Thoughts on the “New” 2020 Vikings Coaching Staff

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After the Vikings’ Super Bowl hopes were exposed in every way possible against the San Francisco 49ers a few Saturdays ago, it was clear that despite the fact that the owners had made it clear that they had every intent to keep things as-is for 2020 “and beyond”, there needed to be immediate and drastic improvements to the status quo (or dare I say… VikesGeist?) in what, even without the changes to the coaching staff, is going to be the biggest off-season in recent Vikings history. 

We know that because long-time Zimmer right-hand man, George Edwards, was fired after the game and it’s my belief that outside of perhaps wanting continuity for quarterback Kirk Cousins and company, former Vikings offensive coordinator would’ve (and definitely should’ve) also been fired had he not been close to landing a head coaching gig elsewhere.

Anyone watching that game wouldn’t immediately have said that the main problem was the defense. The offense had zero answers for the Niners defense, especially it’s front, and while that’s on Stefanski and company, it gives you (re)new(ed) perspective as to what John DeFilippo went through when he was here in 2018.

While, thanks to Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison, the Vikings’ run offense improved markedly in 2019, the 2018 offensive line and run game essentially were working with units that were a lot like the ones that we saw in the Monday Night Football debacle against the Packers. And the run blocking/game was the highlight of this offense as the pass blocking was terrible this season. However, it was mostly just overlooked because of the improvements to the run game and because people were either infuriated that Stefanski wasn’t getting Cousins out of the pocket or blaming/defending Cousins, all the while the unit ended the season as the 27th ranked unit in that regard according to PFF.

Without Dalvin Cook or Alexander Mattison, the Vikings had Mike Boone and an offensive line that was being outclassed and outplayed on every level. A lot of the plays that they ran were blown up before the line of scrimmage, and that’s something that you can’t really coach around. It sounds a lot like 2018.

Sure, you can and should try to chip players like Za’Darius Smith or Nick Bosa (something the team didn’t do, which is an indictment in-and-of-itself), but when you take over an offense that has treated its offensive line as an afterthought for years, it’s not necessarily your fault.

Case in point, it seems like yet again a coordinator took the fall for things that weren’t necessarily either his fault or under his control. So, who would want to join that situation? Where the team has gone through offensive coordinators like Green Bay fans go through arterial stints? Or on defense where you wouldn’t necessarily have any power to, you know, coordinate the defense or make any sort of major change outside of Zimmer’s system?

Coincidentally that brings me to the news of the day!

According to our own Sean Borman over on our sister-site; The Vikings named both Adam Zimmer, Mike Zimmer’s son, and Andre Patterson, as co-defensive coordinators. People thought that either was going to be the one to get the gig, so it’s a bit surprising that they both got the gig but it doesn’t really help people find solace that 2020 will be much different from 2019… Or 2018, or 2017… Or, you get the idea.

At least on defense.

But while things clearly aren’t going as great as anyone wants, it’d have been hard to really bring in anyone from outside the team to fill that role. For a multitude of reasons. First, this defense has, at least as of the writing of this article, too many players that are suited “perfectly” for Zimmer’s system to make a change at this point. At the end of the 2019 season, there were eight players on defense that had been with the Vikings/under Zimmer for five years. That continuity can be a blessing, as when things are good you have guys that understand the system on multiple levels and also know and trust the people next to them on an instinctual level.

On the other hand, it does paint you into a corner when things aren’t going well. Because, the core of this defense is (mostly) signed through 2023, and considering the fact that most players don’t get better with age once they hit around 27-30, and also considering the fact that at it’s best this defense still didn’t dominate enough to get this team to the promised land (also for a multitude of reasons)… It’s hard not to feel trapped with a good but not great team.

That continuity also means that it’s next to impossible to implement a new system. That continuity extends to the head coach, as this is Zimmer’s system and Zimmer is obviously still here, and he is still going to be calling plays on Sundays. As we’ve seen in the 2017 NFCCG and the subsequent start to the 2018 season, when Zimmer has implemented change it’s essentially backfired as he essentially wasn’t changing the defense from a fundamental perspective (changing from to a 3-4 for example). Instead, Zimmer just tried to perfect his system by complicating it, and that lead to the team thinking and not playing or reacting, or basically just replacing that instinct that came from the continuity with confusion.

