How Has Mike Zimmer Fared Against Young, Innovative Play Callers?

Photo Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn (USA TODAY Sports)

The NFL is in the midst of a seismic shift in youthful offensive play-callers. Whether it be Sean McVay with the Los Angeles Rams, Kyle Shanahan with the San Francisco 49ers, Kellen Moore with the Dallas Cowboys, or Joe Brady with the Carolina Panthers, the NFL is littered with play-callers in their 30s or early 40s. Heck, even Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak is only 34.

With Mike Zimmer having spent nearly three decades in the NFL, you would think that his extensive experience would give him a leg up when matching wits with the NFL’s young bucks. But as we’ve seen early on this year with Cincinnati’s Zac Taylor or last week with Arizona’s Kliff Kingsbury, Zimmer’s lifetime of experience compared to these young pups hasn’t helped him out this season.

After two weeks, the Vikings are 0-2, and Zimmer’s defense ranks 27th in points and 28th in yards allowed.

With the NFL’s youth movement within the coaching ranks, let’s look at how Zimmer has fared against the NFL’s baby-faced offensive play-callers since 2018.

2021: 0-2

Week Opponent Play Caller (Age) Result Total Yards Allowed
1 @ Cincinnati Bengals Zac Taylor (38) L – 24-27 366 yards
2 @ Arizona Cardinals Kliff Kingsbury (42) L – 33-34 474 yards

2020: 3-5

Week Opponent Play Caller (Age) Result Total Yards Allowed
Week 1 Green Bay Packers Matt LaFleur (41) L – 34-43 522 yards
Week 3 Tennessee Titans Arthur Smith (39) L – 30-31 444 yards
Week 8 @ Green Bay Packers Matt LaFleur (41) W – 28-22 400 yards
Week 10 @ Chicago Bears Matt Nagy (43) W – 19-13 149 yards
Week 11 Dallas Cowboys Kellen Moore (33) L – 28-31 376 yards
Week 12 Carolina Panthers Joe Brady (31) W – 28-27 374 yards
Week 14 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers Byron Leftwich (41) L – 14-26 303 yards
Week 15 Chicago Bears Matt Nagy (43) L – 27-33 397 yards

Last season saw Zimmer get his first victories against divisional foes Matt LaFleur and Matt Nagy. While some folks would argue that Nagy is far from an innovative play-caller due to the Chicago Bears’ lack of statistical prowess during his tenure, the longtime assistant under Andy Reid in both Philadelphia and Kansas City has made the playoffs in two of his three seasons in Chicago. And he’s called an offense quarterbacked by one of the biggest busts in recent draft history.

2019: 1-5

Week Opponent Play Caller (Age) Result Total Yards Allowed
Week 2 @ Green Bay Packers Matt LaFleur (41) L – 16-21 335 yards
Week 4 @ Chicago Bears Matt Nagy (43) L – 6-16 269 yards
Week 10 @ Dallas Cowboys Kellen Moore (33) W – 28-24 443 yards
Week 16 Green Bay Packers Matt LaFleur (41) L – 10-23 383 yards
Week 17 Chicago Bears Matt Nagy (43) L – 19-21 337 yards
Divisional Round @ San Francisco 49ers Kyle Shanahan (41) L – 10-27 308 yards

Zimmer’s lone win against one of the NFL’s young, hotshot play-callers in 2019 was a Week 10 road win in Jerry World against Kellen Moore, a victory that saw his defense surrender 443 yards and 24 points. Zimmer lost by double digits in three of his five losses against the NFL’s youthful play-callers, with Shanahan atoning for his 2018 loss to Zimmer by shellacking the Vikings by 17 points in the NFC Divisional round.

2018: 1-4

Week Opponent Play Caller (Age) Result Total Yards Allowed
Week 1 San Francisco 49ers Kyle Shanahan (41) W – 24-16 327 yards
Week 4 @ Los Angeles Rams Sean McVay (35) L – 31-38 556 yards
Week 11 @ Chicago Bears Matt Nagy (43) L – 20-25 308 yards
Week 13 @ New England Patriots Josh McDaniels (45) L – 10-24 471 yards
Week 17 Chicago Bears Matt Nagy (43) L – 10-24 332 yards

After beating Shanahan to open the 2018 season, Zimmer was routed in Week 4 by Shanahan’s former assistant in Washington, Sean McVay. Zimmer’s defense was lit up for 38 points, 556 yards, and allowed Jared Goff to have a perfect passer rating of 158.3. In a do-or-die Week 17 matchup against then-first-year head coach Nagy, Zimmer and the Vikings imploded at US Bank Stadium, losing by two scores to the 2018 NFC North Champions.

Zimmer’s Record Against Young, Innovative Play Callers (since ’18): 5-16

Zimmer’s Record against Matt Nagy and Matt LaFleur: 2-8

It’s tough to sugarcoat it: The NFL’s current wave of innovative play-callers have Zimmer’s number, and this season has been no different.

With Russell Wilson — and his 6-0 career record against the Vikings — and the Seattle Seahawks coming to U.S. Bank Stadium in Week 3, another McVay disciple in Seattle offensive coordinator Shane Waldron, 42, will look to be the latest young, innovative offensive play-caller to exploit Zimmer’s defense.

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