BY THE NUMBERS

Zimmer’s defense

15.4: That’s the average number of points scored by a Vikings opponent in Week 1 in Mike Zimmer’s first five seasons as head coach. The team has gone 4-1 while holding all five opponents to fewer than 21 points.

Only three other teams have surrendered fewer points in their past five season openers.

“[Week 1] is always hard,” said Zimmer, whose team plays the Falcons at U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday. “Like I told the team, every team has new wrinkles. We have new wrinkles. They have new wrinkles.”

But in today’s NFL, nobody shows even a hint of those new wrinkles during the monthlong preseason. So coaches must look for tendencies from prior years. And in a league that turns over coordinators pretty quickly — there are 13 new offensive coordinators this season — that can include not only going back, but studying a coordinator who’s working with different rosters, skill sets and talent.

“Sometimes,” said Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, “we go back too far. … It can become paralysis by analysis.”

 

Added Zimmer: “Sometimes you might go in with a little bit too much game plan just in case.”

And sometimes a team just has to trust its strengths and, oh yeah, play harder than the other guys.

“I tell the defensive team all the time, it’s very difficult to be good on defense,” Zimmer said. “You have to play extremely hard, you have to play fast, you have to play smart. If you don’t run to the ball, if you don’t get going to the ball and swarm the ball, then you’re going to struggle. That’s what makes it hard.”

SPOTLIGHT PLAYER and COACH

Cam Newton, Panthers QB

The now-30-year-old former league MVP says he “feels like a rookie” again. The Panthers need him to feel like a league MVP again. When last we saw Cam, his throwing shoulder was so beat up that the Panthers shut him down with two weeks left in the season. Newton’s 6-2 start became an 0-6 slide as new offensive coordinator Norv Turner searched for and failed to find ways to make things work. Statistically, Newton improved in yards passing, completion percentage, yards per attempt, touchdowns, interceptions and passer rating. But coming off shoulder surgery in January and a minor foot injury in the preseason, people want to know if Newton can still lift a team to victory. A win at home over the defending conference champion Rams on Sunday would be a nice first step.

 

Dan Quinn, Falcons, head coach/defensive cordinator

Remember that total confidence Quinn said he had in Marquand Manuel before last season? Yeah, that disappeared when Manuel’s defense finished 28th overall, 25th in points allowed, 31st in third-down percentage and, well, you get it. So for the second time in his stint as Falcons head coach, Quinn, the former Seahawks defensive coordinator, will take over the defensive play-calling duties. His first assignment: The Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium.