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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Zulgad: Rodgers’ continued success doesn’t mean Vikings have abandoned their plan

By Judd Zulgad

The NFL’s two conference championship games Sunday are filled with standout quarterbacks. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is likely to be named the NFL’s MVP for this season and he would be the guy at the bottom of a QB marquee that includes New England’s Tom Brady, Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger and Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers.

It’s the last name on the list that causes the most angst for Vikings fans.

There was much discussion early in the season that Rodgers’ run as an elite quarterback was coming to an end.

This narrative extended through late November, when the Packers fell to 4-6 with a loss at Washington. Then Rodgers made his remark about running the table and the Packers have not lost since.

Green Bay won its final six regular-season games and then knocked off the New York Giants in the opening round of the playoffs. Last Sunday, the Packers won a thriller when Mason Crosby made a 51-yard field goal as time expired for a 34-31 victory in Dallas, giving Green Bay a berth in the NFC title game Sunday in Atlanta.

The play that received the most attention came with the Packers facing third-and-20 from their own 32-yard line with 12 seconds remaining. Rodgers drew up the play in the huddle, scrambled to his left to escape pressure and let go with a 35-yard dart that was caught by tight end Jared Cook along the sideline.

It was the type of completion that brings a smirk to the face of Packers’ fans and leaves Vikings fans wondering when Green Bay’s run of standout quarterback play will come to an end. The fact that the 33-year-old Rodgers once again appears to be at his best serves as an indication that the answer might be not anytime soon.

But there is one thing Vikings fans need to keep in mind: One of the primary reasons Mike Zimmer was hired to coach this franchise in 2014 was because general manager Rick Spielman knew that he needed someone who possessed a sharp defensive mind and gave the Vikings an opportunity to slow guys like Rodgers. As defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals, Zimmer had helped come up with game plans that beat Rodgers and the Packers in 2009 and 2013.

As brilliant as Rodgers was against the Cowboys, he was going against a middle of the league defense. Zimmer inherited a Vikings defense that was second to last in total yards allowed and dead last in points given up (30 per game) in 2013.

In Zimmer’s first season, the Vikings improved to 14th in yards surrendered and 11th in points (21.4). Minnesota was 13th in total defense and fifth in points (18.9) in beating out the Packers for the NFC North title in 2015, and then third in yards allowed and sixth in points (19.2) during a disappointing 2016 season.

The Vikings got off to a 5-0 starting, including a Week 2 victory over Rodgers and the Packers at U.S. Bank Stadium, but won only three times in their final 11 games. Rodgers threw for 347 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions in a 38-25 victory over the Vikings in Week 16 at Lambeau Field.

That was the game in which veteran cornerback Terence Newman attempted to alter Zimmer’s game plan. Newman opened the game by covering Jordy Nelson, even though Pro Bowl corner Xavier Rhodes had been assigned to shadow the Packers wide receiver. Standout safety Harrison Smith also attempted to return from an ankle injury that day but was far from effective.

The Vikings’ collapse reignited questions about whether Minnesota actually had gained ground on the Packers. But, when healthy, Zimmer’s defenses have presented issues for Rodgers, despite the fact the future Hall of Fame QB is 4-2 against the Vikings and Zimmer.

That Week 16 victory marked the first time Rodgers has thrown for 300 or more yards against the Vikings defense since Zimmer came aboard. In Week 2, Rodgers was held to 213 yards passing with a touchdown, an interception and five sacks. From 2008 to 2013, Rodgers’ passer rating against Minnesota was 116.8. Since Zimmer took over in 2014, Rodgers’ rating in six games against the Vikings is 101.5. That drops to 93.3 if you take out the Week 16 debacle.

The Vikings know that if they get into shootouts with the Packers quarterback they are going to lose, but they also are banking on the fact that a secondary that starts with Rhodes and Smith will give them a chance against Rodgers’ arm and a front four that includes nose tackle Linval Joseph and defensive ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter will be able to help contain Rodgers.

The most important thing for Vikings general manager Rick Spielman this offseason will be fixing the team’s offense and the line in particular. If that doesn’t happen, it won’t matter how well the defense plays because the Vikings won’t be able to generate enough points to beat anybody.

But if it does happen, the Vikings will enter next season, just as they did this season, relying on Zimmer’s defense to slow the best opposing quarterbacks on their schedule and that includes Rodgers.

If the Vikings did not think that plan stood a chance, then there would have been no reason to hire Zimmer in the first place.

The post Zulgad: Rodgers’ continued success doesn’t mean Vikings have abandoned their plan appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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