EAGAN, Minn. – Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has watched Tom Brady dominate the NFL like few, if any, quarterbacks before him. Cousins memories go back to when Brady won his first Super Bowl following the 2001 season, his first year as the New England starter.
Cousins was in the seventh grade.
Brady has won four more Super Bowl rings since and enters Sunday’s game against Minnesota as the league’s all-time leading passer in terms of yards, including the postseason. Brady’s success and longevity, as well as that of coach Bill Belichick and New England, certainly has Cousins and the Vikings’ attention.
“I don’t even know where to begin with what you can learn from him,” Cousins said Wednesday. “He won his first Super Bowl, I was in seventh grade. So, I’ve been watching him for a long time. Obviously, the ultimate competitor. This game matters to him so much and you see it in the way he conducts his business. Very, very comfortable within the pocket. Does a great job of feeling the rush and not seeing the rush. In that way, he’s very mobile. He’s always been great in crunch time and he’s a winner.
“I think he’s really set the bar for all of us who come after him, and really everybody who came before as well. They call him the goat for a reason.”
Goat, or the greatest of all time, has been echoed in Minnesota this week as the Vikings try to keep their midseason run going on Sunday in New England.
“He’s the goat,” Minnesota defensive end Everson Griffen said. “You’ve got to give respect where respect’s due. He’s the goat. Five Super Bowl rings, they’re in the playoffs every year and he’s a large part in the team winning. He’s the goat. We’ve got to go out there and play our best game to beat one of the best.”
The Vikings will face the Patriots with eyes wide open.
Minnesota’s defense is looking more like the league-leading unit from last season and is coming off a win over Green Bay in which it limited Aaron Rodgers to 198 yards passing.
In all, the Vikings have given up just 276.6 yards per game since Week 4. Zimmer is using blitzes creatively to apply pressure, but Minnesota’s front-four on defense has made blitzing a luxury, not a necessity.
“I hope it helps,” Zimmer said of the pressure being applied this year from the defensive line. “They do a good job of getting in no-backs and spreading the ball around, getting the ball out quick. Protection wise they change up on you quite a bit so they can get extra hands on your pass rushers. The play action quite honestly helps them quite a bit because they sell the run so well with it. If it was just a straight passing game every snap, I think we’d have a good opportunity.”
Brady and Belichick have never lost to Minnesota. Brady has nine touchdown passes, one interception and a 109.4 quarterback rating in four career games against the Vikings.
“You can’t let him get in a rhythm,” Griffen said. “We have to be able to stop the run and affect him. If that’s by blitzing him or with the front four rush up the middle. Whatever we have to do to affect the quarterback and get him on the ground.”
Zimmer has been on the other end of plenty of Brady games throughout the years. As Dallas’ defensive coordinator, Zimmer helped shut out Brady and the Patriots in the first meeting in 2003.
There were another two games when Zimmer was Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator. Zimmer and Brady split those two affairs. Zimmer remembered both games. Brady threw for three touchdowns in one game. Zimmer recalled rain coming down late in a Bengals’ victory in 2013.
“I’m watching him pregame and he was just throwing these darts, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh, we’re in trouble today,’” Zimmer said of recalling one game with Cincinnati. “But his accuracy, I think he sees so many things now, I think with the experience. I don’t know that he’s changed all that much. I don’t remember when I was with Dallas. But I think like Belichick said about [Aaron] Rodgers, I’m glad he’s not in our division.”
Brady’s use of play action, in particular, has Minnesota focused this season. The Patriots are using several backs like in past season but have been successful running the ball with rookie Sony Michel and former Vikings receiver Cordarelle Patterson.
Zimmer said he believes New England is the best play-action team in the NFL. Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels have found a way to get more offensively from Patterson.
“They’re doing really good with him,” Zimmer said. “Everybody knew Cordarrelle was an outstanding athlete, strong runner, great when he had the ball in his hands. We probably could have done a better job when we had him, after watching them.”
Matching wits with Brady is only one side of the New England matchup. Belichick has always excelled at taking away an opponent’s top offensive option.
“I think he really tries to make you win left handed,” Zimmer said. “He’s going to try to take your best players away all the time. He’s going to try to exploit your weaknesses best he possibly can. He does a great job in everything as well. I have a lot of respect for him and the fact that his teams are extremely disciplined. They don’t beat themselves.
“To be able to maintain the success that they’ve had year in and year out, different players, and injuries, and things like that I think that’s a credit to coaching.”
Vikings running back Dalvin Cook believes last week’s performance against Green Bay and Rodgers is one way to beat New England and Brady.
“We kept Aaron off the field before the half and in that fourth quarter,” Cook said. “That was good. We’ve got to keep them off the field and it helped us in the football game. With Tom, it’s the same thing. Two great quarterbacks, you’ve got to keep them off the field because they can go out there and make plays at any time. So, it’s going to be big that we run the football this week.”
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/vikings