New Vikings’ Offense Suits Old School Zimmer

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Vikings’ head coach Mike Zimmer, like his mentor, Bill Parcells, has always wanted a tough and consistent offense that can control the game clock and set up the pass game.  Does he finally have that in Minnesota?

In his press conference after the Vikings victory over the Falcons, Mike Zimmer repeated the same thing a few times.

“The clock was on our side.”

To an veteran NFL defensive coach that meant more than one thing in winning a football game.  The first being; we don’t need to hold minutes, we need to burn them.

With a 14-0 lead over the Atlanta with 8:22 left in the first quarter, there was a lot of wood to burn and the Vikings burned it, holding a 28-0 lead until nine minutes were left in the game.

Zimmer’s defense allowed Falcons’ quarterback Matt Ryan to amass 304 yards and two touchdowns in garbage time, all the while keeping all of Ryan’s passes underneath coverage and between the hash marks, keeping the game clock rolling.

And on offense, the Vikings ran the football.

Actually, they force-fed it to a defense that had had enough in the second quarter, wanted out of the recipe, but saw the food keep on coming.

It was an almost exaggerated percentage of runs to pass at 38 to 10, but when the opponent turns the ball over and your tailbacks are finding big gains without complicating things, a coach doesn’t usually switch out for style points.

Mike Zimmer never does–taught in the old school they burned down to build the old school–when it comes to offensive game plans to best serve his “conservatively aggressive” defense.

The Tuna And Me

Much has been made of Zimmer’s relationship with Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells.  In the case of creating a team in which all three units (offense, defense, and special teams) work together to win, maybe not enough has been examined.

Zimmer and Parcells, Dallas, 2003.

Zimmer, as a coach, is the very definition of a journeyman. He had been an assistant in college from the age of 23, joined the NFL in 1994 as the Dallas Cowboys defensive backs coach, and has matriculated through the ranks of assistant, coordinator and head coach.

In 2003, when Zimmer was the defensive coordinator of the Cowboys, he watched Bill Parcells arrive in Dallas, hired by Cowboy owner Jerry Jones in a sensational (and unorthodox) decision to return the Cowboys to their glorious past of the 90’s.

Parcells immediately cleaned house, firing all of the Cowboys’ coaching staff except Zimmer, who remained as his DC.

The Super Bowl Champion coach also began a mentoring relationship with the then 45 year-old Zimmer that continues to this day.

Parcells, gardener of a coaching tree that includes Bill Bellichick and Sean Payton–among many others–stressed to Zimmer the recipe of NFL success that could be traced back to Vince Lombardi and George Halas.

When Zimmer got his first head coaching chance with the Vikings (a decision that was influenced greatly by Parcells’ encouraging words to the Wilfs’, who were longtime New York Giants fans), he remembered them.

Discipline. Execution. Fundamentals. Toughness.

Is this a formula for every team’s success?  Sure. But it’s something that’s a little easier said than done. Being a defensive creature by nature, Mike Zimmer has always lacked the wherewithal to design a championship offense by wit alone.

It certainly never helped to have Zimmer’s rather sad cycle of quarterbacks, but Tom Bradys just don’t grow on trees somewhere.  In Teddy BridgewaterSam Bradford and Case Keenum, Zimmer had three players that may never again start in this league. One was seriously injured, the next infirm, and the third just not right.

Zimmer has had an equally grievous lack of talent on the Vikings’ offensive line, which he can certainly be partially blamed for, and a truly tragic death of that unit’s coach and close friend of Zimmer’s (Tony Sparano), which he most certainly cannot.

Cousins Comes To Stay

In 2018, the Vikings added the league’s prize free agent, Redskins’ quarterback Kirk Cousins, to their roster.

They also decided to hire the Philadelphia Eagles’ quarterback coach, John DeFilippo as their new offensive coordinator. Before anything started, the loss of Sparano, along with starting guard Nick Easton, spelled problems for the Vikings’ offensive line and the offense as a whole.

