When Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer addressed the media following the 42-10 shellacking by the Green Bay Packers, he looked disgusted. His team didn’t perform well and even more, his defense let him down, and he didn’t appear too happy about it. Zimmer didn’t mince words when explaining how he felt.
“My job is to get the football team to move forward. We didn’t do that,” Zimmer told the Star Tribune. “So if I have to hurt some feelings, I’m going to hurt some feelings. I don’t care because my feelings are hurt, too.”
Zimmer was explicit in exactly what he thought went wrong with the defense in the game, and he didn’t sugar coat it for his players or anyone else who was listening.
“It’s frustrating when people can run the ball down your throat—that’s what’s frustrating--and you give up big plays on a play that shouldn’t have happened,” Zimmer said referring to the long, wide open touchdown pass to Jordy Nelson.
Just last Sunday, the Vikings defense appeared to have handled the high-flying Atlanta Falcons, but suddenly, four days later, they looked like a different team and Zimmer explained just how poorly the team played.
“If we don’t learn how to stop the run,” Zimmer said with exasperation, “if we don’t learn how to quit doing dumb things—jumping off sides on third down, having penalties, [if we don’t] learn how to pass protect, it doesn’t matter who we play or when we play.”
Zimmer watched the same game as we all did. The Vikings performance on Thursday night was epically bad. There were constant reminders from broadcasters of where it fell in the pantheon of blowouts in this rivalry and how it was the second worst point differential on Thursday night football (the NFL better get used to that during mid-week games.)
The Vikings offense was bad--two second-quarter turnovers cemented the loss--but it had help from the defense, which put the team in a hole right out of the gate and forced the offense (led by an over-matched Christian Ponder) out of any comfort zone they might have brought to the game.
The Vikings defense--the unit that has been conditionally lauded all season for bending, not breaking; for performing better than the score would indicate; and for keeping the team in games--suddenly doesn’t look so great.
There was some talk about how you can’t lay the game solely at the feet of the defense because they were given shorter fields, and that is true. But it is also hogwash. A stop is a stop—whether it happens at your 20 or theirs. If the opponent takes over at your 25 yard line, and you hold them to a field goal, that is good defense.
But the Vikings didn’t do that against the Packers. Green Bay finished off their drives with touchdowns—five of them. Their drives started at their own 39, 19, 30 and 38 yard lines. They also had one start on the Minnesota 20, and we would be willing to give the defense a pass on that, but it only lasted three plays. That’s a don’t-bend, just-go-ahead-and-break defense.
On Friday afternoon, after viewing the tape of the game, Zimmer’s assessment of the game, and his defense, wasn’t any different than it was on Thursday night.
“There’s nothing more disheartening as a coach than for you to get manhandled up-front,” Zimmer told Star Tribune. “To be in the wrong gaps, to have people running the ball at you, it’s just disheartening. I think when I was in Dallas, my first year as a coordinator, we were like 30th or something in the league in rush defense and I said, ‘Never again.’ I guess that’s where that [disheartening talk] all stems from.”
Certainly the defense had some good moments—after giving up the first two scores, the defense forced three consecutive punts, to “give the team a chance.” But unfortunately, the offense went into the turnover business and gave the game away in the second quarter.
As Zimmer said: “That [game] was over early.”
The tacking was poor. Packers running back Eddie Lacy had not yet rushed for 50 yards in a game this season and he put up 105 against the Vikings, rushing for two touchdowns and knocking over defensive backs like bowling pins.
The linebackers got out of their lanes for stopping the run, the defensive linemen could not get off blocks and slow down Lacy, and the secondary, between occasional flashes of defending passes, didn’t get the job done.
As a unit the defense had two sacks, three passes defended and three quarterback hits—making 57 tackles in the game. By comparison, the numbers for Packers defense were 73 tackles, six sacks, eight passes defensed and 16 quarterback hits—and a pick six. When considering these numbers, the final score begins to make more sense.
“I feel like we did not get off of blocks very well,” Zimmer said, trying to explain the lack of rush defense. “I feel like we weren’t in the proper position a lot of times. Whether you credit that to Green Bay or you credit it to us, it’s the same.”
Zimmer talked last week about how important playing team defense is and on Thursday, his defense went out and showed exactly what happens when you don’t. With someone out of position, or offside, or unable to make a play, it doesn’t matter if most of the defense is on point, because a quarterback like Aaron Rodgers will find those weaknesses or blown assignments.
The problem with this performance is that it was more than just a loss to a divisional archrival--it was an embarrassment. It exposed just how far the defense still has to go to become a strength on the team. As a result, we now must judge the rest of the defensive performances through a different perspective. Suddenly a defense that was ranked near the top 10 in the league looks like one holding on for its life.
To his credit, Zimmer hasn’t been looking at his defense through rose-colored glasses. While many were celebrating a dominating performance against Atlanta, Zimmer reminded reporters that “winning covers a lot of warts,” and that the defense wasn’t very good against the run last week either. Zimmer isn’t making any excuses for his team.
“Well, there’s been a lot of ups and downs, things that have happened throughout the course of this time,” Zimmer said when asked the inconsistent performances of his team. “But no one’s feeling sorry for me. No one’s worried about that. It is what it is.”
So then, what does the team and its fans hang onto during the long week until the next game? Zimmer said it’s hard to find a silver lining in the beat down in Green Bay.
The Vikings will hopefully get linebacker Chad Greenway back from injury soon, but the latest is that he has three broken ribs. Cornerback Josh Robinson and safety Harrison Smith continue to perform at a high level—but Smith was seen on Friday in a walking boot. Xavier Rhodes is improving, but Captain Munnerlyn has to be more consistent and Robert Blanton needs to watch the tape of the game, burn it into his memory banks and use it as motivation going forward. Indeed, it is hard to find a silver lining.
The entire defensive unit watched the game tape on Friday, and Brian Robison told KFAN radio that it wasn’t much fun. It should embarrass and tick them off. The tape of their play may not help them improve much, but it should motivate more inspired performances out of them. That’s what Zimmer is hoping for:
“We got our nose rubbed in it tonight,” he said. “We will go back and get back to work and as you saw, four days, this was a lot different looking than it was a week ago. Things change fast in the league, and I anticipate that they will change back. The team does care, and as long as they care and put in the work, we’ll continue to get better. It’s good sometimes to get your nosed rub in it. You find out what you are made of.”
It feels encouraging that the Vikings have a coach who isn’t going to settle for poor play. Zimmer said he scoured the tape for evidence of players not giving full effort after the team got down big (as Robison reportedly said had happened)—but he found no evidence. But if the players are trying and failing so miserably, what does that leave? New players?
Zimmer said the team is going to do a self-scout over the next few days, looking at what’s good and what’s not.
“We need to get back to work and get better at the things we are doing, in every phase, really,” he said. “And continue to try to figure more about this football team. We’ve got to evaluate what we’re doing. We’ve got to evaluate my mentality with the team, maybe. We’re going to evaluate everything.”
It can’t come soon enough.
Head over to VikingsJournal.com to check out A.J. Mansour's story on the Vikings taking advanatage of a break in the schedule and then join in the conversation on the Vikings Journal forums, where everything Purple is dissected and discussed.
Joe Oberle is a senior writer at VikingsJournal.com, covers the NFL for The Sports Post and is managing editor of Minnesota Golfer magazine. He is an author and longtime Minnesota-based writer.