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Matt Patricia respects Mike Zimmer, has borrowed from his scheme

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
Mike Zimmer

Allen Park -- The paths Matt Patricia and Mike Zimmer have followed to this point aren't too dissimilar. 

Both were offensive players at small colleges, working their way up the coaching ladder as low-level defensive assistants in the college ranks, then in the pros, before earning coordinator positions and ultimately landing head coaching jobs in the NFC North.

The two will square off in their current roles for the first time Sunday when Patricia's Lions travel to Minnesota to battle the preseason division favorite Vikings. 

There's even some overlap with their coaching trees, with Zimmer spending some time under Bill Parcells, while Patricia was raised up under another former Parcells' coordinator, Bill Belichick. 

But Zimmer and Patricia run very different schemes. Zimmer is known for his aggressive 4-3 attack built around speed, while Patricia coaches a multiple, versatile front leaning heavily on the 3-4 system utilized by Parcells and Belichick. 

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That hasn't precluded Patricia from admiring Zimmer's scheme from afar, identifying some overlap while studying it, and even incorporating elements into his own defense. 

"Obviously, (I) love to watch good football and he does a great job up there with that scheme and his players," Patricia said. "It’s funny because you do see things on tape that are the same. There’s a lot of crossover in the league in general, and some of the pressures that he has, or the different looks that he has, may be similar to what we have. Maybe not exactly the same, but as you watch it through the course of the offseason, early in the season as you’re preparing, sometimes you pick up tips or something that will really help your scheme, too. It’s not that hard to add it in.

"(I’m) certainly a big fan of the stuff he does for most weeks, just not this week."

Patricia said one of the things Zimmer's defense does so well is disguise their intentions, creating added pressure on the quarterback before the ball is even snapped. 

"It’s all obviously really difficult and the players fit it really well," Patricia said. "But I think the disguise part of it, when you watch that on tape, especially when they’re at home, his ability to really put as much pressure on the quarterback as possible with some of the pre-snap looks, it's outstanding.”

The Lions have had their trouble with Zimmer's defenses in the past, but so has the rest of the NFL. The unit has ranked in the top six in points allowed each of the past three seasons, including leading the league last year at 15.8.

Dealing with injuries, as well as defensive end Everson Griffen's absence to address off-field issues, there's been some obvious regression this year, but the team is inching closer to full strength heading into the matchup with the Lions. 

Lions vs. Vikings

Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis

TV/radio: Fox/WJR 760

Records: Lions 3-4, Vikings 4-3-1

Line: Vikings by 4