Although he is a head coach, Mike Zimmer is still a defensive coach at heart. When he spoke with the local media Tuesday, much of the focus when it pertained to the Detroit Lions was discussing Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense.
As a coach whose long history has been on defense, Zimmer fielded questions about what makes the Lions good and he naturally took it in an offensive direction. One strength he has to admit is, despite being in first place in the NFC North, the Lions have won six of 10 games despite being behind in the fourth quarter in every game.
As no stranger to close games, Zimmer has a healthy respect for that ability.
“Every one of their games they’ve played has been seven points or less,” Zimmer said. “I think they’ve done a great job at the end of ball games, including the one that we played. I believe that their offensive line, they’ve got two young guys in there that are playing well. I think they’re being very well-coached, which is helping Stafford play really well. Defensively, they’ve been solid with the things they do. Their secondary has been pretty solid for the most part. I think the biggest thing is that once you start winning you develop confidence. That’s what they’ve done at the end of ballgames.”
Much in the same way the Minnesota Vikings have been defined offensively by running back Adrian Peterson, for the same time period Detroit was identified with Hall of Fame wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
There has been a lot of speculation that the Vikings offense can potentially be more wide open without Peterson and the same has been said about Detroit. Without having to force passes to Megatron, Stafford has been more effective spreading the ball around and letting everyone get involved in the game plan.
“I think that he’s got some really good weapons and some of the things that they’re doing with it,” Zimmer said. “Some of it has been changing up the protection. Some of it has been guys getting open, (Stafford) making throws, sometimes it’s him moving in the pocket and hitting guys either in zones or one-on-ones.”
A lot of the credit for the impressive play of the Detroit offense, despite having a suspect running game, has been attributed to offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter – a name straight out of central casting for the next Dukes of Hazzard movie – who has helped the Lions offense become clutch at critical times of games.
“There’s a lot of the same scheme things, but (Stafford) seems to be playing at a much more comfortable level,” Zimmer said. “Honestly, I think (assistant head coach/offensive line coach) Ron Prince has done a great job with the offensive line. They’re much better in pass protection. I think (Stafford) feels comfortable in the pocket. He’s always had a big arm and can throw it. The other thing that he’s really doing a great job of, he’s not turning the ball over. He’s only had like four interceptions or something, I think. It’s hard for me to say it’s because of one guy or another. What I know on tape is he’s very accurate. He’s getting the ball out early a lot of times, which helps the offensive line some. To me, they’re doing a good job. They do a good job in their one-on-one matchups. They do a good job in picking up games. They do a good job in protections. I feel like that’s as big a factor as anything.”
The Lions embarrassed the Vikings in the final 23 seconds of regulation and the first drive of overtime in their last meeting. While Zimmer has shown the proper respect for the Lions offense, don’t expect him to have the same tone with them on game day.
- There is growing speculation that Peterson may be coming back before the end of the regular season. He is reportedly doing well in his rehab and is on pace to come back in three to four weeks, which would mean a return in Week 16 or 17 of the regular season.
- The bizarre part of the injury report for Thursday’s game was that both teams listed players on the Monday injury report despite not practicing, which makes it strange that Stefon Diggs was “limited” in the nonexistent Monday practice and didn’t practice Tuesday.
- No Lions players missed practice Tuesday.
- Zimmer was asked Tuesday about his memories of facing Randy Moss when Zimmer was with the Dallas Cowboys staff. The receiver’s Thanksgiving Day performance was something Zimmer would rather forget. “Why’d you have to bring that up?” Zimmer said “Those are bad memories. Obviously, he was a terrific player. That one Thanksgiving Day game he tore us up pretty good. They were a good football team, the Vikings were. They took it to us pretty good.”
- The Lions are currently a 2½-point favorite Thursday, which, given the standard model that a home team is given three points, makes the Vikings the slightest of favorites.