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Zimmer’s Seat is Starting to Warm

His Inability to Adjust Since the Half-Time During the Saints Game May Force the Vikes to Make an Adjustment...

Since the Wilf’s purchased the Vikings in 2005 for a reported $600 million dollars from “he who shall not be named” they’ve increasingly funneled the piles of money they’ve been making into improving the Vikings as an organization and as a team. 2018 could be viewed as the apex of their efforts, after they decided to sign Kirk Cousins to what was at the time the largest contract in NFL history. Coming off of a season in which the team went 13-3 (after starting 2-2) the expectations for the 2018 Vikings were sky high, especially considering that they were bringing 10 of the 11 starters from 2017 back on defense and adding an 11th that is arguably top three at the position. The thinking was that by bringing in a polished pocket passer in Kirk Cousins (not to mention the return of Dalvin Cook at running back) the Vikings could run the table and bring a Lombardi Trophy to the brand new Vikings head quarters in Eagan.

With the first quarter of the season now behind us, it’s safe to say that that hasn’t  happened, for reasons that none of us really saw coming. It’s not an over-exaggeration at this point to say that if the Vikings don’t begin to turn things around, especially on defense, we could be looking at the final games of head coach Mike Zimmer, a man who was two wins away from getting his own statue in both Eagan and downtown Minneapolis (and my yard) last season, and who seemingly had all the answers on the defensive side of the ball up until half-time of the Saints game last season.

Before you jump all over this/me, it’s been clear that the Vikings have been willing to move on from an older former coordinator who seemed unable (or unwilling) to make adjustments to their system, and while Zimmer has proven much more than Norv Turner did during his tenure with the team, he has seemingly lost his ability to adjust to the adjustments the NFL has made against his double A gap blitz scheme.  Something that is seemingly getting more and more evident each week this season (which is a continuation of how the 2017 season ended). Combine that with the fact that the Vikings snagged one of the most coveted future head coaches this off-season from Philadelphia in John DeFilippo, and you have the makings for a change either at the head coach or offensive coordinator position this off-season (regardless of the Vikings record when it comes to the latter). Even if things don’t totally implode and the Vikes make the playoffs, do they let DeFilippo go when Zimmers leadership and system have seemingly reached its/their potential?

With Cousins coming in with an entirely new system, and Dalvin Cook also coming back for what would only be his fifth game as a pro… Some (including me) thought that it might take a take a few games for this team to find it’s groove on offense, something that could’ve given them a .500 record during the first few weeks of the season (especially considering who they’ve had to play during that period). So, while I’m not entirely shocked by the record the Vikings have, especially considering the schedule they’ve had, it’s HOW they’ve reached 1-2-1 not necessarily the fact that they’re 1-2-1. The hope was that the defense, which was the top unit in 2017, would be able to keep teams to around 10 to 14 points during that/this time, allowing the offense to get to know one another while the defense gave them the slack and time to do just that.

However, as the game last Thursday night showed, it’s basically been the opposite. The Vikings offense, despite struggles in the run game, kept the team in the game against the high powered Rams. This was only a week after they were almost shut out by the lowly Buffalo Bills AT HOME, sure, but they’ve at least shown some signs of life. So, while the offense has struggled as well, it’s the defense that has really been the most disconcerting, as it’s essentially the same unit from last season (with one major improvement in the addition of Sheldon Richardson) that is somehow playing like a unit from the early 2000’s.

Back on the offensive side of the ball, Cousins has broken records already this season, throwing for the most yards of any Vikings quarterback over the course of the first quarter of the season, besting 2004 Dante Culpepper, who had an amazing season (he ended up with 39 touchdowns through the air and over 4,700 yards) that year. Cousins also has had over 100 passes over the past two games, a number that is as insane as it is unsustainable and has to be making Cousins wonder if he made the right move by coming to Minnesota, even if he’s on pace for over 6,000 yards passing (yay?). Sure, he’s had issues fumbling the ball, but perhaps if they were able to slow the game down and hand of the ball he wouldn’t be fumbling as often (or if they spent more picks on the offensive line…). But with the defense being unable to stop, basically anyone, the Vikings have had to play catch up the past few weeks which has destroyed any chance for them to play the game they want to play it.

