Points and wins were the only stats the NFL cared about or kept track of from its birth in 1920 through the 1931 season.
Ah, the good old days.
Right, Mike Zimmer?
“At the end of the day, all I worry about are points, understanding where we’re at, and wins,” said Zimmer, head coach of a Vikings team that has won 10 of 14 games.
The Vikings rank fourth in point differential (8.5) behind only Baltimore (15.4), New England (13.6) and San Francisco (11.5).
Zimmer spoke these words to the Star Tribune three weeks ago after Seattle thumped his squad for 37 points in a prime-time shootout. About 30 minutes earlier, a reporter essentially asked him how it felt to oversee the lousiest defense he’s coached since he followed Bobby Petrino to Atlanta in 2007.
Zimmer might not care about statistics. But he does care whenever someone uses them as a blunt instrument against him. Especially if they’re tied to 2007.
That was the year Petrino quit after 13 games, sneaked off to take the Arkansas job and left his assistants dangling. Zimmer, who later called Petrino “gutless,” was left to find a new job in the wake of the Falcons finishing 29th in total defense.
He made out OK.
Total defense, of course, is based on yardage allowed. That’s something that irks Zimmer and other people who value some context when cumulative stats are being thrown around.
“Another thing about stats,” said Zimmer, “is say you start out at the beginning of the year and you’re winning by 28 points. You’re going to play the game differently defensively.
“And the other team is going to play the game differently offensively. They’re going to throw the ball more and try to get big chunks while you’re playing more conservatively.”
He’s referring to Weeks 1 and 3, when the Vikings mauled the Falcons and Raiders, respectively.
Against the Falcons, the Vikings were leading 28-0 when they allowed Matt Ryan to pass for 134 yards and two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Ryan finished with 304 yards passing, 96 more than he had while upsetting the 49ers in San Francisco on Sunday.
Against Oakland, the Vikings held the Raiders to 149 yards and seven first downs through six possessions. Up 28-7, the Vikings then allowed 153 yards and 10 first downs in Oakland’s last three possessions.
“And the Green Bay game,” Zimmer said. “They scored the first three series and then the next 11, they didn’t do anything.”
In perhaps the strangest game of the year, in Week 2 the host Packers posted 171 yards, 10 first downs and 21 points in three possessions. After that, they had 164 yards, 10 first downs and no points with eight punts and two turnovers.
“These total defense rankings, I mean go back and look at New England winning all these Super Bowls,” Zimmer said.
OK. Will do.
The average ranking defensively in the Patriots’ six Super Bowls is 14th. They ranked 24th in their first win back in 2001 and 21st in last year’s win.
Guess who ranks 14th defensively this season. That’s right, the Vikings.
This season would tie 2014 for Zimmer’s worst ranking as Vikings coach. In 20 seasons as a head coach or defensive coordinator, Zimmer has had seven top-5 rankings, including the past three seasons (fourth in 2018, first in 2017 and third in 2016).
When it comes to total defense, the Vikings’ 338.9 yards allowed per game ranks eighth among teams in position to make the playoffs (fourth among NFC teams). But their 18.5 points allowed per game ranks tied for fifth among teams in playoff position. Only the 49ers are better among NFC teams in playoff position.
“These rankings can change in a hurry,” Zimmer said. “In Dallas, I had a really good defense. One year, we were fifth in the league with four games left. We finished 13th.”
Since Zimmer said those words, his defense has given up 17 points while posting nine takeaways.
Of course, if you still insist on keeping track of yards, Philip Rivers did throw for 307 of them. Just remember that he also lost by 29 points.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org