By Patrick P. Marek
Mike Zimmer is like a toddler who relentlessly tries to put a square peg into a round hole. When it doesn’t work, rather than giving up and trying a different approach, he borrows daddy’s hammer. The man doesn’t like change … and he takes it to extremes.
Being change-resistant can be a good thing if you are in a difficult marriage or a stressful job. But it’s not a good personality trait for a successful NFL head coach. It’s easy to imagine that Zimmer has a sign (printed from a typewriter) saying: “Plan your work. Work your plan” on his desk right next to a box of plastic sheets for his overhead projector. Zimmer and his staff burn the midnight oil coming up with an effective game plan, but in war, like in the NFL, once the bullets start flying, most plans go out the window. Successful generals and NFL head coaches are nimble, and are able to make adjustments on the fly depending on the actions of their opponent. Zimmer is not Matt Patricia. He doesn’t have a pencil behind his ear when he is coaching on the sidelines. Zimmer’s scheme is written in ink, and there’s no eraser to change it.
After Zimmer watched the Rams and Chiefs race up and down the field and put up 105 points and 1,001 yards of offense earlier this season, this was his quote. “It’s not my cup of tea. It might run me out of football.” He may be right. His response to the offensive explosion that is blowing up the league was to get more conservative with his defense, and force the offense to tighten down and call more running plays. Zimmer’s perfect game is a 7-0 win with a defensive touchdown.
Zimmer’s passive aggressive attitude toward his offense and special teams caused Offensive Coordinator John DeFillippo and kicker Daniel Carlson to lose their jobs in the middle of the season. Admittedly, when you consider recent history, you can’t blame the Minnesota coach for being skittish around kickers. However, Zimmer and Mike Preifer’s treatment of Carlson during the pre-season was disgraceful. It’s very telling that Carlson only missed one kick once he was picked up by Oakland. Minnesota is a toxic team for kickers … even managing to turn Dan Bailey, second-most career accurate in the league, into a below-average season kicker for the Vikings.
As for the offense, Zimmer seems more interested in limiting mistakes and using up the clock than scoring points. I know what you are thinking: “The last time I heard that one, I almost fell off my dinosaur.” The team decided to remove the interim tag from Offensive Coordinator Mike Stefanski, mostly because he proved he would do exactly what Zimmer told him to. Gary Kubiak, former Super Bowl winning head coach and “run guru” with Denver, has been brought in as a “offensive advisor” to further stifle Stefanski’s creativity, and make sure he doesn’t do anything newfangled or dangerous with the Vikings’ offense.
All this negativity comes with a caveat. It could work. Mike Zimmer’s teams have a history of performing well every other year. If Rick Spielman can make the offensive line his top priority (no more reaches, reclamation projects, or cornerbacks in the first round), the Vikings could field a respectable and occasionally dangerous running game and keep Kirk Cousins upright and effective.
There are going to have to be some tough decisions made to create cap space.I recommend that they don’t re-sign free agent Anthony Barr, consider trading Xavier Rhodes and Everson Griffen, and release Mike Remmers and Tom Compton. Minnesota has a surplus of defensive linemen and defensive backs, and both Griffen and Rhodes have lost a step, but might still have some value. As for Remmers and Compton, with the criminal way that they protected Cousins last year, it’s lucky they won’t be facing jail time instead of just the waiver wire.
Finally, here’s something to watch closely at the beginning of next season. Both Zimmer and Spielman only have one more year on their contracts, and there hasn’t even been a whiff of extending either one of them. If the Vikings get off to another slow start, do you really think Zygi Wilf will hesitate to make a dramatic move?
The hot-stove season is almost upon us. Save a seat for me … and stay purple my friends.