down the list, and there’s some pretty good duos out there, but you look at these guys, I mean, it’s like 90-some and 80-some catches; it’s one guy (Thielen) over a thousand yards, the other guy’s (Diggs) on his way to a thousand yards. Thielen, Diggs, [Kyle] Rudolph, these guys are catching almost 70 percent of the balls thrown to them. Very dynamic and explosive group.
“But the biggest thing is, when the ball’s thrown, they catch the ball. So that’s third-down conversions, red-area targets – all of those times, it shows up. We have to do a good job of not only covering them, but we have to get our hands on the ball or they’ll probably catch it.”