GREEN BAY — The NFC North isn’t big enough for both Mike Zimmer and Aaron Rodgers. Or so Zimmer said Thursday.
The mutual admiration society between the Minnesota Vikings coach and Green Bay Packers quarterback has been going on for years now, dating back to even before the Vikings hired Zimmer in 2014. But apparently, as they prepare to face off again in Monday night’s showdown at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Zimmer said he’s decided that the two cannot coexist anymore.
“Either me or him have to get out of this division at some point,” Zimmer said during a conference call with Wisconsin reporters Thursday morning.
“It’s too hard to go against him,” Zimmer replied. “He’s too damn good.”
Told his respected nemesis would like him to retire, Rodgers responded with a smile, “Tell him to retire.”
With the Vikings at 10-4 and likely to make the playoffs, and with Rodgers having helped the Packers to an 11-3 record and their first playoff berth since 2016, neither one of them is going anywhere anytime soon. And for Rodgers, it’s the combination of Zimmer’s difficult scheme, a wealth of talent on that side of the ball and the fact that many of the Vikings’ defenders have been playing together now for several years that makes the matchup a challenge.
“I think it’s a bunch of great players, and a lot of them have played together for a long time,” Rodgers replied when asked what makes the Vikings defense as good as it is. “You add all that together with one of the best coaches in the league in Mike Zimmer, who puts together a fantastic plan every week and he stresses you in a number of different areas.”
The Vikings entered the week a middling 14th in the NFL in total defense (338.9 yards per game) but tied for sixth in scoring defense (18.5 points per game) and fourth in the league in takeaways (27).
“I think it’s as challenging as any defense in the National Football League,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for coach Zimmer and when you watch them, they’re just so fundamentally sound. It’s really difficult to get big plays on them. It’s really sound and good scheme. But also, they have a lot of great players on that defense, a lot of players that have played together for a long time.
“It just seems like they’re always on the same page, no matter what happens. And if you get ‘em on something once, you’re not getting them again. They make adjustments. It’s one of the most challenging defenses in this league.”
In the teams’ first meeting in Week 2, the Packers got out to a 21-0 lead and then had to hold on for a 21-16 victory. Rodgers finished the game 22 of 34 for 209 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and two sacks (101.2 rating).
“Offensively, they look very similar to the first time we played. They give you maybe a few more personnel groups or things (now),” Zimmer said. “I think they’re running the ball really well. I think Aaron Jones has helped. Rodgers, I have the utmost respect for him. He’s a terrific player. He’s extremely smart. He can make all the throws. His scrambling ability is, everything that he does is really difficult.”
Vikings star running back Dalvin Cook did not practice Thursday, and ESPN.com reported the Vikings aren’t planning on playing him against the Packers. In fact, the team is reportedly considering shutting Cook down until the playoffs. He was officially listed on the injury report as having a chest injury, though he was listed with a shoulder injury when he departed the Vikings’ victory over the Los Angeles Chargers last Sunday.
No. 2 running back Alexander Mattison (ankle), who was inactive last week, also did not practice.
Cook’s absence would certainly be helpful to the Packers, who currently rank 24th in the 32-team league in run defense and watched Cook notch a season-high 154 yards on 20 carries, including a 75-yard touchdown run, in the teams’ first meeting. But Zimmer was coy when asked about the report of Cook not playing.
“I didn’t see any report,” Zimmer said. “He’s doing good.”
Former Packers coach Mike Holmgren, who led the 1996 team to the Super Bowl XXXI title — the Packers’ first in 29 years – was one of eight former coaches on the list of candidates put forth for Pro Football Hall of Fame induction Thursday as part of the NFL’s “Centennial Slate” of candidates in celebration of the league’s 100th season. Holmgren emerged as part of a list generated by a blue-ribbon panel, and 15 new Hall of Famers will be picked from the list.
Holmgren coached the Packers from 1992 through 1998, going 75-37 while leading the Packers to the 1995 NFC Championship game, Super Bowl XXXI title and a berth in Super Bowl XXXII, which the Packers lost to John Elway and the Denver Broncos. After leaving the Packers for the Seattle Seahawks in January 1999, he led the Seahawks to a Super Bowl berth as well, but they lost Super Bowl XL to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Four former Packers players were also on the list of 20 senior finalists: Safety Bobby Dillon, end Lavvie Dilweg, halfback Cecil Isbell and halfback Verne Lewellen. To be eligible for the list, from which 10 players will be selected, the candidate must have played his final NFL game at least 25 seasons ago.
The 25-member blue-ribbon panel will vote on the special centennial finalists in early January. Retired Packers general manager Ron Wolf, a 2015 inductee into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, is on the panel.