As the Minnesota Vikings fight for playoff survival, jobs are on the line. Mike Zimmer has built the equity and trust of the front office and ownership, but an offense that continues to be ranked at the bottom of the NFL is a major concern.
Former offensive coordinator Norv Turner resigned earlier this month and the reins were handed to Pat Shurmur, hired this offseason to coach tight ends and offer additional insight on offensive concepts. These days, the offensive show is Shurmur’s but the struggles remain as Zimmer continues to monitor the situation and offer advise where he deems fit.
“Constant communication with Coach Zimmer, in terms of, ‘These are things that hurt us on defense. I noticed that we did this. Maybe we can do this,’” Shurmur said of the back-and-forth strategic talks between him as the offensive coordinator and Zimmer as the defensive-minded head coach. “So, we have constant communication, and I think it’s just football coaches talking. So, he has got a lot of good ideas.”
But Zimmer also holds the key to Shurmur’s future. For now, Shurmur is officially the interim offensive coordinator and that title and his standing with the team will be reviewed after the season.
“I don’t know. I’ll just figure it out at the end of the year,” Zimmer said when asked if Shurmur would be analyzed on the offense between now and the end of the season. “We’ll see how it goes. I’m not evaluating anything now.”
For sure, Shurmur has been dealt a short hand. While Turner was dealing with some key injuries – QB Teddy Bridgewater, RB Adrian Peterson, LT Matt Kalil and RT Andre Smith among them – before the season and in the first month of the season, none of them has returned and even more injuries, most notably to Jake Long, have further depleted the depth on the offensive line.
“Obviously, we’ve had a lot of injuries at that position, but I’ll sit down and look at all of it at the end,” Zimmer said.
Shurmur is left to try to create some sort of offense that can generate points on the board without many of the key cogs up front. Yet, the Vikings still rank last in total offense, last in yards per play, last in rushing offense, last in rushing yards per attempt, 30th in first downs per game and in the bottom half of the league in several other offensive statistics.
Through it all, Shurmur says he isn’t worried about trying to remove the interim tag from this title four games into his promotion.
“No, I really don’t quite worry about that. I think early on in your career, you worry about all those types of things,” he said. “I just want to try to do what’s best for this football team, try to help us win a game come Thursday. That’s really where my mindset is. I can say that and not really be tongue in cheek about it. I’m just worried about trying to help this team win.”
While several players have called out the need for more explosive plays, Shurmur said the emphasis is on finishing drives and converting when the Vikings get inside the 20-yard line.
His status won’t affect his play-calling, he says.
“Not at all. Again, regardless of what the future brings, you try to do what’s best,” he said. “The time horizon for a season is to try to get in the playoffs, but the reality of this thing is we’re trying to do what we can to win this game and then reload it and try to do what we can to win the next game. And so, as coaches, we keep a very short time horizon within the week leading up to the game we’re going to play.”