The Minnesota Vikings are looking to end the losing. They won their first five games, then lost their last four.
It’s a streak that has the team frustrated, maybe confused, and perhaps having their confidence beaten down.
“Most of my guys are pretty smart. We understand that we’ve lost some games, but this team is used to winning so they don’t like it. They’re frustrated by it; I’m frustrated by it,” head coach Mike Zimmer said. “But the bottom line is we need to win football games. The best way to do that is to do what we normally do – prepare, win the crucial situations of the game, study, work hard in practice, play hard in the games and execute.”
The issues have been centered on different components of the team at different times. There have been missed field goals and extra points on special teams, along with returns for touchdowns. There has been a consistent struggle to run the ball efficiently as the team with the worst rushing average in the NFL. There have been extended stretches in which the offense hasn’t been able to produce points and times when the Vikings were in prime position to win and the defense has allowed late scores, despite being the NFL’s stingiest defense in points allowed.
“Some teams just don’t know how to put their finger on what’s going on and we’re kind of in that situation,” veteran cornerback Terence Newman said. “We just finished the halfway point and we still have a chance to do some things that we wanted to do. It’s not a place to panic right now, but we do understand we have some problems that need to get corrected.”
Zimmer believes some of the losses, especially yesterday’s 26-20 loss to the Washington Redskins, are the result of his team – and him as the head coach and defensive play-caller – trying to do too much.
“When you’re struggling and you’ve got a bunch of really good guys, guys that really care, guys tend to do try to do a little too much, including myself,” Zimmer said. “Instead of allowing guys to make plays, you try to make plays for them. We just need to settle down, we need to do what we do and get back to being the Vikings defense again.”
Zimmer seems to have come to the conclusion that he and his team need to get back to the basics that allowed them to start the season 5-0. But when one loss has turned into another, the reaction might be to try to do too much.
Zimmer might have been referring to the inordinate number of times he called for a blitz. According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings blitzed on the 45.7 percent of Washington’s passing plays when the league average is to blitz 30.8 percent of the time.
“I mean, hey, we lost three games in a row. You’re going to shoot all your bullets out of your gun if you can. Sometimes it backfires and sometimes it doesn’t,” Zimmer said. “I think players felt the same way. We tended to have more missed alignments than we typically do.… We maybe changed some things too much. I’ve always said, ‘If I’m going to lose, I’m going to lose my way,’ so we’ll just get back to doing things my way.”
More often than not, that has meant showing a blitz and backing out of it to confuse the quarterback. On Sunday, it meant a higher percentage of blitzes than usual.
Still, Zimmer believes his team can get through the rough patch and finding the winning ways once again.
“Right now, obviously there’s pressure on everybody,” he said. “Hey, my dad told me a long time ago if you make it through the downs, the ups will take care of itself. We’re going to continue doing what we do. Get backed up into a corner, we’re going to come out fighting. That’s what this team has done. That’s why we’ve overcome things in the past. We’ll continue to do that.”