DeFilippo and Cousins floundered as the play of veteran linemen (G Mike Remmers and T Riley Reiff) diminished, and young players were (C Pat Elflein and T Brian O’ Neill) were inconsistent. At crucial times, the Minnesota line looked nearly as bad as they did in 2016, when they were clearly the worst in the NFL.

DeFilippo, clearly a passing tactician, tangled with Mike Zimmer about the Vikings’ offense lack of rushing yards and more pointedly, attempts, while Cousins’ combined strong performances with weak ones, leading the league in quarterback turnovers behind a line that allowed an NFL worst mark in QB pressures.

In DeFilippo and Cousins, the Vikings called the Avengers for help and got the Vision and Hawkeye when they needed Captain America and the Hulk.

Before the season was over, ‘Flip’ got fired and Kevin Stefanski, the eternal Vikings’ assistant that has been with the team since 2006, was named interim offensive coordinator.

In three games to complete the 2019 season with Stefanski at the switches, the Vikings offense whipped a sinking Miami Dolphin squad, sputtered against the Lions, and looked their absolute worst in a week 17 loss at home against the Chicago Bears, losing 24-10 and falling out of the playoff tournament.

Some Help Here

In the off-season, Stefanski was given the offensive coordinator’s office and title, but the Vikings’ brass put a light in the sky.  At Zimmer’s request, the sign was emblazoned with the words: ‘TOUGH GUYS NEEDED’.

Who got the call? One Gary Kubiak, Super Bowl winner as backup quarterback and coach of the Denver Broncos, and his trusty sidekick, Rick Dennison, whose reputation as a “run first” offensive coach was clearly stated and understood by the Vikings’ brass.

Arriving in Minnesota was also Garrett Bradbury, the nations best center (the Vikings’ first round pick), and Irv Smith, Jr. one of college’s toughest tight ends (their second).

In rounds three and four, the Viking War Room brought in 221 lb. Boise State running back Alexander Mattison and Oklahoma strongman guard Dru Samia from the nation’s best offensive line.

Four draft picks that spoke about as subtlety about a completely different direction in the Viking offense from 2018 as Bill Parcells used to speak to the press.

This time it doesn’t take a lot of detective work to realize that Parcells was part of the whole idea, the ‘new guys’, and the moving trucks .  Or at least his tutelage of Mike Zimmer was.

Getting Back To The Future

In 2019, in training camp, the preseason, and now through week one, Minnesota has shown that they will run the ball in football games come rain or shine.

Using Gary Kubiak’s system of zone blocking (that was designed by Kirk Ferentz of Iowa but perfected by Kubiak’s former coach, Mike Shanahan), the Vikings will use power and movement to establish a sundry of run and run-pass options playing to the strength of Dalvin Cook, Kirk Cousins, and his receiving corps.

Rick Dennison, as the Vikings’ new offensive line coach, has been tasked with teaching every player to know their role moving forward and be ready to perform in each game situation.

The Vikings will no longer make tackles and guards and vice versa.  Those projects have clearly failed this coaching staff.

Alex Mattison will be the back spelling Dalvin Cook.  Against the Falcons’, both backs looked the ideal fit for the zone-run scheme moving forward.

Get Behind The Mule

Bradbury and Cook, having a really good Sunday.

Mike Zimmer watched his team dominate Atlanta last week.  It may have been an unexpected result against a good team, but certainly he realizes the work that went into the pleasant surprise.

The Vikings’ are taking a lot of momentum into Green Bay on Sunday.  But what Zimmer stressed to his players in the locker room after their week one victory is clear: don’t get cocky and continue to concentrate on your job.  That job is beating your opponent by being tougher on your feet. We’ll take care of the rest.

The Vikings are going to pass more than eight times against Green Bay on Sunday.  How many times more depends on how well his message translates to the guys pushing the truck on his offensive line and the rest of their teammates.

Jumping ahead early, playing tough defense, and grinding down clock is just fine with him.

It always makes Zimmer feel closer to home–and school.