So, Did the Vikings DBs Go Rogue on Zimmer?

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This is generally a “Five Thoughts” column in which I lay out five observations about the Vikings game, and where it went right or wrong and what it means. Despite the sluggish and mildly depressed (if completely expected) way I was feeling about the 38-25 loss to Green Bay Saturday, that was still my plan. It was probably going to be about Adam Thielen’s scintillating 12-catch, 202-yard, two-touchdown day, and Sam Bradford’s stat line that was actually very good despite the offense’s struggles (again), and how, even with all that, that the Vikings still got handled, and how that felt perfectly right, and a few other things. Until I saw this headline from the Star Tribune:

Vikings DBs switch up game plan on Mike Zimmer regarding Jordy Nelson

So pardon me while I ditch the usual format and focus on this one highly alarming story from the game. I must start by asking, in all sincerity, what in the ever loving hell is going on?

Read the story. It’s bizarre. At this point, it’s scarce on details and tough to discern exactly what was or wasn’t said inside the Vikings organization. Such is often the case with NFL teams. But the most telling passage from the Strib story, to me, was the following one:


Nelson had one of the best days of his career, catching nine passes for 154 yards and two touchdowns.

Almost all of the damage came in the first half, when Rhodes wasn’t shadowing Nelson. He caught seven passes for 145 yards and two scores for the Packers’ 28-13 lead at halftime.

Rhodes, who did surrender some of the first-half yardage, tracked Nelson in the second half and held him to two grabs for nine yards.

“That’s what he was supposed to do the whole game,” Zimmer said. “Someone decided they wouldn’t do that.”


The article goes on to say that Zimmer didn’t learn about the change until Terence Newman told him about it on the sideline during the game.

Here’s a few things that are important to keep in mind:

  • We have very few facts at this point.
  • There will be more information revealed in the coming days.
  • Based on a few quotes, it seems likely that there was a difference in what the coach wanted and what the players did.

At best, this reads like a serious miscommunication between Zimmer and the defensive backs. At worst, some sort of defiance. I think it’s a stretch to paint this as a full-on mutiny, but it’s probably reasonable to say that some frustrations and differences in opinions led to a disagreement between the players and the coach, and that disagreement manifested itself on the field (and resulted in a career day for Jordy Nelson).

Let’s get this out of the way: if it was a defiance by Rhodes and the rest of the secondary, that was a dumb thing to do. Even if a player does have a better gameplan than the coach (which, 99% of the time, is not the case), trying to insert your own scheme without the coaching staff’s knowledge is never a recipe for success.

If assistant coaches knew about it, and they themselves went against Zimmer’s wishes? Same answer.

But regardless of what exactly the nuts and bolts of the disagreement were, and wether or not we ever find them out completely (my guess is we will not), this is simply not good. It shows a rift among the team, and at some level, a distrust of a coach who is supposed to be a respected and revered leader of men. I wrote a lot about it last week in wondering if we weren’t seeing a chink in the Mike Zimmer armor, and it’s possible we’re seeing that continue. His vaunted “Zim Reapers” defense has been totally ordinary the second half of the season, enough to make the moniker seem foolish and borderline ironic. He has been willing to call out numerous players in front of the media, from Anthony Barr to Sharrif Floyd to Blair Walsh to Laquon Treadwell. Has he lost the locker room? That seems like a stretch. Is he a bad defensive coach? No. Do players sometimes need public…um…”motivation?” Most definitely.

And yet? Something seems wrong. It’s been a tough season, and lots of people get emotional after (repeated) losses. Some flare-ups are inevitable. But looking at the whole picture, it certainly feels like Mike Zimmer’s grasp on the Minnesota Vikings is as close to shaky as it is Lombardian.

He’s still their coach, and many of the players love the man. The comments after his eye surgery prove that. But it simply does not bode well when anyone in the organization defies the head coach.

What we need, now, is for this season to be over. Leave the injuries and defections and surgeries and airplane accidents behind, and regroup for next season. Things will surely be better than, or at least more normal. Perhaps all Zimmer-related negativity will blow over, and we will look back on this report as a benign byproduct of a lost season or a small incident blown out of proportion. I for one hope that’s the case. Because for anyone angry enough to suggest firing Mike Zimmer, a simple question must follow:

Then what?