Then there’s the fact that the job just isn’t that enticing, at least for someone established. Zimmer calls the plays on Sunday, making the defensive coordinator position mainly one of opponent scouting/planning during the week. That means that the only candidates are people who haven’t been a defensive coordinator before, so when you have all of the above ingredients it’s pretty obvious that the Vikings were going to promote from within.

The surprise is the ‘Who’ in that situation. Or, ‘Whom’ (or ‘Whem’?).

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Looks like the Vikings offensive line during the Zimmer era

Or at least on its face, it’s kinda surprising that the team elevated both Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson to that position as you don’t see a lot of co-coordinators in the league. When you look at it further, it makes a bunch of sense. I have no reason to believe that the younger Zimmer didn’t earn this promotion (same for Patterson, they’ve both put in work), but Zimmer is savvy enough to know that had he promoted his own son either over Patterson or in general, that it’d scream nepotism and more of the same.

Considering the firing of Edwards and the fact that implied that change was needed, replacing Edwards (who, again, wasn’t calling plays against the Niners) with ANOTHER Zimmer just would’ve been tone-deaf and would’ve made the firing of Edwards seem even more unfair.

If this move doesn’t scream more of the same, both Zimmer and Patterson will continue to oversee their previous position groups (linebackers, and defensive line, respectively). While, again, it’s not like there was any other choice to be made here (or any other candidates of Zimmer and/or Patterson’s ilk), the repetition does make you feel a bit bad for Edwards.

For those chomping at the bit for change, the team did bring in some outside eyeballs at other spots on the defense.

Daronte Jones was hired to oversee the defensive backs. That’ll mark his fifth-year in the NFL doing that, after two separate two-year stints with the Bengals and Dolphins. Zimmer also coached the defense of the Bengals before coming to Minnesota, and while their respective time with the Bengals didn’t overlap, I’m sure Zimmer felt more comfortable bringing in someone from his old team to helm his favorite position than looking elsewhere (Unless Bill Parcells wants to come out of retirement to be a position coach).

Speaking of team familiarity, on the other side of the ball the Vikings hired Phil Rauscher to be the co-offensive line coach alongside long-time Gary Kubiak right-hand man, Rick Dennison. Rauscher also has limited but very contextually important NFL coaching experience, with a five-year career with two different organizations, one being the Denver Broncos. The other? The Washington Redskins.

As I said above, the offense was more of the culprit than the defense this season, especially when it came to big games. A lot of that had to do with the game plan, but obviously you’re not going to make it to the Super Bowl with the 27th-ranked pass protecting offensive line in general. When your line is blocking for a quarterback who struggles under pressure, you’ve got yourself the worst possible Venn Diagram.

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That having been said, bringing a fresh set of eyes to the line is yet another sign that the powers that be in Eagan see the writing on the wall. While you think that that’s not something we should give credit for, the combination of Zimmer and Spielman as a unit has continuously neglected this offensive line until recently.

Sure, they brought in Riley Reiff and Mike Remmers, but because they yet again went corner in the first round in 2018, they had to move Remmers from his natural (only) position of tackle to guard, as they missed out on the four interior linemen between Mike Hughes and tackle Brian O’Neill. If nothing else, these moves objectively showed that the line was the last priority in their plan to build a contender and so far the results have been too little, too late.

That is, of course, unless they can turn things around in 2020. I, for one, believe that if anyone can do that it’ll be not Zimmer, but instead Gary Kubiak and his team, as this defense has shown that even at it’s best that it’s not the type of defense that is dominant enough to win a championship. So, it’ll come down to the offense to get this team over the hump and there’s no one I’d rather have making the decisions and calls than Kubiak. Let’s just hope that his promotion also wasn’t too late for this Vikings team, or at least for Zimmer’s sake, as his contract expires after next season.