Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has gotten a chance to look at Mike Zimmer’s defense, and while he says these Vikings look a little different than Zimmer’s Bengals, he still sees a formidable unit.
“It’s taken on a little bit different style, as it always does when you have different players,” Brady said on a conference call with Vikings reporters. “So he’s going to play to their strengths as players. That’s what makes him such a great coach. He’s got a great scheme. The guys really seemed to have learned it. I mean, they haven’t lost a game, including the preseason, all year.”
Brady and the Patriots have watched the game tape from the Vikings’ win over the Rams in Week 1, in addition to their four preseason games. They’ve also dusted off some of the tape from when Zimmer coached the Bengals defense. The Patriots and the Bengals met twice from 2010 and 2013.
The most recent meeting between the two AFC teams was last October, when the Bengals halted Brady’s touchdown streak in a 13-6 win. Brady was sacked four times, threw an interception and completed just 47.4 percent of his passes. The Patriots were 1-for-12 on third down.
“We struggled. We struggled all day,” he said. “We couldn’t do much on early downs which led to a lot of third-and-longs. Against a good defense, you’re not going to be very successful in the NFL.”
Brady praised the Vikings defense at every level, which is to be expected on these conference calls, especially when it’s a Patriots player. But I think he meant it when he said he expects the Vikings — with a talented defensive front and Zimmer’s blitz package — to give him little time to scan the field.
“They’ve got a great defense, so we’re going to have to be a lot better than we were last week,” Brady said, referring to his team’s sloppy 33-20 loss to the Dolphins over the weekend.
During last year’s NFL draft, the Vikings, hot and heavy for Tennessee wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson, traded four picks to the New England Patriots to trade back into the first round for him.
A year later, with the teams meeting on Sunday, it looks like the deal worked out for both sides.
The Vikings are thrilled with Patterson, who is on the verge of stardom if he isn’t there already.
New England, meanwhile, took versatile linebacker Jamie Collins with Minnesota’s 52nd overall pick, cornerback Logan Ryan with the 83rd and wide receiver Josh Boyce with the 102nd. They traded the 229th overall pick for running back LeGarrette Blount, who was effective in one season there.
While the Patriots could still probably use a big-play threat on the outside — they hope wide-out Aaron Dobson may one day become that — head coach Bill Belichick said during this morning’s conference call that he had no regrets on passing on Patterson to trade down for more picks.
“We made the decision based on what we felt was best for our team,” he said. “That’s what we always do. We felt like at that time it would be the best thing for our team, and that’s what we did.”
So would the Patriots have drafted Patterson at No. 29 overall had the Vikings not come calling?
“I don’t know. We didn’t hold onto it, so,” he said. “There were a lot of good players at that point. We feel we got one with the player we picked plus the other selections we received in moving back.”
Cornerback Xavier Rhodes and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, who both suffered injuries Sunday in the win over Rams, were not spotted at practice during the portion open to media.
Rhodes, who hurt his groin in the third quarter, said he’s feeling better but was non-committal about playing against the Patriots this weekend.
“I’m doing better each and every day,” said Rhodes, a 2013 first-round pick who starts at right cornerback. “The past two days have been great. I’m moving up the ladder, injury-wise.”
Leg and groin injuries are tricky for defensive backs, especially for one who has a history of dealing with these kinds of lingering leg issues during his brief NFL career.
It sounds as if it could be a case where Rhodes is held out of practice today and tomorrow then tries to see where he is at Friday, which isn’t ideal, especially with the Patriots coming to town.
“If I’m ready to go by Friday, I can’t sit there and worry about the injury,” Rhodes said before today’s practice. “I have to go out there and play. I can’t sit there and think about the injury.”
Floyd, who injured his shoulder in the fourth quarter, was not spotted in the open locker room.
Cornerback Brandon Watts (shoulder) was the other Vikings player who was not practicing.
There is some positive injury news, though. Outside linebacker Michael Mauti (foot) and fullback Zach Line (ankle) returned to practice this afternoon. Both sat out against the Rams.
On Sunday, we warned everyone not to get ahead of themselves. It was one game for the Vikings, one nice win — one dominant performance against bad quarterbacks, even if that scenario had produced career days for opponents in years past.
