Zimmer's Players Are Still Fighting For Him, Even If the Public Isn't

Photo credit: @Vikings on Twitter

This Minnesota Vikings’ season has been filled with its fair share of moral victories, heartbreaking choke jobs, and near defeats. Watching these games unfold has been a form of masochism for self-deprecating shitposters that doubles as psychological torture for the average optimistic fan.

It’s not just the fans who’ve been suffering, either. Minnesota’s players have been stuck in a self-repeating hellscape. They feel obligated to provide the media with quotes about how the team needs to change how they perform in critical situations by being more aggressive early on and when closing out games. We’ve seen players like Adam Thielen criticize the team’s overly conservative approach, an open critique of Mike Zimmer’s coaching philosophy.

Despite Zimmer’s questionable late-game decision-making, he’s gotten bailed out on several occasions by his players. In the Vikings’ Week 5 matchup against the Detroit Lions, with 33 seconds left, Kirk Cousins and the Vikings’ offense started at their own 18-yard line and quickly got within striking distance to set up a 54-yard field goal from Greg Joseph to win the game. Most recently, Dalvin Cook had the best game of his career in which he blasted his way through a suspect Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense and gained over 200 yards rushing along with two touchdowns.

However, while the fanbase has no choice but to helplessly watch from afar as the team does its best to increase their blood pressure, the players can force change by staging a mutiny. Although Zimmer has been on a simmering hot seat for quite some time, the team has shown no signs of playing with any less intensity.

So why is it that the same players who have been critical of how things are run aren’t knocking on the Wilfs’ door demanding a change of the guard? Owners historically tend to favor keeping star players in-house by replacing coaches. It’s the adage that you fire the coach because you can’t fire all the players. Guys like Thielen and Cousins are on multi-year contracts. Their jobs are likely safe in the event of a coaching change.

However, this may not necessarily be the case under new management. If the Vikings were to hire an offensive-minded coach, it’s possible that he would want a fresh start at quarterback, even with Cousins playing at a high level. Perhaps a new head coach finds a younger wide receiver in the draft and opts to replace an aging Thielen.

Not to mention, the Vikings have a bevy of guys on defense who are on one-year deals. Patrick Peterson, Sheldon Richardson, Mackensie Alexander, Bashaud Breeland, and Nick Vigil could be viewed as relics of an old regime. These guys have even more incentive to perform at a high level due to a lack of job security and a desire to make more money on a new contract. Players on one-year deals are unlikely to mutiny because they can leave in free agency if any problems with the coaching staff arise.

Simply put, it makes little sense from a player’s perspective to potentially risk their career so a coach can get fired when the team is still in the playoff hunt. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that the Vikings set out to make a statement on primetime television in a must-win matchup against the Steelers.

Minnesota got off to a quick start. A revamped offensive line that has only started two games together dominated the Steelers’ vaunted defensive line led by Cameron Heyward and T.J. Watt.

The biggest story of the night was undoubtedly Cook showing the world why he’s one of the NFL’s best running backs. Even though team trainer Eric Sugarman texted Cook the night before the game asking if he’s good to go, Dalvin had no problems shouldering much of the offensive workload. Zimmer’s defense completely shut out Ben Roethlisberger in the first half, and the Vikings held a 23-0 lead at the break.

Then Big Ben started to find a rhythm. It was just in time, as Zimmer’s defensive play-calling became conservative. All of a sudden wide receivers were open all over the field. Add in a pair of Cousins interceptions, and suddenly the Steelers made it a one-possession game.

The last two minutes of the game consisted of the Steelers’ offense marching down the field, which gave Vikings fans flashbacks of last week’s loss to the Detroit Lions. But this time, Harrison Smith broke up Roethlisberger’s pass to Pat Freiermuth in the end zone, and the Vikings escaped with a victory. It wasn’t pretty, but they got the job done.

Despite all the chaos this season, including questions surrounding Zimmer’s coaching ability, the win on Thursday showed that Zimmer’s players are still willing to fight for him.

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