The 2017 Vikings were able to control the clock by slowing the game down, forcing a lot of three-and-outs and allowing the offense to at least be a bit more balanced than they have been in 2018 (which isn’t saying much since any offense is more balanced than the Vikings have been since the Packers game). That has made them one dimensional and desperate on offense, a dynamic that very few teams can succeed with.

While you could argue that that lack of a balance is a knock on DeFilippo, the main reason for the Vikings 1-2-1 start all boils down to the defense and because of that the buck stops with head coach Mike Zimmer. You could really argue that the buck should actually stop with Vikings general manager Rick Spielman, but there’s no way that the Wilf’s would part with the guy who put this many objectively great players on the same field (especially considering his team has been able to create magic when it comes to players and the salary cap), even if he’s actively ignored the offensive line and has drafted some iffy receivers (and quarterbacks) during his tenure. The point and key is that outside of 2009, the Vikings have never been more all-in as a team than they are right now, and that means that Zimmer is most definitely on the hot seat as of the writing of this piece.

Whether or not the temperature reaches a boiling point or absolute zero is yet to be determined but is dependent on the defensive unit, a unit that has Zimmer’s finger prints all over it and that is seemingly unable to adjust to the offenses it’s faced so far this season. Again, that’s the difference between this start and 2017’s start. While the Vikings lost two of their first four games, you never felt like the team was as bad as the team that let the Rams put up multiple touchdowns of 50-yards or more or as bad as a defense as we saw against the lowly Bills (field position notwithstanding).

Think that’s nonsense?

Well, the hot seat can either be perception or reality (or a mixture of both) and that perception typically comes from the media and people like me, who also listen to the comments of people who follow our sites or participate in our live chats or podcasts. It also obviously can come from ownership or management (reality), and while internal thoughts like that are typically hidden from the public, there are some owners who make their thoughts and emotions clear when it comes to the state of their team (we’re looking at you, Jerry Jones). While we may not hear from the Wilf’s or even Spielman about their thoughts on the Vikings start (in this context, at least), we can monitor the different talking heads that cover this team to see if they’ve started to lose patience with Zimmer.

Outside of this article, Charley Walters of the Pioneer Press is the first established reporter that I’ve seen that has discussed what a lot of fans (and people in the realm) have said and that’s that perhaps Zimmer could be replaced by John DeFilippo either at the end of the season or mid-season, depending on whether or not Zimmer is able to make the proper adjustments and turn this thing around. Considering his lack of being able to do just that, really since half-time of the Saints game, it’s starting to look more and more like that could be the case.

The NFL is a copy-cat league and the Vikings know first hand that the youth movement at the head coaching position is mostly working for the teams that have invested in young coaches like Sean McVay, who is only 32 years old and full of fresh new ideas that apparently the older, stuck in their way coaches like Zimmer can’t seem to adjust to. Walters’ article is mostly about that, and the disappointment that everyone has with this Vikings team and the way the season has started.

He sums things up by saying:

It’s cheaper to change the coach than the players, especially when the players have multi-year contracts with millions of dollars guaranteed. Zimmer, if the Vikings falter, could become the fall guy, whether deserved or not. It’s one way to interject some energy into the organization.

That’s all true. The Wilfs/Vikings are heavily invested in this team. The core of players are signed for the next few years and there’s no way that they’ll be able to replace the entire defense in lieu of Zimmer, especially considering Zimmer’s influence over Spielman in the draft (which would, logically, mean that Zimmer’d be drafting replacement players for players he already drafted and agreed to sign to big contracts). I’ve stated multiple times, in articles and on my podcasts, that Zimmer has had too much influence over Spielman. The apex of that came this year when the Vikings added another first round corner, despite the need they had on the offensive line. While, again, you could say that this is all on Spielman, it’s going to be hard for Zimmer to win in a battle against Spielman, assuming if it comes down to that.

