If you believe running the football is an outdated mode of NFL transportation, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer disagrees. And this year, he has more people of like mind backing him inside the walls of TCO Performance Center.
Gary Kubiak and Rick Dennison — cohorts as teammates through the ’80s and coaches for much of the past quarter century — have been reunited in Minnesota to help Zimmer prove old school is the best school. Kubiak, the assistant coach/offensive consultant, and Dennison, the line coach and run-game coordinator, both have three Super Bowl rings as Broncos coaches in run-oriented systems similar to what the Vikings will run this season.
We asked all three men for their thoughts on critics who say their philosophy is outdated.
Zimmer: “There’s something to be said about the root of football and the physicality of the running game and the toughness of your football team and being able to control the tempo of the game. All those things. I have a hard time when the offense is running no-huddle, and they throw three incomplete passes and 14 seconds have come off the clock and the defense goes back out there. To me, it might look great, but this is not fantasy football.
“I had a team meeting last year. We were talking during the season. I was asking players, ‘OK, what do you think?’ They’re all afraid to talk. So, I said, ‘Tell me what you think!’ One of the guys, an offensive lineman, said, ‘Coach, we want to go forward. We just want to go forward. We want that mentality, the toughness.’ I think that breeds how your team is. … If you look at the Rams’ offense it’s very similar. They run the ball. They get chunks down the field because of their play-action.”
Kubiak: “Well, look at the world champions last year. New England ran the ball better than anyone in football the last month of the season.”
In three postseason games, including the Super Bowl win over the Rams, the Patriots ran the ball 114 times for 485 yards (4.3) and nine touchdowns.
More Kubiak: “They went to Kansas City and ran for  yards in the AFC Championship. Physical football gives you a chance to win week in and week out. Zim wants a physical team. I believe in it too, so it’s been fun to be around him every day. It doesn’t keep you from throwing it. Sometimes, you have to throw it 40 or 50 times. But it’s just a mind-set of what kind of football team you want to be.”
Dennison: “I just think if you make the defense have to defend everything, you’re better off. If you can let them only defend pass or only defend run, then you’ve cut down their work. But if you make them defend the run sideline to sideline, which our plays will go that way, and we will run all kinds of schemes, not just zone … we’ll make them have to read as they go. And once they start stepping up, we’ll throw it over their heads. [Former Broncos line coach and noted godfather of the modern zone blocking scheme] Alex Gibbs, you couldn’t sway him. He didn’t want to change. It was, ‘I know it will work.’ I get some of that, too. There are some adjustments you have to make, but you have to be persistent.”