Mike Zimmer is in his sixth season as Vikings head coach, and for the third time he has led his team to a 6-2 record at the halfway point of the season after a 19-9 victory over Washington on Thursday.
“To be at the halfway mark and be 6-2, I think that is good,” Zimmer said. “We still have some ground to make up and we have a lot of tough games, a lot of prime-time games, coming up. We’re going to have to continue to get better, we’re going to have to correct the mistakes and we’re going to have to move forward.”
The first time the Vikings started 6-2 was in 2015, when they finished 11-5 and lost a wild-card matchup to the Seahawks at TCF Bank Stadium in a game they should have won. They also started 6-2 in 2017, when they finished 13-3 and made it to the NFC Championship Game before losing to Philadelphia.
But this is easily the most balanced team that Zimmer has ever coached.
Entering this week the Vikings were sixth in the NFL in total defense and total offense. And while they have posted better defensive totals, finishing first in total defense in 2017, they haven’t come close to being this good on offense.
Schedule will challenge
Going forward there is no question the schedule will get more difficult.
The next two games will be their toughest back-to-back games, starting at Kansas City next week followed by playing at Dallas on Sunday night.
They then face Denver at home, have their bye in Week 12, travel to Seattle, face Detroit at home, the Los Angeles Chargers on the road and then end the season with Green Bay and Chicago at home.
“It’ll be tough, but you know, I think the next eight games will tell what this team is about,” Zimmer said.
Balanced offense is thriving
One of the best parts of this team for Zimmer is the balance it has on offense and the number of playmakers it can call on each week.
“I like that we’re able to do a lot of different things offensively,” he said. “We can throw the ball, we can run quarterback bootlegs, we can run the football. All of those things help us. Then, you know, typically we play pretty good defensively.”
The Vikings coach pointed out that Kirk Cousins deserves a lot of credit for what this team is doing offensively.
Cousins’ 115.2 quarterback rating is the highest ever for a Vikings passer through eight weeks, as is his 72.1 completion percentage.
“He has played outstanding the last four weeks,” Zimmer said. “His preparation has been great. He has come in and done a really nice job with getting ready to play each game, getting the ball to the right players.”
Gophers passing every test
The Gophers continued to show they are one of the most dominant football teams in the Big Ten with a 52-10 win over Maryland on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium.
No Gophers team has put up this kind of point differential through five Big Ten games. The Gophers have outscored their conference opponents by 134 points, 206-72.
In their national championship years, when they played just eight games, they put up those kinds of numbers.
In 1934 the Gophers outscored opponents 270-38 (plus-232); in ’35 it was 194-46 (plus-148); and in ’36 it was 203-32 (plus-171). In their 1940 championship run they outscored opponents 154-71 (plus-83), and in ’41 the numbers were 186-38 (plus-148).
But what is even more amazing is that last year through five conference games the Gophers were 1-4 and had been outscored by 80 points.
The growth that P.J. Fleck, his coaching staff and players have shown over the past year is unmatched in the history of Gophers football.
And the fact is this team is going to play in a great bowl game — the Gophers have a two-game lead on Iowa and Wisconsin in the Big Ten West with just four games remaining, and the Rose Bowl is becoming a real possibility.
Now they get a week off, and time to prepare for challenges that will establish whether they are truly one of the best teams in the country.
But there are still big questions for this club: Can it beat Penn State at home in two weeks? Can it beat Iowa and Northwestern on the road? Can it beat Wisconsin at home to end the season?
And just as important, will fans come to watch one of the best teams in school history? There’s no question that this club should get a sellout for the game against Penn State.
The Gophers will get a chance to answer all of those questions soon. So far they haven’t blinked at any moment this season.
• The Gophers’ 2020 schedule includes difficult games against Michigan and Michigan State, but they don’t have to face Ohio State or Penn State.
• The Vikings still have to face the Chiefs (5-2), Cowboys (4-3), Seattle (5-2) and Green Bay (6-1). But they also get the Broncos, Lions, Chargers and Bears, who are a combined 9-16-1. The Packers still have Kansas City, Carolina (4-2), San Francisco (6-0), and the Vikings.
• Former Gophers linebacker and current New York Jet Blake Cashman set a career high with eight tackles against the Patriots on Monday night. His 34 tackles rank fourth among rookies in the NFL.
• Twins President Dave St. Peter said to look for improved Wi-Fi, more field netting, revised concessions and a makeover of the suite level at Target Field for 2020. ... Twins bench coach Derek Shelton had a second interview with the Mets last week to replace manager Mickey Callaway.
• Former Twins in the World Series: Fernando Rodney, Kurt Suzuki and Brian Dozier with the Nationals and Ryan Pressly with the Astros. Dozier hit only .238 with Washington this season.
• Former Gophers standout Amir Coffey made the Clippers’ final roster but is on a two-way deal and will most likely start the season in Ontario with the G League team.
• Checking on former Wolves, Tyus Jones is averaging 9.5 points, five assists and two rebounds through two games with Memphis, Derrick Rose is averaging 22.5 points and six assists through two games with Detroit, and Dario Saric is averaging 6.5 points and six rebounds through two games with Phoenix.
• The Vikings are tied for the sixth-best odds to win the Super Bowl, according to BetOnline. They trail the Patriots, Saints, Packers, 49ers and Chiefs, their opponent next week.