Again, they were 2-2 at this point last year, half a game better than they are now. However, you could look at those two losses and blame them on the injuries to Sam Bradford and Dalvin Cook, something they overcame quickly. Some have blamed the past couple losses on Everson Griffen, something that should be less devastating to the team than the loss of a quarterback or running back. The problems this team has are deeper than that and come down to an argument of scheme over execution.

Some have said that the players, who have typically played at an amazing level (like Xavier Rhodes, for example), are for whatever reason playing not only not up to their potential but are playing terribly. The aforementioned Xavier Rhodes has been down-right bad this season. He’s been beat multiple times, something that never happened last season as teams didn’t really end up ever throwing his way. Anthony Barr has been the scapegoat for a lot of people, myself included (as I latched onto him during the live chat we did Thursday night, and also talked about the next morning on our new morning show, titled Morning Joes). Barr is a great example as he is playing bad, even for him, but you also have to question a scheme that continues to allow him to be exploited the way he was on Thursday night. Barr has been a liability for a while, but when your supposed defensive genius of a coach continues to allow him to cover wide receivers on a team with playmakers at every position like the Rams, you also have to question the scheme.

But, unfortunately for Zimmer, it’s his job to ensure that these Pro Bowl and All-Pro level players continue to play at those levels. Vikings Legend Bud Grant basically said that a NFL head coaches job is to manage personalities and to get players to play at the level they can. Ironically, Grant is known for not being able to get his players to play well during big games, which was evident by the upsets they were a part of in the Super Bowl. Zimmer has been great at getting his many superstars to play together, but it seems like everything is out of sync this year and that again is a bad sign for Zim. Not to mention that his big bad defense seems to shrink during big games even when they were otherwise typically playing well.

Then again, things could turn around and I could look back on this article and smile (while deleting it from the sites) while trying to change the name of purplePTSD. Let’s hope that’s what happens, otherwise, it’s going to be a LONG season and really a long couple years. However, if the team does make a swap from Zimmer to DeFilippo as Walters suggests, perhaps he and George Edwards will be able to focus more on the offense, draft some (Big Ten) offensive lineman and still take advantage of this young core before they age out. The fact that this is the article I’m writing before the fifth game of the season is evidence enough for me that things have turned sideways, so nothing would surprise me at this point.

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Joe Johnson

Joe Johnson started back in 2015 & in 2019, and purchased before the 2017-18 season , used to write for and is the host of the ’Morning Joes’ & ‘About the Labor’ Podcasts, as well. Follow on Twitter: @vtPTSD

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  1. You are overreacting, if we had a good kicker we win week 2.. They laid an egg week 3 and our O line is trash.. U cant blame Zim because Our LG is gone for the season.. U also can’t blame him that Eiflen wasn’t ready to start week 1. Also why would they turn over to Flip? Who just got there calm down . We have the same record 4 weeks in as last year and we finished 13 -3

    1. Well said Outroyal, I had the same thoughts about this article… I usually don’t comment on stuff, but this was ridiculous. Thought of what zimmers done for our organization compared to the likes of other head coaches in this league. If this is the case than Bellicheck is on the hot seat, Pete Carrol is on the hot seat, mike tomlin is on the hot seat… I might take a 2nd job as a sports analyst if something like this can get published haha

      1. The key from your comment is this: “what zimmers done for our organization”.

        This statement is past tense. And organizations (even outside of sports) who rest on PAST success aren’t likely to earn future success.

