Zimmer said he wouldn’t be celebrating much, simply watching the film on the plane ride home. While there were mistakes to correct, for sure, the win gave the Vikings a shot of confidence and good standing in the rankings.
With the Monday night games left to go, the Vikings have the eighth-ranked defense (fifth against the run and 18th against the pass) and the 18th-ranked offense (fifth rushing and 27th passing).
On offense, they are second in rushing yards per attempt, didn’t throw an interception and were eighth in sacks per pass attempt despite facing the St. Louis Rams, the second-best team in the NFL in that category last year. They were also tied for third in points per game.
Defensively may have been the biggest jump for the Vikings. They were fifth in rushing yards per attempt, fourth in percentage of passes intercepted, first in sacks per pass play and second in first downs per game. And after finishing last in the league in points allowed last year, they are currently tied for first after giving up only six to the Rams.
Yet, when asked about the play of the defense, Zimmer didn’t exude excitement.
“It was OK; we still have a long way to go,” he said. “It is so easy in this ballgame, in this profession, to jump on and off the bandwagon. We just want to continue to get better every day. We keep coaching them real hard. We keep making sure the players are keeping their nose to the grindstone and I think they played well, but that was (Sunday). Next week will be a different week.”
It will be a tougher offense they face for sure, as they go against the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots.
For now, however, Vikings players can feel good, yet not satisfied, about the improvement they have already shown. Everson Griffen, who had two sacks on Sunday to tie for the NFL lead, credited Zimmer’s style of defense for that.
“You have to take the thinking out of football and let us play. He makes sure we’re in the best position possible on every situation,” Griffen said. “He’s very dynamic in his play-calling and he allows us to play free and have fun and that’s his biggest philosophy. It’s attack, have fun and be yourself and go make plays.”
The win and the way it happened should give the Vikings confidence in Zimmer and his defense. The first-time head coach admitted he was nervous, but was more nervous in the preseason opener.
“I was nervous, don’t get me wrong, but there are levels of nervousness,” he said.
“Honestly, it wasn’t that bad. I felt good about the game, I felt good about the game plan, I felt good about the players, I felt good about how we practiced this week. I had to get a bit of Pepto Bismol from (athletic trainer Eric Sugarman), but I do that every week, so that isn’t anything unusual.”
Zimmer hasn’t been easy on the players, but he encouraged them to raise their expectations throughout the offseason. His upfront approach and aggressive schemes have won them over.
“I’m really excited for Zimmer,” QB Matt Cassel said. “He’s come in here since Day 1 and he said that we need to raise our expectation level. I think it was a challenge to all of us, and I think that the guys stepped up in that room to that challenge and we worked our tail off up to this point. To go out and get a decisive road win, I think that it was a good start to the season for us.”
Zimmer’s expectations wouldn’t allow him to get too giddy, however. He termed the performance “OK” and pointed out the penalties and mistakes that can be corrected.
It was even a mixed review for his top draft pick, linebacker Anthony Barr, taken ninth overall.
“I thought he did some really good things. He still can be so much better,” Zimmer said. “I watched him on two rushes and I was little disappointed in him. I have such high expectations for these players, and especially for him. I anticipate him being really good.
“… He is really learning a new position. He has great physical skill and he is very smart. I don’t know that my expectation level for him is higher than anyone else, but I do have high expectations for him. I want him to be good.”
Barr finished tying for the team lead in tackles, but didn’t have any sacks, quarterback hits or tackles for losses.
There was plenty to like on both offense and defense.
Offensively, the Vikings scored touchdowns on both of their red zone possessions and averaged an NFL-best 8.0 yards per first-down play.
Defensively, they held their opponents to one touchdown in three red zone possessions, held the Rams to 4 of 14 on third-down attempts and 4.61 yards per first-down play (which ranked 24th in the league).
MORE MONDAY RANKINGS
According to the Elias Sport Bureau, only three other players in NFL history gained at least 100 rushing yards in a game in which they carried the ball three or fewer times: Andy Uram of the Packers against the Chicago Cardinals in 1939 (2 carries for 108 yards), Ken Carpenter of the Browns against the Baltimore Colts in 1950 (3 for 100), and Brian Mitchell of the Eagles against the Falcons in 2000 (2 for 105).
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.