The Vikings will face one of the best-run organizations in football this weekend when they travel to Foxborough, Mass., to face the New England Patriots. Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said the only way they will win is if they out-Patriots the Patriots.
“We have to beat them at their own game,” Zimmer said Thursday. “They are a team that doesn’t beat themselves. We can’t have penalties and turnovers and things like that, mistakes, and win the ballgame. We have to play a very disciplined football game, taking care of the football, controlling the time of possession and controlling the line of scrimmage.”
Does Zimmer see any key areas the Vikings will have to succeed at in order to win?
“We’re going to have to be great in the red zone,” he said. “We’re going to have to be great on third down on both sides of the ball. We’re going to have to run it effectively and stop the run. And not make mistakes. We can’t beat ourselves in this game.”
While the Patriots are one of the best offensive teams in the NFL, ranking eighth in total offense (388.2 yards per game) and seventh in scoring offense (27.9 points per game), they do have defensive weaknesses.
They rank 22nd in total defense at 377.5 yards per game, but they have proved to be a bend-but-don’t-break team. Their 22.6 points per game ranks 11th in the league, right behind the Vikings’ 22.4.
The other three NFC North teams have already played New England and all three managed some success offensively. The Lions gained 414 yards of offense in their 26-10 home victory in Week 3; the Bears had 453 in their 38-31 home loss in Week 7; and the Packers gained 367 in their 31-17 loss at New England in Week 9.
That game was the Patriots’ most recent at home, where, including the playoffs, they have won their past 12, including all five this year.
Asked if Kirk Cousins would need to have a big day facing Tom Brady, Zimmer said yes but added it’s not all on Cousins’ shoulders. “A lot of people have to have good days,” Zimmer said.
Offensive line healthy
The Vikings lately have benefited from the health of their offensive line, which now features the group they expected when the season began: Riley Reiff at left tackle, Tom Compton at left guard, Pat Elflein at center, Mike Remmers at right guard and Rashod Hill at right tackle.
That has shown up in Cousins’ play, too. After taking 2.9 sacks per game through the first eight games of the season, he has taken only 1.7 sacks per game over his last three.
“They’re doing good, they’re doing a good job. They’ll have a tough test this week, just like all the guys will,” Zimmer said.
Zimmer said Elflein’s return has made an impact. “He helps a lot, he is a good player,” Zimmer said.
Overall, Zimmer said his team is fully healthy and he added that playing outdoors, with the weather expected to be in the mid-50s, shouldn’t be a problem.
“The weather should be good,” he said. “It’s going to be loud, their crowd is good, but the weather should be fine. It should be a good day.”
Brady 4-0 vs. Vikings
Brady has beaten the Vikings in all four career meetings, going 80-for-125 for an even 1,000 yards, nine touchdowns, one interception and a 109.4 passer rating.
“He is tough,” Zimmer said. “They do a good job with their scheme, using their players, their players fit the scheme very well. They run the ball very good. Their offensive line are tough guys.”
And while Brady isn’t a mobile quarterback like the Vikings faced last week in Aaron Rodgers and will face next week in Russell Wilson, Zimmer said Brady has some of the best footwork of any QB in the league.
“He doesn’t roll out much, he moves in the pocket really well,” Zimmer said. “He avoids the rush and moves in the pocket. He’ll scramble when he has to, but he doesn’t really want to scramble. But he is extremely accurate. He has a big arm, reads coverages very well.”
Maybe the most dynamic player on the New England roster is tight end Rob Gronkowski, but he has been limited somewhat this season by injury, missing three games recently. He has 32 receptions for 504 yards and two touchdowns this season.
“Gronkowski is a big, strong, physical guy, does a great job in coverage of getting good matchups and a really good 50-50 ball guy, blocks well,” Zimmer said.
Thibodeau on Butler
Timberwolves coach Tom Thibodeau took a ton of heat for the Jimmy Butler situation as the team started 4-9 before trading the disgruntled All-Star to Philadelphia, along with Justin Patton, for Robert Covington, Dario Saric, Jerryd Bayless and a second-round pick.
Thibodeau said he still is surprised that Butler asked for the trade, but that he believes the decision to acquire him last year in a package that included sending Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn to Chicago was the right move as evidenced by getting the players they did from the 76ers in return.
“When we made the trade [with Chicago], I knew there was risked involved with it, but I thought the opportunity to get a player like that is what we needed,” Thibodeau said. “When you’re trying to change 14 years of losing, you have to take chances. It was a calculated risk, and I still think it was worth it. Getting to the playoffs last year, we were a really good team.
“We also were able to make another move. If that decision doesn’t quite work out the way you like, you make another one. We were able to get two starters from Philly, so we feel really good about that.”
In nine games without Butler, the Wolves are 7-2, the second-highest mark in the NBA in that span. And also during that span, the Wolves have the No. 1 defensive rating in the league at 99.8.
In their 128-89 home victory over the Spurs on Wednesday, Covington showed how valuable he can be with a plus-44 rating while recording his second consecutive game scoring at least 20 points.
• Vikings safety Jayron Kearse on going against Gronkowski: “I’ve been studying him pretty hard. Those 50-50 balls, when Tom is throwing it up and giving him a chance to go make a play, he usually comes down and makes those plays.”
• Gophers football recruit Jason Williamson ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns to lead Owatonna to the Class 5A state championship with a 14-3 Prep Bowl victory over St. Thomas Academy on Saturday. He is expected to graduate from high school early and enroll at Minnesota in January. He finished as only the second player in state history to run for more than 3,000 yards in a season and 7,000 yards in his career. His 110 TDs are the most in state history.