        As every player is already aware, this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league. You are what you contribute. So if your only contributions are garbage…

    2. I’ve never thought Zim was a good head coach. He’s a pretty good defensive coach but something is off and it’s been off for a long time. I can remember a GB game where the team revolted and called their own defensive plays. Jordy Nelson had over a hundred yards in the first half. How does a head coach lose a team like that. Maybe that’s what’s been happening and he’s lost his defensive players again.

      In what universe do the Vikings score 31 points and lose???

      1. he’s no longer a good Defensive coach anymore…..just cant make adjustments!!!
        We’ll play a hungry Philly team this week in Philly…..this is a STATEMENT Game for the defense!

    3. I would put blame all in Rick he choose a corner back instead o line even said suprised they were gone no depth at d line either

    4. I only started following the Vikings when Kirk arrived. I watched Saints in the 2nd half and Philly basically took apart the defense. The NFL is truly a copycat league and what you are seeing is the same pattern. Either Zimmer adjusts his defense or this year will be a bust. I played baseball, coached at a very high level and at some point, the pitchers will know how to attack you. You either make the adjustment or you will fail miserably. Different game and the same results unless you are capable of making the right adjustments. I watched Cousins in Washington and also watched one season where RG3 was unstoppable. I also watched NFL defenses adjust to his style and he failed.

    5. Thanks for reading!!

      I can blame Zim (and Spielman) for focusing far too much on the defense in the draft and creating a situation in which one lost lineman creates what you’ve said. I can also blame him for the state of the defense, as he just said “At this point, I don’t know,” when it comes to what is wrong with the defense/pass defense. It’s his job to be criticized and all I’m saying is that if he doesn’t fix what has seemingly been broken (he admits that) since the second half of the Saints game, he’ll be replaced and considering they have one of the most sought after future head coaches as their offensive coordinator, it makes sense that he’d be the choice.

      I also said that this all could be something that doesn’t materialize if they turn things around but considering that Zimmer did say he didn’t know what the problem was, I have little faith that they will.

    6. I agree, typical Viking fickle media reporting. Zimm is the reason this team is what it is the past 4 seasons. And his good way outshines his bad we were one of the worst teams in the league when he took over he’s got a decent record as a coach. Mike Zimmer is a Bill Parcells guy zygi and mark are the biggest Bill Parcells fans and trust his judgment there not gonna cave unless he has a cpl of below 8 win seasons with his current roster. They should be 2-2 which ppl seem to forget was there record last year before they went on a 11-1 run. They have a way harder 1st place schedule this year if they get 10-11 wins with this schedule that’s still really good in my eyes.

  2. You’re high!! This is the best coach we’ve had in the last decade or two. The team is now set up for the long haul. His defensive mindset is awesome! Can’t help injuries and mental problems to some key players. Also he made the right move with the kicker decision. Vikings should be 2-2 if it wasn’t for missed field goals. The only terrible game was the Bills end of story. This article is garbage.

    1. Some people need to watch a game before they wright about stuff they have no clue about viks will turn things around over reaction once again

    2. The point was that the seat is “WARMING”, not that he should be fired right now. I think he is the best coach since Denny Green, as well, but sometimes the NFL has massive changes and whether or not you can adjust to those changes dictates whether or not you stay as a head coach. Considering he said “At this point, I don’t know,” about what is wrong with the Vikings pass defense, and considering that this isn’t just a one game or one season thing (goes back to the playoffs last year), I’m afraid that the Vikings might end up as a .500 or worse team.

      Yes they have a hard schedule. yes they’ve had injuries. Yes they had to play during a short week against a great team. But that is true of every team and the Wilfs have put everything they’ve had into this team, to set them up to win now and I really don’t think they’ll tolerate a big regression this season. That was the main point. That considering the money they’ve put into it, I just don’t think they’d go into 2019 with Zimmer if the team loses because the defense, with all the returning pro bowlers and all pro guys, with the addition of Richardson…

      We can nitpick all day and explain away why they’re losing but the buck has to stop with someone and this team clearly expects to make a Super Bowl run so I’m just reading the writing on the wall.

