The Minnesota Vikings have played some of their best football at the end of the regular season since Mike Zimmer took over as head coach. Last year they finished their final five games of the season with a 3-2 record, and their two losses came from a combined total of four points.
Even though they were statistically out of the playoffs at that point, the players were still trying hard and played some of their best football down the stretch. Maybe that is because everyone was finally settling into the new offensive and defensive schemes at that point, but Zimmer seems to think the players were working to prove to the new coaches that there was a spot for them on the team.
There is always turnover when a new coaching staff comes into an organization, as they want to bring in their types of players. So at the end of the season last year the players were trying to prove to the coaches that they can be the kind of players coaches want on their team.
This year the Vikings are finding the same type of success at the end of the season, but this year they are on the verge of a playoff berth. Players are once again performing at a high level, but the reasons may be different. That leads to a new challenge for the second-year head coach as he continues to try and balance everything out.
“I think guys understand there’s a lot more at stake now,” Zimmer said. “There might be a little bit more intensity now than there was – it’s hard for me to remember back. Last year being a new staff and a new organization I think there was a lot of guys trying to prove they needed to stay here at the end of last year. This year, it’s not so much about that, it’s about trying to get to somewhere that we’ve worked really hard to get to.”
The Vikings have had a lot of marquee matchups toward the end of this season and that is not going to end anytime soon. This Sunday they are going to be facing the New York Giants on national television and then they will end the season in Green Bay against the Packers, in a game that could be for the division crown.
It is the first time that Zimmer has gotten to play in meaningful games with playoff implications late in the season and he is still trying to work out how to handle his players in those situations.
There is a lot more intensity flowing throughout his roster, which is what he wants, but he also does not want his players doing too much. As a head coach who is still learning himself, this is just another balancing act he has to master.
“I always try to read the team and try to figure out how do I push them? Do I push them harder, do I stay on them more, or in big games do I kind of back off a little bit?” he contemplated. “So it’s all trying to read the team a little bit and how I approach it.”
Zimmer has been very happy with the way his team has been able to handle this final stretch and believes they have been able to stay focused on the task at hand. There have been plenty of distractions for a team filled with young players, but the coaching staff and veteran players have been able to keep things in check.
With playoffs on the line, it will be interesting to see how the team closes their season out, especially since they are currently winless when playing on the national television stage.