Minnesota Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer has learned plenty from his mentor, former NFL head coach and Super Bowl champion Bill Parcells, over the years.
“You are what your record says you are,” Parcells famously said when describing his own football team years ago, and it is very relevant to the 2020 Minnesota Vikings.
According to Parcells’ philosophy, Minnesota is one of the worst teams in the NFL. The Vikings are 1-4, which is dead last in the NFC North and better than only three teams in the NFL. However, that philosophy can be devoid of important context that could indicate different results in the future.
Sure, the Vikings are 1-4, and their first two performances of the season were especially ugly. The possibility of a playoff berth is quickly fading away, but the Vikings have seriously turned it around over the last three games, actually outscoring their opponents cumulatively by six points.
By the way, two of those opponents remain undefeated through the fifth week of the season. And yet, that stretch has only yielded one win.
The dichotomy that has developed with the Vikings this year has been fascinating to see. Is this team what its record says: 1-4, worst in the NFC North and one of the worst in the NFL? Or, is this 1-4 record more of a reflection of a very difficult opening schedule and a couple of bad breaks in close games?
It’s why coming to grips with the result of Minnesota’s Week 5 loss to Seattle has been challenging. The discussion about the Vikings completely changes if the Vikings gain another foot on that crucial 4th and short, or Cameron Dantzler tracks the ball on the long 4th and 10 conversion by Seattle — or if any other key play goes Minnesota’s way. The focus would be everything the Vikings are doing well which, frankly, is a lot of things.
For instance, Minnesota’s has allowed less than a 20% conversion rate on third downs over the past three games, which is best in the NFL. Zimmer has found a little bit of his 2017 magic with a plethora of young, inexperienced players, and he has found ways to keep high-powered offenses in check. For instance, Tennessee, a team that has scored 30 or more points in three straight games, only converted three of 13 third-down opportunities against the Vikings in Week 3.
On Sunday night against Seattle, Minnesota did not allow a single third down conversion (0-for-7) to the high-octane Seahawks offense, led by MVP frontrunner Russell Wilson.
Overall, the Vikings are allowing 27.8% of third downs to be converted against them, which is reminiscent of the historic 2017 defense that allowed roughly 25% for the season and set NFL records.
Then consider the Vikings’ offense, specifically in the rushing attack. Minnesota is third in the NFL in yards per carry, fourth in yards and fourth in touchdowns on the ground. Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, Minnesota’s primary ball-carriers, are averaging 5.3 and 5.0 yards per carry, respectively, for the season.
Football Outsiders’ metric DVOA, which calculates performance on a play-by-play basis compared to the league average and adjusting for opponent difficulty, has the Vikings as the No. 11 team in the NFL, despite the 1-4 record.
Ignoring these metrics and only looking at the 1-4 record isn’t the wrong philosophy. Heck, it’s what Parcells would do. There are a lot of factors that show why the Vikings haven’t closed games. The roster is young and inexperienced. The secondary, especially at cornerback, is depleted. Danielle Hunter is injured and doesn’t appear to be returning soon. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is turning the ball over at a higher clip than usual.
Minnesota, however, is statistically performing like a team that’s closer to 3-2 than 1-4. An easier schedule awaits the purple and gold in the near future, and it wouldn’t shock anyone to see the Vikings gain some momentum down the stretch.
This isn’t to say that they will earn a playoff berth, even with the expanded playoff format. But it’s not out of the realm of possibilities. Make no mistake about it, the Vikings are on the brink of a breakthrough. Perhaps they just needed a preseason more than other teams did.
They are 1-4 now, one of the worst teams in the NFL, according to Parcells’ philosophy.
Signs point to that changing soon.