Week 6 is essentially a make-or-break point of the season for the Minnesota Vikings. After avoiding an embarrassing implosion against the winless Detroit Lions last week inside US Bank Stadium, Minnesota needs a win on the road against the 3-2 Carolina Panthers to head into the bye week with any chance of making a run at the wild card.
Carolina got out to a quality start, and they’ve embraced an identity that resembles Mike Zimmer’s longtime strategy throughout his tenure as head coach of the Vikings: running the ball and winning with league-leading defense.
Which begs the question: How has Zimmer fared against teams that mirror the identity he wants for his football team?
For this case study, we’re going to look at how the Vikings have done against teams that ranked in the top 10 in rushing attempts AND had a top-16 defense (points and/or yards allowed).
The Vikings haven’t gotten out to the start they were hoping for. Greg Joseph botched a layup 37-yard game-winning field goal that would’ve allowed Minnesota to escape the desert with a victory against the NFL’s lone undefeated team. Then Cleveland ran for 184 yards against them two weeks later. Kevin Stefanski took Zimmer’s blueprint and beat him at his own game, inside Zimmer’s building.
The Vikings were shellacked by the Indianapolis Colts in Week 2 of last season, losing by three scores. It’s important to note the this was the final game where the Vikings left Justin Jefferson out of the starting lineup. Unsurprisingly, the offense struggled throughout the day.
And who could forget Christmas day when Zimmer’s defense gave up 52 points to his former colleague Sean Payton?
After exercising some demons against Doug Pederson and the Eagles, Zimmer’s Vikings continued their strong play against the NFC East by going into Jerry World and beating the Cowboys in primetime. However, on the road at San Francisco in the Divisional Round, the 49ers gashed Zimmer’s defense for 186 yards on the ground en route to a cakewalk victory, ending the Vikings’ season.
I’ll let the numbers speak for themselves here. Zimmer and the Vikings went a whopping 0-6 against teams that ranked in the top 10 in rush attempts and had a defense that ranked in the top half in either points or yards allowed. It’s hard to sugarcoat this level of futility — especially coming off a 13-3 season where they replaced Case Keenum with Kirk Cousins at quarterback.
Since 2018 and the dawn of the Kirk Cousins era, Zimmer is a disastrous 2-11 against teams that play the same brand of football that he vehemently demands out of his team: running the ball and leaning on a top-half defense.
Bringing it back to Week 6’s matchup against Carolina, Zimmer will have another opportunity to go against a team that mirrors his team’s identity. Carolina currently ranks ninth in rushing attempts, third in points allowed, and second in yards allowed.
Will history repeat itself, sending the Vikings into their bye week with a 2-4 record? Or will Zimmer’s team finally play 60 minutes of quality football and come out with a much-needed road victory to unofficially throw themselves into the NFC wild-card mix?
Over the past four seasons, the rest of the NFL hasn’t had a problem with beating Zimmer at his own game. If the Vikings can’t figure out a way to beat yet another team on Sunday that embraces Zimmer’s ideology, why are they still attempting to embrace that same identity with Zimmer?