Mike Zimmer had no interest in publicly naming his starting quarterback Monday, not that anyone expected him to divulge that kind of classified, nuclear codes information.
Besides, he has more pressing concerns. Like devising a plan to stop the other quarterback playing in Sunday’s official ribbon-cutting at U.S. Bank Stadium.
The Zimmer vs. Aaron Rodgers chess match figures to weigh more prominently on the outcome of the Vikings-Packers border battle than any other subplot.
In terms of strategic matchups, this one belongs in bold lettering — one of the NFL’s brightest defensive minds facing the NFL’s most talented quarterback.
“Well, it’s a challenge that’s for sure,” Zimmer said. “Whether or not I like it doesn’t matter.”
Mutual admiration exists between those two, understandably so, because both excel at their craft. Rodgers seems to appreciate the challenge of Zimmer’s double A-gap blitzes like a mathematician trying to solve a complex formula.
“He’s a trendsetter,” Rodgers said Sunday. “There’s been multiple [examples] over the years in the NFL, and he’s one of them. What he’s done with the seven-up package has changed the game. A lot of teams have tried to replicate that, but not with the same success or intricacies as Coach Zimmer has.”
Zimmer’s exotic blitz packages have flummoxed myriad coaches and players over the years. Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr. brought up Zimmer’s scheme unprompted during a conversation this summer.
“I want to ask him next time I see him the remedy for that double barrel,” Fitzgerald said, laughing. “If he can help us figure that out, I think everyone in the NFL would be happy.”
The blueprint and execution stymied the Packers offense in their most recent meeting. The Vikings held Green Bay to only 13 points to clinch the NFC North title in the regular-season finale as Lambeau Field turned toxic amid jeers hurled at the Packers offense.
Vikings defenders were gasping for air by the end, but they won that round decisively.
“They’re going to be ready for us, no doubt about it,” linebacker Chad Greenway said.
The Packers offense feels whole once again with Jordy Nelson back from injury and Eddie Lacy no longer carrying excessive weight.
Vikings players will receive their game plan when they return to work Wednesday. Until then, one can imagine Zimmer holed in a dark office, searching for any edge, as he studies hours of Rodgers zipping passes all over the field.
“Zim will come up with something,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said. “He’s one of the best at game planning and making adjustments.”
Sometimes, even creative schemes can’t prevent Rodgers from making “how-did-he-do-that?’’ throws.
Take Sunday, for example. A Jacksonville Jaguars defender came on a blitz, grabbed the back of Rodgers’ jersey and was dragging him down for what should have been a sack.
Instead, Rodgers had enough arm strength to fire a laser to his receiver Davante Adams into a tight spot for a 29-yard touchdown. Absurd.
“He’s going to make throws and plays that make you scratch your head,” Greenway said. “When he gets out of the pocket, being able to limit what they’re doing is huge.”
That’s the tricky part for Zimmer in preparing his plan of attack: Rodgers’ ability to improvise on the move can’t be scripted.
Rodgers extends plays with his mobility, always searching downfield for home runs. That forces defensive backs to cover longer and show discipline.
Rodgers also is a master at the back-shoulder throw, the hardest pass for cornerbacks to defend.
“You never see the ball coming,” Munnerlyn said. “It’s just a feel thing. That guy, No. 12 for Green Bay, can throw that thing pretty well.”
Strength-vs.-strength matchups in sports make for compelling viewing. Those situations carry extra significance when they involve participants at the top of their game and, in this case, are hated rivals.
Zimmer’s ability to make smart adjustments was revealed again Sunday. The Tennessee Titans put the Vikings defense on its heels in the first half by using a variety of funky formations and play calls.
Zimmer admitted he went overboard in trying to counter those looks. He simplified everything in the second half as his defense saved the day.
And now comes Rodgers.
Vikings followers will spend all week fixated on Zimmer’s own quarterback choice, but you know darn well he has his mind on someone else, too.