  3. We’ve had six or seven bad defensive games in a row going back to last year. Should have beat Carolina and gotten home field. The defense caved late in the game and we lost. We got beat by the Saint’s but then won in a miracle play. We got hosed by the Eagles. The defense has been weak all year. We’ve giving up almost 30 points a game. Something just ain’t right.

  4. Listen, let’s let at least half the season play out before we even start this kind of talk. It looks bleak when you just focus on the last few games. So don’t do that.

  5. I say it every year, and it falls on deaf ears: Its TOO EARLY to make any concrete observations on the landscape of the league. Every year is different, due to so many variables. We could come out and go on a run, or we may struggle a bit more, and then go on a run. A lot of teams that look good this time of year, will falter, and a lot of teams that look bad right now will flip a switch and be playoff teams. Every year, every single year, this happens. Upsets, disappointing starts, etc.. and then all of a sudden everything flips and it all balances out. Am I concerned about my Vikings? Yes. But I haven’t seen enough to say we can’t get it together. We had 2 decent games, one upset (for whatever reason), and then we had a short week against a good west coast team that is on fire, and we held our own (offensively). Lets see how we do with 10 days to prepare against eagles. I have a feeling we will be a really good team this year. Give it time. SKOL

    1. Is the eagles season over? The saints almost lost to the browns is their season over? The falcons were super bowl favorites is theirs over? Are the bears now the team to beat in the NFC? So the defense was figured out … He and George Edwards need to go back to the drawing board and make adjustments that’s what great Coaches do. Last year was last year let it go this is a new year. Skol..

  6. Anyone who says you’re over reacting or wrong know nothing about football, and probably little about other things as well.

    Zimmer IS the reason why this team is failing. His primary problem is that he thinks there’s little more to a game than defense. This leads to conservative play calling for the offense, which makes it easier for defenses to figure your offense out.

    Here’s another thing people don’t want to face. Despite the emphasis on defense, the Vikings defense was never as good as people think. Sure, they might have great records overall, but they have a tendency to fall apart. Part of this might be arrogance. They make one great play, get cocky, then screw up the next 20.

    He also fails to see where the real issues are. He should have cut Treadwell long ago. Even after he drops the ball endlessly, he’s not pulled from the game. The Vikings had better kickers before they go the guy they had to fire. Murray should be the primary runner, not Cook.

    Sure, he might have figured out that we need to have an offense, but the problem with the offense wasn’t Keenum. It’s the offensive line. Even with Cousins’ records, the Vikings are doing poorly. He’s not a Tom Brady, and it’s not likely that even Brady would be able to save this team.

    1. Hey Bob, the offense is playing good. I agree with you about Murray and Treadwell. Zimmer is good. He’s not running the offense. The last coach we had sucked. This team is gritty and can make plays. It’s early. Zimmer isn’t going anywhere, and I agree with Outroyal. Don’t go there Joe Johnson.

  7. Vikes fan since 69 but I feel the vikes have been highly overrated this year. Top 5 until this week? Really? How? Pro bowl defensive players do not make a defence. The vikes are getting torched every second play. I think it might be safe to say the secondary is not all that.
    On offence all we had was Peterson for years. Now there is no balance at all due to an o-line that can’t block one man with two. Cousins will be strip sacked when the vikes are playing from behind at the end of the game with a o-line like that.
    Always the eternal optimist I’m hoping that Sunday night the Vikes can put their big pants on and man up and play some down and dirty smash mouth ball in Philly and try to regain some respectability.

  8. I don’t think Wilf will put up with a 8-8 team which is what the Vikes look like.
    I think he will start with the General Manager and Zimm and both will be gone.

  9. I believe that the Vikings were underdogs in all the Super Bowls that Grant coached in.

  10. I would like to see Speilman go but would like to see Zimmer stay hes a good coach even if as defencive coordinator.Maybe hire John Defilipoo as head coach.