It wasn’t the time to go make bold extrapolations about how the rest of the season was going to play out.
Well, apparently three days later the time has come to jump to conclusions because we can’t stop looking at the Vikings’ schedule and wondering, “what if?”
What if they can beat New England in their home opener on Sunday? It’s not crazy. The Patriots looked ordinary in a Week 1 loss at Miami, and the Vikings’ looked better than most of us expected.
If that happens, of course, Minnesota is suddenly 2-0 after going into the season with a stretch of games many considered daunting. Even if they could make it out of the first six 3-3 — very reasonable if they can win Sunday — it would set them up well for the rest of the season, when their schedule (at least as we think we know it based on 2013 and early results this year) softens.
If the Vikings can beat New England, suddenly a record of 9-7 feels very realistic. Of course, you’ll recall that in Brad Childress’ first season, the Vikings were 4-2 and generating all kinds of good will heading into a showdown with the Patriots, who ended up routing Minnesota 31-7 in the Dome with a smart quick-strike pass attack.
This is eight years later. Different team, different coach. But in a league in which every game is of massive importance (relatively speaking, of course), Sunday’s game could be the benchmark by which we can measure true optimism this season.
Each Wednesday, beat guy Matt Vensel will highlight five Vikings stats that really mean something.
67 — yards on Cordarrelle Patterson’s record-setting touchdown run Sunday.
Cordarrelle Patterson did not have a big day against the Rams as a receiver, catching three passes for 26 yards. But as we saw late in his rookie season, Patterson was able to make a huge impact as a runner. Patterson rushed for 102 yards on three carries, 67 of them coming on his highlight-reel touchdown in the third quarter. The play was the longest run by a wide receiver in Vikings history, and Patterson has now produced two of the top three. Patterson, who has averaged 17.3 yards per carry in his career, has scored four rushing TD’s, tying Percy Harvin’s team record for receivers.
21 — number of the Vikings’ runs against the Rams that went right.
When I went back and watched the game last night, I couldn’t help but notice the Vikings often running to the right behind guard Brandon Fusco and tackle Phil Loadholt — and away from Rams defensive end Robert Quinn and defensive tackle Michael Brockers. As it turns out, 21 of the team’s 31 rushing attempts went to the right of the center, according to Pro Football Focus, with Fusco and center John Sullivan often pulling. The Vikings picked up 158 of their 188 rushing yards going to the right — all three of Patterson’s big runs went that direction — and averaged 7.5 yards per carry.
three — passes thrown beyond 10 yards downfield against the Rams.
In an effort to keep Quinn, an All-Pro pass rusher, and the St. Louis front four off of starting quarterback Matt Cassel, offensive coordinator Norv Turner installed a conservative game plan with predominantly short throws. Often tossing screen passes, quick outs or hitches, Cassel threw 22 of his 25 attempts less than 10 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats and Information. That means he attempted just three throws beyond 10 yards. He completed one of them for 18 yards.
2.77 — the Rams’ quarterback rating when targeting Josh Robinson.
Fair or not, Josh Robinson was one of Pro Football Focus’ lowest-graded cornerbacks a season ago, but he gave them good tape to critique Sunday. Robinson came off the bench as the third corner before replacing the injured Xavier Rhodes in the base. He was targeted just three times in 29 snaps in coverage, allowing just one completion for seven yards. His second-quarter interception was a game-changer. Oh, if you are wondering, PFF gave him one of the team’s highest grades.
10 — plays in which the Vikings sent more than four pass rushers Sunday.
It sure felt like the Vikings blitzed a lot Sunday, and I’m sure the Rams quarterbacks would agree. But according to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings sent more than four pass rushers on just 10 passing plays, generating pressure on six of them. Overall, the Vikings were able to get pressure on 17 of the Rams’ 41 passing plays. That’s pretty good, but there is still room for improvement there. We’ll see if coach Mike Zimmer decides to be more aggressive against Tom Brady and the Patriots.
New head coach Mike Zimmer has been experimenting with pressure packages throughout the offseason and preseason, and in the first regular season game against the St. Louis Rams continued a strategy he's favored his entire career.