General News

How do Zimmer defenses bounce back?

After a historically awful season opener on defense, can we learn about the future from looking at the past?

By now, the news has tickled your brain receptors that the Vikings defense was rancid last weekend. Linebacker Eric Kendricks performed with his typical upper-echelon prowess. Aside from that, the defense was uncharacteristically porous. Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers endured virtually no pressure from Minnesota pass-rushers. When Rodgers threw the ball sans pressure, it’s as if he was shopping for goodies on Amazon. It was all readily available to him with seamless ease.

Historically, the Vikings caused Rodgers to [quite literally] throw fits at U.S. Bank Stadium. In Week 1, though, Rodgers was inducing the tantrums – by fans on couches who would have otherwise been in attendance.

The first glimpse at the Pandemic Vikings was a revolting one. The offense would have encountered more on-field action in the first half of a preseason game than they saw Week 1 versus Green Bay – that’s how egregious the time of possession battle favored Green Bay. The defense made some impressive stops early on in high-pressure spots, but those now feel like a small-font footnote to the 43 points surrendered.

Sunday’s defensive output was a befuddling and unfamiliar display of ineptness. Perhaps it was a one-week kerfuffle exacerbated no preseason, lack of fans, an abundance of youth, or all of the above. The only way to reach a verdict is to watchthe product that’s trotted onto the field this Sunday in Indianapolis and games after that.

But how have Zimmer-led defenses responded in the past to puzzling defensive showings? Here’s a look at the [only] four occasions in which the Vikings defense allowed north of 450 yards to opposing teams under Zimmer and how Minnesota responded defensively the following week.

2014, Week 11 at Chicago Bears – 468 yards allowed

This game against the Bears was Zimmer’s virgin trip to Soldier Field, and it would be the first of a few nasty ones. The Bears only scored 21 points but tallied 468 yards en route to those three touchdowns. Chicago won the game 21-13 and dropped the Vikings to 4-6 in Zimmer’s maiden voyage.

So, the Vikings packed up their luggage in Illinois and headed home for a date with the Packers at TCF Bank Stadium. There, they lost again – this time to Aaron Rodgers still at the peak of his powers. But the Vikings “only” allowed 362 total yards. This was a significant improvement from the previous week at Chicago. Minnesota lost the ballgame nevertheless.

Rodgers passed for 209 passing yards that day. Fubsy halfback, Eddie Lacy, chipped in 125 yards on the ground as the Packers edged the Vikings 24-21.

+106 Yard Improvement

2014, Week 16 at Miami Dolphins – 493 yards allowed


A late-season tryst in Florida that went pear-shaped is an apt synopsis for this contest. Minnesota was finishing out Teddy Bridgewater and Mike Zimmer’s rookie seasons, and this game was a bizarre way script it. The Vikings lost on punt-block-safety, 37-35, to the 7-7 Miami Dolphins.

However, Zimmer’s Vikings responded differently this time. The Vikings returned to Minneapolis to hold the Bears to 264 total yards and toppled Chicago 13-9 in Week 17. Notably, this game marked Adam Thielen’s first career touchdown catch, and the Vikings punctuated the 2014 campaign on a positive note. This was also Bears skipper Mark Trestman’s final game as an NFL head coach.

+229 Yard Improvement

2018, Week 4 at Los Angeles Rams556 yards allowed

This is arguably the most similar game to the Vikings recent Packers contest in terms of defensive showing. In 2018, the Rams faced the Vikings on a Thursday night and made Minnesota defenders resemble morons. Upstart quarterback Jared Goff dimed five touchdowns and a cool 465 passing yards in an absolutely ruthless display of aerial superiority. This performance even put Goff into MVP conversations for a few minutes that season.

Minnesota absorbed the early-season body blow from the Rams and departed for a road game in Philadelphia versus the Eagles. The Vikings edged the Eagles 23-21 in this matchup and is, to date, the closest Vikings victory by win margin under Zimmer. Minnesota allowed 311 yards passing to Carson Wentz and stymied Philadelphia’s rushing attack. This was also the contest that nose tackle Linval Joseph sprinted for a 64-yard fumble return touchdown. All in all, the Vikings allowed 364 total yards in this Week 5 triumph.

+192 Yard Improvement

2018, Week 13 at New England Patriots471 yards allowed

Minnesota never has success against Bill Belichick, so this example nearly feels like a pseudo outlier. But it’s not. In 2018, this was by far the most gruesome portion of the Vikings schedule as the team drew the Patriots and Seahawks on the road successively. The Vikings were no match for Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in this Super Bowl-winning season for New England. The Patriots downed the purple and gold 24-10.

Next stop – Seattle, Washington. Minnesota lost this game, too. Yet, this game was a defensive tug-of-war, sort of. Seattle didn’t jog up and down the field by any means. But the Vikings jogged in place offensively.

The Seahawks won 21-7 as Minnesota could not will the offense to any consistent stretches of success. Seattle only mustered 274 yards of total offense, but it was all they would need. Kirk Cousins and the Vikings did not generate any offensive output until the wee moments of the fourth quarter.

+197 Yard Improvement

There you have it. If you believe that history is a precedent for future performance – especially when the head football coach is the same – the Vikings defense will markedly improve against the Indianapolis Colts.

As an exact average of these four examples, the Vikings will hold the Colts somewhere in the ballpark of 341 total yards and 19 points.

Zimmer just needs to ensure that the offense makes the trip to the Hoosier State, too.

Use code ‘3Deep’ for 20% off and free shipping!

Dustin Baker

Writer. Host of Bleav in Vikings Podcast w/B-Mac & Baker.

Related Articles