Speaking to reporters in Florida for the NFL owners meetings on Thursday, Zimmer issued some criticisms of his defense, too, which finished a very respectable No. 5 in scoring defense.
“I don’t think we’re very good, to be honest with you,” he said of the defense. “I think we played good in spurts, but here’s the other part: I’ve been complaining about the offense, but they don’t have three-and-outs, we don’t turn the ball over offensively, they for the most part controlled time of possession quite a bit, which helped us defensively.”
The Vikings gave up an average of only 18.9 points per game, only 1.7 points more per game than the NFL-leading Seattle Seahawks. Zimmer admitted that the defense was good in some key areas, but he sees plenty of room for improvement where his defense can get off the field quicker.
“There’s a lot of things we didn’t do good enough,” he said. “We were good in situations. We were good in third downs for the most part, we were good in the red zone so that kept some of the scores down, I think. But we could be a lot better.”
The Vikings finished fifth in third-down defense, allowing first downs or touchdowns on only 34 percent of opponents’ third-down tries. When it came to red zone defense, inside their own 20-yard line, they were fourth, giving up a touchdown only 44.2 percent of the time in those situations (the New Orleans Saints were last in the league at 67.7 percent).
But Zimmer is right that there is plenty his defense can improve upon. Based on yardage, the Vikings were 13th on defense – 17th against the run and 12th against the pass. They were 21st in yards per rushing attempt and 17th in percentage of passes intercepted.
Vikings fans who witnessed the defense before his arrival would take most of those statistics, especially ranking in the top five in scoring, red zone and third-down defense. Zimmer, however, is always looking for new ways to improve and motivate.
However, don’t expect him to give up the defensive play-calling duties to become more of an overall game and team manager, or as he put it a “CEO.”
“It’s kind of my baby and it’s hard to give up so I don’t know if I will. I suppose I would prefer to do it. It just keeps me so involved,” he said. “If you’re not helping coach – I don’t want to be a CEO. I don’t want to do that. That’s not me.”
Anyone who has witnessed his hands-on coaching style on the defensive side of the ball can attest to that. He loves to be involved in everything from technique with the defensive backs to game-planning against that week’s opposing offense.
But, gradually, he is getting accustomed to the other duties that come with being a head coach.
“The one thing I’m finding out more about now because I feel a little more comfortable … is talking to Rob Brzezinski about the cap and all the different rules and things like that and kind of thinking about things for the future,” he said. “There’s a lot of things that come to you that really aren’t football-related and so those are the things that I do have a little bit more time for now, but as far as the football stuff I could still do a better job with the offense and the special teams. I still spend a ton of time with the defense and that’s probably the reason why I have (offensive coordinator) Norv Turner and now Pat (Shurmur, the tight ends coach) and Tony (Sparano, the offensive line coach) that can help me in those areas.”
Defense will always be Zimmer’s forte and likely will account for his primary concentration, but while he is capable of criticizing and analyzing the offense and special teams, he proved last week once again that he doesn’t hold himself above criticism either – even if it’s coming from his own mouth.
“I think I’m getting a lot better at it,” he said, “but obviously I still make mistakes.”