Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is spending the week putting together a game plan to stop Peyton Manning. At least he has done it before.
Zimmer was the Cowboys’ defensive coordinator when Manning’s Indianapolis Colts came to Dallas in 2006 with a 9-0 record. The Cowboys won 21-14, sacking Manning twice and holding him to a pedestrian 20 of 39 passing for 254 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Now, Zimmer will try to come up with something for Sunday’s game at Denver, when the Vikings face the Broncos’ star quarterback.
“We beat them (in 2006), so there’s a lot of different ways,” Zimmer said Monday. “He gets the ball out quickly. It may be a different plan this week; we’ll just have to see.”
Zimmer doesn’t have much company on the Vikings when it comes to having defeated a Manning team. The only Minnesota players to have been on the winning side against him are cornerback Terence Newman, who got victories over Manning’s Colts with Dallas in 2006 and 2010 and over his Broncos in 2014; guard Mike Harris, whose Chargers beat Denver in 2013; and quarterback Shaun Hill, whose Rams beat Denver in 2014.
The Vikings never have beaten a Manning-led team in three previous meetings. When he was with the Colts from 1998 to 2011, he beat them 31-10 in 2000, 31-28 in 2004 and 18-15 in 2008.
The Vikings haven’t faced the Broncos since Manning joined the team in 2012. Considering he’s 39 and the teams won’t meet in the regular season again until 2019, this is likely their last crack at him.
“I don’t know if he can be rattled, but we definitely want to try to get pressure and try to get hits,” cornerback Captain Munnerlyn said.
For the Vikings to beat the Broncos, they likely will need to put plenty of pressure on Manning. They might need a repeat of Sunday’s 31-14 victory over San Diego, when they sacked Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers four times and forced him into a fumble and interception.
“It’s pivotal,” defensive end Everson Griffen said of pressuring Manning. “But they’ve seen our tape and they see that we play physical. I feel like they’re not going to allow us to get to him as much, but we’re going to find a way to get to him.”
Griffen had 1-1/2 sacks Sunday and is tied for fifth in the NFL with three. Obviously, the Broncos will be paying close attention to him.
Manning has been sacked eight times in Denver’s three games and his passer rating of 83.3 is in line to be the lowest in his career since he was a rookie in 1998. Still, he’s done enough to keep the Broncos undefeated at 3-0.
“Watching him on film and stuff, I’ll just try to see what they’re doing,” said safety Harrison Smith. “He obviously knows how to get them in the best play to defeat what we’re doing on defense, making his checks and stuff at the line. … If you don’t get pressure on the quarterback when he’s passing, eventually someone’s going to be open, so it always helps to have that.”
In the past two games, the Vikings have rattled two of the NFL’s better quarterbacks: Rivers and Detroit’s Matthew Stafford on Sept. 20. Though the Vikings only sacked Stafford once, they pressured him throughout a 26-16 win.
“I think they speed up a little bit. I think they start throwing off their back foot a little bit,” Zimmer said of what happens when a quarterback is pressured. “I think they feel getting hit, so I don’t know. It’s just kind of my mentality.”
Getting pressure on Manning helped Zimmer’s game plan in 2006. Then again, he hasn’t always had the best of luck against the star quarterback.
Zimmer lost the other five times he faced Manning teams as a defensive coordinator, and also suffered a defeat to Manning’s Colts when he was the Cowboys’ defensive backs coach in 1999. The last time he saw Manning, as Cincinnati’s defensive coordinator in 2012, the Broncos QB completed 27 of 35 passes for 291 yards and three touchdowns with two interceptions in a 31-23 Denver win.
Nevertheless, Vikings players have confidence in their coach.
“I know Coach Zim, they’re probably studying right now trying to get a great game plan in,” Munnerlyn said.