When coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco joined the Ravens in 2008, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer was the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals. And for six seasons, the opposing sides tangled twice per season.
Flacco said knowing Zimmer aided him in his preparation this week for a Vikings defense that has Zimmer’s fingerprints all over it.
“It definitely helps, the fact that we’ve seen that style of defense before,” Flacco said Wednesday. “The personnel is different. These guys are a good group. So we have a lot of things to handle. Yes, it should definitely help a little bit that I personally have been able to face them for a while.”
Harbaugh said the Ravens know as much about Zimmer as he knows about the Ravens.
“I think that’s a two-way street,” Harbaugh said. “It’s very similar to Cincinnati’s structure still. When you look around the league, there are kind of families of schemes in all three phases and really Mike is the father of that defensive structure that they use and certain teams use. So it helps.”
Flacco and the Ravens went 7-5 against Zimmer’s Bengals. In those games, Flacco completed 60.9 percent of his passes for 12 touchdowns and three showings of at least 270 passing yards. But Zimmer’s defense also intercepted Flacco 15 times and limited him to an average of 177.8 passing yards.
In a conference call with Baltimore media Wednesday, Zimmer downplayed any advantage he might gain from his familiarity with the Ravens offense.
“They’ve changed coordinators a couple times since I was there,” he said. “I know Flacco fairly well because I played against him a few times. We had [wide receiver Mike] Wallace here. But honestly, most of the other guys are different. [Right guard Marshal] Yanda’s not in there now. I think most of the other guys are different. So it doesn’t really help all that much.”
It could be argued Zimmer has more talented players in Minnesota. Defensive end Everson Griffen ranks fourth in the NFL in sacks (seven), free safety Harrison Smith is tied for second in the league in interceptions (three), and cornerback Xavier Rhodes and outside linebacker Anthony Barr joined Griffen and Smith as Pro Bowlers in 2016.
Flacco said there’s another trait exhibited by the Vikings players that he recognized in the Bengals when Zimmer was their defensive coordinator.
“When you watch the Vikings, I think they have a lot of confidence in the guys that they have and in the personnel that they have,” Flacco said. “They play to their strengths. So I don’t know if a lot is going to carry over from the time that he was in Cincinnati [through] now. You can kind of get a good grip for what they’re doing. They’re not afraid necessarily to show you what they’re doing because they have a lot of confidence in how well they do it.”