When Mike Zimmer first arrived as head coach of the Minnesota Vikings, he wanted to establish a mentality of his team being a tough, physical and disciplined group. As the year starts to wind down, you can start to see that mentality emerging more and more and it was apparent last week against the Detroit Lions, especially on offense, when you had multiple players fighting hard to gain extra yards.
You saw it on a pass play to tight end Rhett Ellison. He was initially stopped short of a first down, but kept fighting and breaking tackles and eventually picked up a big first down for the Vikings. Running back Matt Asiata also showed that toughness, running the ball hard and breaking multiple tackles nearly every time he touched the ball.
“I was just trying to set the tempo for our offense,” Asiata said. “Just trying to liven it up … and I hope I did that. I just came out with legs moving and trying to fight for extra yards.”
Zimmer was impressed with Asiata’s game – even though the running back only had 36 yards rushing. It was more the way he ran it that really pleased the coach.
“I thought Matt ran well,” Zimmer said. “I thought even a couple of times when Teddy dumped the ball off to him he went after the defensive backs and tried to pound them. When I talk about the mentality that I want to have as a football team that’s kind of part of it, too. When we get a chance to hit somebody, we want to hit them, and I thought that he displayed a lot of that.”
It’s something Zimmer has been preaching since his arrival.
“I’ve been talking to the team a little bit this week about my message, even when I first came in here is, being a tough, physical, smart football team,” he said Wednesday. “Part of that is some of the things we did last week, the yards after contact, I think that shows physicality and toughness, but I also think that sign right up there – ‘Tough teams win in the 4th quarter’ – and I don’t think that we’ve done that enough, yet. That’s kind of my message is that part of the toughness mentality that I’m trying to bring is about the fourth quarter, as well.”
Players in the Vikings locker room are often trying to play through injuries. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd tried to do that when battling a knee injury for weeks, but has always tried to get back on the field. He is not the only one doing that, saying he is seeing it from other players week in and week out.
“I see guys fighting through injuries, see guys just locking in on what they got to do and playing,” Floyd said. “Everything on the outside of that doesn’t matter and a lot of guys are focusing.”
Floyd wanted to be fair to the old coaching regime and says he was also a rookie and trying to figure things out, so he did not focus on that type of thing very much, but he also didn’t see players fighting through injuries as much.
Floyd is not the only player to see a change happening in the Vikings locker room this year. Defensive end Brian Robison – who has been with the Vikings since he was drafted in 2007 – has seen a difference from how things were with the old coaching staff. One main difference he points out is just how much everybody seems to be focusing on the job they have to do.
“It’s similar but different in many ways,” Robison said. “I think the one thing is, for us, it’s just been about, really, just concentrating on our job. Everybody being clued into their job and doing their assignments. Things like that, that’s been the main issue for us this year. Now that we’ve been able to do that more down the stretch you’ve been seeing the benefits of it. We’ve been playing much better, much cleaner, so we just got to continue on that road.”
In the latter part of this season it appears that Zimmer’s coaching and mentality have been sinking in more, and the team has been hitting its stride. Even last week when they lost to the Detroit Lions, the Vikings seemed to be the better team and led the Lions in almost every statistical category, except the scoreboard.
The Vikings recorded 21 first downs compared to the Lions’ 11. The Vikings went 4-for-11on third downs and the Lions went 2-11. Minnesota was able to gain 360 total offensive yards, compared to Detroit’s 233 yards. The Vikings averaged 5.5 yards a play and the Lions averaged 4.7 yards per play. Minnesota only punted twice all game, while the Lions had to punt on six occasions. The Vikings also controlled the clock, maintaining possession of the ball for 34:43 while the Lions had it for 25:17.
Robison said that performance, and the mentality the team has been gaining, has been building all season, and now people are finally seeing it.
“I think you’ve seen it in the way we play, in the way we practice and stuff like that,” Robison said. “I think it’s just been a building process all year long. We’ve been able to become tougher, and more physical, and just being mentally and physically better than our opponents.”
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