Let’s guess that John DeFilippo spent Sunday on a beach, contemplating the damage the last month has done to his career.
It seems his old coach wanted to help, because after the Vikings beat Miami 41-17, Mike Zimmer provided DeFilippo with all the shade he will ever need.
Without mentioning his obvious feud with DeFilippo, Zimmer talked about the offense being “physical’’ and “running the football.’’ He spoke of how new offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski was “calm’’ and never “panicked.’’ For DeFilippo, this must have felt like SPF 41.
“I think Kevin knew what I wanted, so I think that was part of it,’’ Zimmer said.
One of Zimmer’s strengths is his timing. He’s adept at waiting for the ideal moment, taking advantage of the right openings, to make his hand-picked employees look good. This week he displayed that skill with the blitz and the pink slip.
Zimmer and DeFilippo had feuded for weeks. Zimmer fired DeFilippo after consecutive games at two of the toughest places to play in the NFL — New England and Seattle, where Kirk Cousins looked rattled and the offense looked inept.
For Zimmer, the timing worked just as well as if he had sent Mackensie Alexander on a corner blitz. Sunday afternoon, Stefanski faced one of the NFL’s worst defenses, helped the Vikings score touchdowns on their first three possessions, and watched his team put up its largest point total of the season.
“Coach did a great job of keeping the defense on their heels,’’ receiver Adam Thielen said. “They didn’t know if it was a run or a pass. … He let us go play.’’
Thielen is consistently diplomatic, but he seemed to be suggesting that we read between the lines. He, like Zimmer, praised Stefanski’s simple, intuitive approach, and Zimmer mentioned that having 215 options in your playbook doesn’t help because “you can’t call them all.’’
Stefanski kept Cousins under center more, where Cousins seems more comfortable and where play-action passes seem more effective. On the first drive, the Vikings went into a hurry-up offense and caught Miami unprepared on the touchdown pass to Stefon Diggs.
It’s fair to say that the Vikings’ offensive performance was impressive and promising, and also predictable.
The Dolphins ranked 28th in total defense. They were 1-5 on the road. With the exception of the Vikings’ stunning loss to Buffalo at U.S. Bank Stadium, which may have been prompted by Everson Griffen’s difficulties that weekend, the Vikings have generally beaten inferior teams. They are now 7-1-1 against teams that are currently .500 or worse.
Evaluating Stefanski after a home game against the Dolphins is like timing Dalvin Cook in the 40-yard dash while he’s running down a ski ramp. Discerning fans should be left with contradictory thoughts.
• Stefanski listened to Zimmer and jump-started the running game, which produced 220 yards? Yes. But last week the Vikings ran the ball on nine of their first 15 plays. This week, they ran it on eight of their first 15 plays. The Dolphins, unlike the Seahawks, allowed the Vikings to run effectively.
• Stefanski made Cousins comfortable with under-center snaps? True. And Cousins still threw an unconscionable, unforced pick-six that may have cost the Vikings the game against a better team.
• DeFilippo became a scapegoat? True. His presence was also untenable.
• Zimmer was right to promote Stefanski? Yes, but he should have done it last winter.
Stefanski is highly regarded within the organization, and he had the best chance of continuing what Pat Shurmur started last year. It’s proper to praise him today, and to understand that he, like Cousins, will be judged by sterner tests.
“Kevin did an unbelievable job creating a plan that allowed us to go out there and let our ability take over,’’ Kyle Rudolph said. “He got everyone involved — every playmaker on offense was out there making plays for us.
“When you run the ball for over 200 yards and have over 400 yards of offense, it makes things fun.’’
It was for Zimmer, who watched his prized defense dominate, and heard, through his headset, Stefanski heeding his wishes.