So, Did the Vikings DBs Go Rogue on Zimmer?

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?

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Sam Neumann

Sam Neumann is a freelance writer and lifelong Vikings apologist. He has seen his share of Vikings-related heartbreak, but believes we are united by the hope that one day that norse ship will come in. Sam is the author of three books, including the New York Times Bestseller Memoirs of a Gas Station. He lives in Denver, Colorado, and has had it with Broncos fans. You can follow him on twitter @NeumSamN.

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  1. Pretty flipping’ weird about the DB’s going rouge but apparently it’s true. Here’s a comment Rhodes made in the locker after the game (From Pro Football Talk);
    “We felt as a team, as players, we came together and we felt like we’d never done that when we played against the Packers,” Rhodes said. “Us as DBs felt like we could handle him. That’s how we felt as DBs that we could stay on our side and cover him. In the beginning, we’d always played against them and played our sides, so that’s what we as DBs went with.”

    That is incredible to me. If this is true and it looks like it is, no telling where this may lead. Hate to say it but i think Zimmer must take action here. Sit Rhodes next week for sure. Game doesn’t matter anyway, maybe put all scrubs in the defensive backfield next week. I’m just completely shocked by this. I thought Zimmer walked on water with this team. Something has happened behind the scenes.

  2. As I said in response to Adam’s piece about this, ANY defensive starter involved with this act of utterly unjustified hubris should be benched and fined, starting with Rhodes and Newman, and if that means Smith, Sendejo and Munnerlyn have to sit out the Bears game, too, so be it.

    1. I absolutely agree, if Rhodes went rogue, he’s done for the season. If the entire DB’s went rogue, sit them all. I can’t believe how many times I said, “Well, it can’t get any worse now” when I saw Teddy go down, then said it when AD went down, when our entire O-line went down, when we lost our Nose tackle, when Turner quit, when we lost our coach (Lost our coach for christ sakes!!). . .then the plane slid off the runway. Ok, that’s it, I said. Now THIS??? I can’t wait for this season to end.

  3. Agree with you both of you, Sam and Fran.
    Also Fran, think you have to sit Newman as well, he is the senior DB. And why wasn’t this addressed in the 1st quarter? Zimmer told Newman, “do what you’re supposed to do.” Why did it continue till halftime? I don’t get it.
    Anyone who thinks Zim should be fired….then what? Well put Sam.

    1. I have no answer for why it went on the entire 2nd half. Seems like that’s something Zimmer would have nipped right off the bat. We’ll probably never know the whole story but if Zimmer doesn’t come down on these guys with the 10,000 pound shit hammer, I’ll lose respect for him. This now is the worst season I have every had to sit thru.

  4. I think it’s far more likely the guy in charge of this was Newman. Rhodes’ declaration after the game that it was the DB’s decision sounds more to me like a young player trying to spread the blame of a 38 year old soon to be FA mentor of his across the board. Seriously, think about it. Why on Earth would Rhodes elect to pass on shadowing one of the best receivers in the league after already shutting down OBJ and Benjamin this year? He’s playing for one of the richest CB contracts in the league, it makes zero sense for him not to continue to prove he can play either side and shut down the leagues best.
    If it was Newman, you hope a guy who has played as long as he had would stand up in front of he team and admit his pride got the best of him and apologize to his coach. Probably wouldn’t cut him as that may be more detrimental, and simply not offering him any kind of contract this off-season will send a message to the younger guys on the team.
    I don’t know what the hell happened after the bye week, if the whole “fat cats get slaughtered” deal that the organization tried to sweep under the rug really had a bad effect, but something obviously happened besides the injuries that led us here. Zim is part of that and he needs to figure out how to fix whatever it was because this team was too talented to have the year fall apart like this. This has just been a sickening display for the last couple months and both players and coaches need to be held accountable.
    On a lighter note, Merry Christmas everyone.

    1. Well that’s the easiest explanation Dan and I sure hope you’re right. Newman’s pride got the best of him, Rhodes listened and followed. That would be an easy fix; Cut Newman, sit Rhodes. Rhodes competes for his job next season. The thing that really pisses me off is we’ll probably never be privy to what really happened here. All I know is I still absolutely trust In Zimmer and he BETTER knock someone’s dick in the dirt for this.

  5. Whoever on defense wears a captain’s “C” on his Vikings jersey should have it removed in front of the whole team. That is where the fault lies. If Rhodes is too scared to handle Nelson himself (my theory for this hot mess) he needs to tell his captain on defense and his coach. Then he needs to go sit down. This mutiny (the appropriate word) should not have lasted more than one play. The defensive captain then calls time out and the mutineer is removed from the field. Should be over just like that. Unfortunately this sounds like a conspiracy to me that included veteran team leaders. Very bad. Maybe these guys wold have been better off left on the airport tarmac. And off of next week’s active roster.

  6. …. .All leaves me wondering What happened during that bye week? That stuffed animal metaphor seemed weak , risky and not for everybody. Also, the difference of consequences for a coach vs. a marginal player after DWI charges may not have sat well with players that saw it as a double standard. And did players start reading there own headlines?
    As Zimmer started calling out players in public he went down a slippery slope, if he made his bones as a ‘players coach’ he now was senting mixed messages.

  7. Perhaps Zimmer saw the insurrection brewinging, gave the insurgents enough rope to hang themselves in the first half, and then when they realized that the coup was doomed to fail, they got in line. That would solidify Zimmer’s position with a “I f-Ing told you so!” Regardless, it is blindfold and cigarette time for a few players…weird!