Minnesota Vikings make their push for relevancy

(Photo by Scott W. Grau/Icon Sportswire)

Rivalries are cyclical in football.

For instance, between Bart Starr and Brett Favre, the storied home-field advantage that you’re told the Green Bay Packers enjoy really didn’t exist. So much so that the Pack would pack up every year and play a couple of their home games at the old Milwaukee County Stadium to allow the folks in the Southern part of the state a chance to see the Green and Gold.

There was still one heck of a home field to deal with in the old NFC Central, though, and it resided about 4 1/2 hours west in Bloomington, Minn. at Met Stadium, which is now the parking lot of what is the Mall of America.

The moral of this story is there really is no home-field advantage in sports, just the dominance of great players. Lambeau regained its mystique when Favre arrived in Titletown and it continues today because the Packers are lucky enough to have another future Hall of Fame signal caller, Aaron Rodgers, under center.

Similarly, it was really difficult at times to win in the Metrodome when Randall Cunningham was slinging it to Randy Moss and Cris Carter in 1998 or Daunte Culpepper was emerging in 2000.

The Vikings, though, have never had the consistency at the game’s most important position to duplicate the success Fran Tarkenton and the Purple People Eaters had in the 1970s and in recent years the Border War rivalry between the Packers and Minnesota has come up all cheese.

Rodgers has owned the Vikings and in the 11 last matchups between the two teams, Green Bay is 9-1-1, something Minnesota needs to change Sunday if Mike Zimmer’s team wants to be taken seriously on the NFC side of the ledger.

Rodgers and the struggling 6-3 Packers visit the 7-2 Vikings as Minnesota will try to defend first place in the NFC North. And it’s the Vikings who are the more talented team right now, especially on defense where Zimmer has developed difference makers at all three levels.

Interestingly, the second-year Minnesota head coach is the one who invented the so-called Rodgers game plan that everyone is trying to employ now when he was in Cincinnati as the Bengals defensive coordinator.

Zimmer sugars the A-Gaps and implores his pass rushers to stay disciplined. Sacks are nice but the more important part of the equation with Rodgers is keeping him in the pocket because if the All-Pro gets outside and is able to extend the play, a defense is doomed.

Zimmer had more success than most with that mentality while with the Bengals but couldn’t pull it off in 2014 as the Vikings were just beginning to learn and understand his scheme.

Now that the players believe in their head coach, the Minnesota defense is among the most disciplined in the NFL and far more capable than any other to actually implement something Zimmer dreamed up.

“Coach Zimmer is an excellent football coach,” Rodgers told Twin Cities area media in a conference call this week. “He does a great job of having his guys prepared every single week. They understand their scheme and make things look very similar and bring different types of pressure behind it. Anytime you’re at the forefront of revolutions in this league, to say, as they do with their seven and eight up looks they started at Cincinnati, that says a lot about the type of coach you are.”

The reigning NFL MVP admits other teams have tried to copy Zimmer’s scheme, especially against his club, “but not to the same success that he’s had over the years.”

“Obviously he’s an incredible teacher of the game and gets his guys on the same page,” Rodgers continued. “They understand timing of the defense based on the front and pressure. There’s not a lot of discipline mistakes or mental errors. It seems like they get the most out of their guys.”

The Vikings currently rank second in the NFL in points allowed (17.1 per game) right behind the Bengals defense (16.9) Zimmer built. Rodgers, meanwhile, is banged up, playing with a weak receiving group and tackles who haven’t been able to protect him during a rare three-game losing streak.

Despite that Zimmer understands what he’s up against.

“Same guy to me – great movement in the pocket, great vision, throws the ball anywhere at any time, gets the guys in the right protections,” the coach said when discussing the game’s best QB this week.

Platitudes from both camps aside, until Minnesota actually slays the Goliath that is Rodgers and the Packers, it will remain David in this little morality play.

Just understand David is carrying some pretty big rocks these days.

— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at jmcmullen@phanaticmag.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.

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