Aaron Rodgers’ career performance against the Vikings has been so absurdly one-sided that his numbers look like something you would find in a 7-on-7 passing league.
Nearly 3,500 passing yards, a 71.2 completion percentage, 31 touchdown passes, only four interceptions and a quarterback rating roughly around a zillion.
He has dissected Vikings defenses like a frog in an eighth-grade science lab.
Packers Week usually brings a requisite dose of dread among Vikings faithful anticipating the next round of Rodgers’ passing clinic.
Feels different this time, doesn’t it? Feels like a fair fight.
Feels like Mike Zimmer’s defense has enough firepower, confidence and creativity to make this something other than a sequel to a movie that’s been playing since 2008.
“In this league you want to play against the best,” nose tackle Linval Joseph said. “That’s how you get recognition. So to come out and have a great game against this quarterback will be good for our team, our defense, just the whole organization.”
That’s a reflection of the tight grip that Rodgers has held in posting a 10-4 record against the Vikings, winning eight of the previous nine meetings.
Rodgers must have loved those two dates every season when he faced Leslie Frazier’s defense and his Tampa-2 scheme. Rodgers sliced that thing like a Christmas ham with his pinpoint accuracy. Those poor cornerbacks and safeties didn’t have a prayer.
A different set of circumstances awaits this border battle. The Vikings lead the NFL in scoring defense and rank eighth in pass defense, ninth in total defense.
Their defense is winning games, not blowing them.
The Packers are reeling after losing three consecutive games. Rodgers topped 300 yards passing in two of those losses, but he’s also completed less than 58 percent of his attempts twice in that span.
He’s still Aaron Rodgers, though, a ruthless competitor capable of ruining someone’s prosperity faster than an IRS audit.
“You never feel really comfortable going against him,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “He’s got such great accuracy and leadership abilities. He’s as impressive of a guy as I’ve ever played against. We’ve proven nothing until we can go beat them.”
Actually, that’s not entirely true. They’ve proved that coaching and schemes matter and when combined, those two things can alter an organization’s identity.
The Vikings have transformed themselves from defensive laughingstock to the No. 1 unit in the NFL in 1 ½ seasons under Zimmer.
This particular matchup should appear on the NFL’s marquee this week: the defensive aficionado against the quarterback maestro.
“The great players are always tough to defend,” Zimmer said. “I wish he wasn’t so great. Hey, I’m just being honest.”
Rodgers likewise probably feels a healthy amount of respect for Zimmer’s defense. The makeover still is pretty remarkable.
The Vikings have more overall speed on defense. They swarm to the ball and tackle better. They create pressure with Zimmer’s catalog of blitz packages. Once reactionary on third down, they’re now suffocating.
The way the defense is playing embodies Zimmer’s confidence. Asked if his shortage of healthy linebackers Sunday limited his ability to blitz the Oakland Raiders, Zimmer shook his head.
“No, I’m never at a shortage of blitzes,” he said.
He also never seems to run short of motivational ploys that feed an underdog psyche. Like last week when he referred to his team as a bunch of guys who reside in the “low-rent district.”
That made for a good sound bite. Zim being Zim, never one to let his players feel too comfortable or allow anyone to accept the notion that the Vikings have accomplished anything yet.
“We’re just enjoying football right now,” Joseph said.
Winning has that effect. Winning with a stingy defense creates a mind-set and belief that success is sustainable.
That sense of purpose resonated with veteran defensive end Brian Robison on the bus ride to the airport after Sunday’s game. Players weren’t discussing and dissecting the win. They already were talking about Green Bay.
“We won a ballgame. So what?” Robison said. “It’s on to the next one.”
On to Packers Week and a guy who has had their number for so many years.
Zimmer distributed T-shirts to players on Monday with the words “Beat Green Bay!” printed on the back, a blatant reminder of the importance of this game. He missed an opportunity to really drive home his point, though.
He should have included a picture of Rodgers on the front.