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Mike Zimmer's defenses make it tough on Packers, Aaron Rodgers

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If you were the Minnesota Vikings in 2014 and you needed a coach, why not hire one who had figured out a way to slow down Aaron Rodgers?

That's exactly what they found in Mike Zimmer.

It was a small sample size, but in two games against the Green Bay Packers quarterback as the Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator, Zimmer found a way to limit Rodgers' effectiveness. In losses to the Bengals in 2009 (Zimmer's second year as coordinator) and 2013 (his last season), Rodgers managed just two touchdowns and two interceptions combined and finished those games with passer ratings of 83.4 and 64.5, respectively. Rodgers' combined passer rating of 73.5 in his only two games against the Bengals is his second-lowest against any team in the league (behind only his 67.8 mark in two games against the Buffalo Bills).

Rodgers swung things his way last season, winning both games against the Vikings with Zimmer as a first-year head coach. But the second meeting, a 24-21 win in Minnesota, proved especially difficult.

In four meetings, Rodgers has never had a 300-yard passing game against a Zimmer defense (see accompanying chart). The way Zimmer has the first-place Vikings playing this season, it might be tough for Rodgers to break that streak. The Vikings rank ninth in the NFL in fewest yards allowed (336.6), eighth in fewest passing yards allowed (228.0) and second in fewest points (17.1).

"I think Mike does an excellent job of utilizing his players' strengths," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Zimmer. "He's aggressive. They play aggressive. So I think his defense emulates their coaching style."

Last year's game at Minnesota was the perfect example. Zimmer played mostly a two-high safety scheme designed to take away Rodgers' shots down the field. Sure enough, he completed just 4-of-11 passes longer than 10 yards, according to ESPN Stats & Information, and he had only one -- a 29-yarder to Randall Cobb -- that traveled more than 20 yards in the air.

The strategy used to be the way most teams defended Rodgers. But this season, with a passing attack that has sputtered and ranks just 22nd in the league in passing yards, teams lately have played more single-high safety coverage.

"If teams are going to continue to load the box up and dare us to throw the ball with some one-high press, we've got to convert," Rodgers said after Sunday's loss to the Lions.

McCarthy said they've seen essentially that same type of coverage four games in a row. That could make preparation for Sunday's game against the Vikings even more difficult because he and playcaller Tom Clements have to be wondering whether Zimmer will stick to his usual plan or copy what others have done successfully against the Packers.

"Teams have a plan, different teams have different plans," Clements said. "If they do that, it's been effective recently, so it's a copycat league. When you're preparing for a team and you see something that has been effective and you feel you have the guys to do it, then you utilize it. We have to combat it."

Zimmer, of course, denied that he has any sure-fire formula for slowing down Rodgers.

"The great players are always tough to defend," Zimmer told reporters in Minnesota on Monday. "I wish he wasn't so great. Hey, I'm just being honest."