The 2021 Minnesota Vikings don’t blow out opponents, but they also don’t get blown out. The only team they’ve beaten convincingly is the Seattle Seahawks, and it was because Minnesota matched up well. It’s a double-edged sword, and head coach Mike Zimmer has built a scheme that works only if they get lucky — for several reasons.
The Vikings have the best point differential in the NFC North while being in third place with a 2-3 record. Their plus-four point differential is tied with the New England Patriots as the highest in the league.
So why is every game they play so close?
It’s Zimmer’s game plan, the same theory and time management he’s had for years. But for some reason, it’s all coming to a head this season.
If there’s one thing Vikings fans know, it’s that Zimmer has been conservative, especially this season. There are ample stats indicating that Minnesota has been on the far end of the conservative side of the scale so far. They are bottom-six in the league in fourth-down attempts and bottom-five in points per game. Several times they have opted to take a knee to close out the half rather than try to score, and they are relying on the kicker to close out games.
Yes, this year’s Vikings are heavily reliant on their kicker. Haven’t they learned their lesson?!?
Jokes aside, it is odd that Zimmer has put so much pressure on his most loathed position. Kickers have plagued him for years now, yet he is defaulting to a long kick more than ever before. Greg Joseph has had his ups and downs, but overall it’s hard to be mad at the most accurate kicker in the NFL past 50 yards. He’s 5/5 on field goal attempts of 50 yards or more.
Zimmer has suddenly softened up when it comes to kickers. Remember when Blair Walsh gave Zimmer the death stare when he was on the Seattle Seahawks, or when Zimmer cut Daniel Carlson after Week 2 of his rookie season? Well, his tune has changed.
“Lots of kickers miss field goals,” Zimmer said after the loss to Arizona Cardinals. “Let’s give the kid a break, OK?” And that sentiment is fair. But why has his message to the media changed so much this year?
Does Zimmer’s post-game attitude change make him want to play even more conservatively than in past seasons? Is it because he’s feeling the pressure of the hot seat? There are a lot of unanswered questions. However, one thing is certain: This season feels different.
Even though the offense was the strength of last year’s team, Zimmer still committed to the run and defense. Well, the defense is good again, and it’s the same game plan. Run on crucial downs, even when Cousins is slinging the ball all game.
The good news is that this team is better than last year’s. They just haven’t found a groove, and Zimmer is game-planning for everything to go right — which we all know never happens. The fact remains that Zimmer needs to adapt and either let Cousins call audibles or allow Klint Kubiak to be more aggressive in the passing game.
It’s even more confounding because Zimmer has a poor track record with clock management. This shortcoming is amplified when a team is dependent on the run game because they are constantly chewing up time rather than organically stopping the clocks. It’s a quirk Zimmer can’t seem to learn.
The Seahawks game went the Vikings’ way because they could successfully establish the run against Seattle’s weak run defense. But Zimmer always game-plans as though the run game is flawless. In some games, the ratio of passes to runs needs to change, but we have yet to see that. Until he adjusts and starts trying to put teams away by throwing the ball, every game will come down to the wire.