Mike Zimmer pushed back on suggestions that his revamped defense might trend downward this season, at least early on, by boasting in training camp that “I’ve never had a bad defense.”
One game doesn’t equate to a full résumé, but Zimmer has a ton of work ahead to make that defiant statement hold up.
Zimmer’s new-look defense met a familiar face in Sunday’s opener, and the result was so stunningly lopsided that even the no-nonsense coach himself engaged in some gallows humor afterward.
“Luckily we had one goal-line stand,” Zimmer mused. “Otherwise it would have been really ugly.”
Oh, it was plenty ugly, a performance unlike any witnessed in Zimmer’s tenure as Vikings coach in terms of points allowed. Most reasonable observers expected growing pains for the defense given sweeping personnel turnover, but a 43-34 shellacking at the hands of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers showed in vivid imagery that rebuilding on the fly is a tad more complicated than simply plugging in new guys in place of jettisoned veterans.
“There’s a lot of football left to be played,” Zimmer said, “but we got to get better quick.”
This isn’t a case of solving a mystery. The defense was overmatched against one of the NFL’s greatest quarterbacks.
Rodgers dissected Zim’s defense and the young cornerbacks with such precision and efficiency that it looked as if he were teaching a master class in modern-day quarterbacking.
Rodgers completed 72.7% of his passes for 364 yards and four touchdowns. His passing total would have easily exceeded 400 yards if not for two dropped passes by Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the second half, including one deep ball.
In fact, Valdes-Scantling’s drops were the Vikings’ best and only real defense in the second half.
The Packers scored 43 points even with that goal-line stand by the Vikings and those wide-open drops. That still qualified as the most points scored against Zimmer’s defense since he took over in 2014.
“That’s not what we’re used to here,” safety Harrison Smith said. “It’s not what we’re about here. We’ve got to do everything we can to move on from this and improve drastically from 43.”
Predictably, Rodgers went right at Zimmer’s cornerbacks, and not just rookie Cameron Dantzler. The Vikings didn’t have anyone who could handle Davante Adams, who basically played pitch-and-catch with Rodgers in collecting 14 receptions for 156 yards and two touchdowns.
Complicating matters was a nonexistent pass rush with star defensive end Danielle Hunter sidelined by injury. Allowing Rodgers ample time to pick apart an inexperienced secondary is like throwing a porterhouse into a tiger’s cage.
The outcome is obvious.
“We didn’t get much pressure on him, that’s for sure,” Zimmer said.
Rodgers completed five passes that covered at least 24 yards, including two of 40 or more. He made several vintage throws, highlighted by a laser on the run to Adams in the end zone for a toe-drag.
News flash: The Packers shouldn’t be in a hurry to start the Jordan Love era just yet.
The whole thing was a mess from a Vikings perspective. They couldn’t stop the run or the pass. They gave up too many third-down conversions, which skewed the time-of-possession ledger so severely that the Vikings’ offensive players barely broke a sweat in the first half because they didn’t bring much to the fight until garbage time.
What’s worse, Rodgers’ hard count induced three offsides penalties — on the road. Granted, the lack of crowd noise likely contributed to that because Rodgers’ barking was more pronounced, but that’s still no excuse. Two of the offside penalties came on third down, giving the Packers a fresh set of downs.
The Packers finished with 522 yards on 76 plays and edged the Vikings in time of possession 41:16 to 18:44.
“We just kept allowing them to drain us,” Smith said. “That’s what happens when you’re on the field for [41 minutes]. You’re not going to win a lot of games that way.”
Growing pains for the defense were inevitable with so many new faces. Nobody expected that unit to be fine-tuned in Game 1. But the first impression left more concern than optimism.