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Sunday Opening Drive: Week 13 Vikings at Patriots

NFL: Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

(1.) As the Los Angeles Rams head to Detroit this weekend to take on the Lions, Rams Wire’s Andrew Ortenberg had an interesting piece this week on comments made by Matt Patricia in regards to his respect for current Ram and former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib.

“Just someone I think that, as a coach, you have certain players that you tend to learn more from them than they learn from you, and he’s certainly one of those guys. He’s a phenomenal player. He’s an unbelievable competitor. He’s a guy that just raises the bar of everyone around him,” Ortenberg detailed. Patricia would also go on to add an anecdote from Talib’s time in New England.

“Tuesdays, he would walk into my office and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to take this guy,’ and you appreciate that,” Patricia said. “You appreciate the competitor.”

Whether or not it’s done with the same chutzpah of an Aqib Talib, this type of attitude and confidence is portrayed by current Patriots lock-down corner Stephon Gilmore, as he has commented a few times this year on knowing what his task will be in a given week, and on his exhaustive preparation for it.

(2.) A name you might have heard mentioned this week with a bit more frequency than your average position coach is that of Vikings defensive line coach Andre Patterson — and it’s for good reason. Patterson, 58, is widely respected around the league as one of the best in the business at his craft.

He’s also a familiar face in Foxborough.

After earning his first collegiate-level coaching gig at Weber State in 1988, the Camden,AR native worked his way through the college ranks, eventually becoming Cal Poly’s head coach from 1994 to 1996. In 1997, Patterson joined Pete Carroll’s newly-formed coaching staff in New England as a defensive line coach.

Over his first nine NFL seasons, Patterson coached and developed a handful of perennial Pro Bowlers and All Pros.

  • Willie McGinest
  • John Randle
  • Chris Doleman
  • La’Roi Glover
  • Trevor Pryce

After a hiatus from the league that included coaching his son’s high school team and a few more stops on the college coaching circuit, Mike Zimmer brought Patterson on board in 2014 for his second stint with the Vikings. The results were immediate.

Talented 2010 fourth round pick Everson Griffen — who had tallied 17.5 sacks, 21 tackles for loss, and 38 QB hits in the four seasons prior to Patterson’s arrival — exploded for 12 sacks, 14 tackles for loss, and 24 QB hits in 2014. He then ripped off three consecutive Pro Bowl campaigns from 2015 to 2017.

In 2016, Patterson began writing his opus when GM Rick Spielman drafted a raw, outlandishly athletic 21-year-old defensive end from LSU named Danielle Hunter.

From the “Sources Tell Us” portion of Lance Zierlein’s Draft Profile of Hunter:

If he walked into your living room, your eyes would pop out of your head. He looks that good on the hoof. He’s going to blow up the combine, and then ace all of the interviews and NFL teams are going to fall in love with him. He still needs someone to unlock all that talent, though.” - Former LSU coach

The man to “unlock all that talent” has been Andre Patterson. Under his watchful eye, Hunter has become one of the league’s most feared pass rushers, and is seemingly only scratching the surface. This season — one that started with a healthy five-year extension which included $40 million guaranteed — he has already racked up 11.5 sacks. He has also been PFF’s 14th highest-graded edge defender while playing the 11th-most snaps at the position (597).

(3.) In speaking with The Athletic’s Arif Hasan on the Norse Code Podcast this week, he shared some interesting information with regard to the Patriots corner best suited to match up with either half of Minnesota’s talented wide receiver duo — Stephon Diggs and Adam Thielen. Last season, the two finished the year ranked first and sixth respectively in Pro Football Focus’ contested catch rate, and they led all of football with the most combined contested catches — which PFF defines as “instances in which the defender contests the catch point with the receiver”.

So who should garner the Diggs and Thielen assignments?

Well, it really doesn’t matter. According to the NFL’s NextGen stats department, Thielen is creating an average of 2.9 yards of separation per target this season while being given 5.8 yards of cushion. Diggs is creating 2.8 yards of separation off of 6.1 yards of cushion. Meanwhile, they have combined for 67.9% of the team’s air yards, 172 catches on 238 targets, and 14 touchdowns thus far.

It doesn’t truly matter who is covering this duo. They will get theirs. The job of the Patriots’ defense will be to make sure that no one else does.

(4.) The connections between Kirk Cousins, Sam Bradford, and Nick Foles are pretty wild. I wrote about them after the Super Bowl back in February, and this weekend seems like as good of a reason as any to remind everyone that the NFL is just one giant exercise in chaos theory. Check the story out here.

Follow Brian Phillips on Twitter @BPhillips_SB