Aaron Rodgers always expects 'some special wrinkle' from Vikings

Packers QB, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer meet again Sunday in Minneapolis

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QB Aaron Rodgers and Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer

GREEN BAY – After a dozen games for Aaron Rodgers against the Mike Zimmer-coached Vikings, the Packers' three-time MVP quarterback doesn't take for granted he's seen everything Minnesota's defense has to offer.

"I doubt it," Rodgers said Wednesday. "Every time we play them, they present something new.

"They can throw a number of different things at you and they always have some special wrinkle."

It appears the bulk of Rodgers' preparation for any potential surprises in Sunday's matchup at U.S. Bank Stadium will be mental for the second straight week.

He took Wednesday to rehab his injured toe and did not practice, indicating he's day-to-day as far as practice availability Thursday and Friday as well. But he's "definitely playing" Sunday.

Rodgers is as familiar with Zimmer's defense as any quarterback in the league, but both he and Head Coach Matt LaFleur said the Vikings can continue making tweaks and adjustments because they have a core of defenders who have played together for a long time.

Safety Harrison Smith (drafted in 2012) and linebackers Eric Kendricks ('15) and Anthony Barr ('14) form the heart of the unit in the middle of the field, while defensive end Everson Griffen ('10) is still rushing off the edge.

Smith, a five-time Pro Bowler, just was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list, so his potential return could be a big boost for a game Minnesota (4-5) must win to have any realistic chance of catching Green Bay (8-2) in the NFC North standings.

LaFleur views him as the toughest defender to read, which can make it hard to decipher exactly what front or coverage call the Vikings are in at any given time.

"His ability to disguise – shoot, there's sometimes he's on the line of scrimmage, then he's going to play a post, middle-third on the snap of the ball," LaFleur said. "They just communicate well together.

"They do a great job keeping the ball in front of them. It's hard to get explosive plays."

Receiver Davante Adams added that gaining greater familiarity over the years with all of Smith's tricks and different alignments has helped the Packers not get thrown off as much in recent seasons. But the challenge of making the right route and protection decisions on the fly never goes away.

Rodgers' history against Zimmer actually goes back to two games while Zimmer was the defensive coordinator at Cincinnati. Neither went well for the Packers, with Rodgers posting sub-85 passer ratings in both contests (2009, '13) and Green Bay losing.

Since Zimmer became the head coach at Minnesota in 2014, though, Rodgers has found a lot more success.

Not including the two games in 2017 (Rodgers broke his collarbone early in the first and missed the second), Rodgers has gone 7-4-1 against Zimmer's Vikings, throwing 24 touchdown passes against just three interceptions. He's had six games with a 100-plus passer rating and two more at 90-plus.

The Green Bay Packers held practice on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021, inside the Don Hutson Center ahead of the Week 11 matchup vs. Minnesota Vikings.

This week the Packers are making offensive adjustments, too, having lost Pro Bowl running back Aaron Jones temporarily to a knee injury. That moves second-year pro AJ Dillon into the No. 1 spot in the backfield. He had just eight touches for 51 yards (seven rushes, one reception) in the two games against Minnesota last season but will see a lot more action than that Sunday.

First-year pro Patrick Taylor, recently promoted from the practice squad, has moved up to No. 2 running back now, and Rodgers said the level of confidence in him is high enough that Dillon won't be overworked.

"We didn't worry about anything throwing him in there late in the game (last week vs. Seattle), giving him a couple carries," Rodgers said. "He's a tough, hard runner, a good one-cut back."

Rodgers added he's seen what Taylor has done in the passing game working on the scout team with backup QB Jordan Love, so there's intriguing potential.

Come Sunday, the Packers may have a few change-ups of their own to throw at Zimmer's defense. But it's the ones from the Vikings that will grab Rodgers' attention the most.

"Coach Zim is a great coach," he said, "and he always has something special for us."

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