Mike Zimmer has had his share of frustration over the last three weeks, as his Minnesota Vikings went from being the last undefeated team in the league to being a 5-3 team in the depths of a three-game losing streak.
But, as he addressed the media at his Monday press conference, Zimmer sounded surprisingly upbeat at times when he did his weekly sparring session with the media following Sunday’s loss to Detroit.
Instead of being glum and downcast about the team’s performance, the coach saw things in his players that had been missing since the bye week. Not everything was peachy – they lost, after all – but there was improvement that has Zimmer optimistically anticipating the second half of the season.
“It’s the first time in about a month that I’ve felt confident in the way that our guys know how to play football again,” Zimmer said. “We made some crucial mistakes in the game. We had three red zone penalties and a sack. We had, obviously, a missed extra point. We had a field goal blocked that turned into three for them, so that was a six-point swing. Then I messed up the last 27 seconds of the ballgame there. We also had 11 missed tackles on defense and four penalties. But I feel like we’re moving in the right direction. I’m actually excited to continue to see this team play.”
He notices improvement on the offense – namely that Sam Bradford wasn’t rag-dolled by defenders nearly as much with the new-look offense the Vikings are currently operating out of.
While the offense has been part of the recent demise, Zimmer sees positives showing.
“I thought we had good communication,” Zimmer said. “Seventy-nine percent of the time, the pocket was clean for the quarterback. Sixty-one percent of the time we had efficient runs. We had good communication from the coaches to the offense, and I thought the adjustments we made were good. We had 360 yards, or something, so I thought there were a lot of good things.”
Zimmer had hoped that even when his offense struggled, his defense could carry the day. Going back to early in the season, the Vikings offense got off to slow starts but the team was kept in games by strong defensive play until the offense could get its footing and put up enough points to win.
The problem is that, as the losses have mounted, the Vikings defense has taken it upon itself to try to do too much, which can be detrimental when you break from the system and go freelance.
Bad things happen those scenarios hit home.
“When you feel like you have to do everything, you try to do more than what you should try to do,” Zimmer said. “I think in Chicago we tried to do that, especially at the end of the ballgame. I think (we did) a little bit this week. But I think our team believes things are going to get better and we can just relax, kind of play and do what we do. I know everybody was acting like we were the ’85 Bears for a while, but that’s not who we are. We’re a pretty solid defensive team that typically doesn’t make a lot of mistakes, that typically doesn’t give up a lot of points, that’s usually good on third downs, which we weren’t (on Sunday). We’re not going to be the greatest thing on turf. We just go out and try to do our job. That’s what made us good in the past. When we go out, we do our job, everybody does their job, we play together, know where we’re supposed to be, play smart and play tough, that’s who we are defensively. So, teams are going to make plays. They’re going to score some points once in a while. But if we’re going to hold them 16 points, 13 points or whatever it is in most ballgames, then it’s going to give us opportunities to win football games.”
The question being asked by Vikings fans now is did the Vikings get caught up in their own largesse early on when they were 5-0 heading into the bye week?
Zimmer disagrees. He also believes there are good things coming for the 2016 Vikings.
“I don’t believe that one bit,” Zimmer said. “I would probably do it over, if I had to do it again. Throughout the course of the season there are several things I’d do over. Yesterday there are things I’d do over. That’s what I thought was best at the time. But I know who we are, I know who we are as a defensive football team and I’m hoping that the rest of the football team is understanding of who they are now, too.”