Much of the talk Monday following Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer’s press conference centered on the coach answering questions about the decision the organization made to trade linebacker Gerald Hodges for a backup center and a late-round draft pick. But there were other things to discuss, primarily how the Vikings will return coming off their bye week and whether the team can improve its closing ability in the fourth quarter.
The feeling concerning the bye week is often that the later it comes, the better. The Vikings were among the teams that were part of the second week of the byes that teams get annually. While coaches and players prefer to have them closer to the middle of the season, the Vikings didn’t have that luxury.
Zimmer was asked if players tend to disperse or hang around during the bye. He said the down time for the players is a needed respite of the grind of the season that began in July, but it’s also a time for the coaching staff to do some reflection, look at what the team needs to improve on and get the players ready for the long 12-week run to close out the 2015 regular season.
“We did have some guys that stuck around here toward the end of the week; they had the weekend off,” Zimmer said. “We go back, that’s what we did most all of this last week, is go back and work on things that we feel like we need to correct, things that we need to clarify, things like that. Hopefully that helps.”
While there are many positives to the bye week, especially letting players with nagging injuries to get a chance to heal up and recharge their batteries, there is also a downside to the bye week. Last year, the Vikings were on a two-game winning streak when they hit their bye week in early November and they came back flat – losing their next two games to Chicago and Green Bay.
Zimmer is focused on not letting the type of bye week lull that hit the team in 2014 to repeat itself in 2015.
“It’s not just a bye week, it’s when guys have three or four days off, trying to get back into it mentally,” Zimmer said. “A year ago, we’d give them a long weekend or something like that, they’d come back and they weren’t as crisp or sharp as when they left. That’s the pitfalls of it.”
The players get some time off, but it isn’t a much of a bye week for the coaching staff. They spend a lot of time self-scouting their own roster and making evaluations on which players have lived up to expectations and which ones haven’t performed up to expectations.
It is always an ongoing process of determining roster value position-by-position, but the bye week tends to highlight that.
“I do think that when you get a chance to sit back, evaluate and kind of look at things, it’s no different than any other year,” Zimmer said. “There are certain areas that you feel like, maybe we’re not teaching it the right way or maybe we need to look at – we do this a little bit better, this guy does that a little bit better or what the situation is and kind of go that way.”
Oftentimes, the most recent game is the one that sticks in the mind of a coach and his staff more than previous weeks. The last game the Vikings had was against Denver, where the team failed to rise to occasion in the fourth quarter to win a close game against the Broncos that could have had the Vikings heading into their bye week with a record of 3-1 instead of 2-2.
As the team prepares for the long road ahead of them, one of the corrections that Zimmer will be looking at is finishing out games. They have done a decent job of doing that in their two home games, but if the Vikings are to be a playoff team, they are going to have to do that more consistently. That starts this week against Kansas City and it will require every player to do his part to accomplish a team goal.
“It’s doing your job so you can help other people do their job and, then in the fourth quarter, you just go play,” Zimmer said. “As far as us in the fourth quarter, we didn’t play good in the fourth quarter. We played good, we just didn’t finish the game against Denver.”
The Vikings have 12 games to prove that they’re the team so many fans and media analysts believe they can be. That starts this week. The time for resting is over. It’s to get back to work and live up to the promise this young Vikings team has shown it has.