Mike Zimmer’s offseason task: Find the Vikings’ edge

EAGAN, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings have plenty of work to do this offseason between hiring an offensive coordinator and making decisions on key free agents like Anthony Barr and Sheldon Richardson. Aside from coaching and roster decisions, head coach Mike Zimmer wants to find ways to reignite an attitude in his team.

“I think quite honestly this football team through four years that I’ve been here had that ‘nasty, we’re going to win regardless of what the situation is’ mentality, and I don’t know that we had it this year,” Zimmer said. “I talked to a couple people during the season around the building, and I actually said to them, ‘It’s just kind of a different vibe with this football team, and I can’t figure out why.’”

While he didn’t have a concrete answer to why the team struggled to find an edge, Zimmer did wonder if talk of “Super Bowl or Bust” played into the team not finding its demeanor.

“It could be the expectation level and everybody believed it,” he said. “It could be a lot of different things.”

Where the lack of “nasty” showed up most, Zimmer said, was in finishing games. In matchups against the Bears (twice), Patriots, Seahawks, Rams and Packers, the Vikings were within one score in the fourth quarter and came away without wins.

Zimmer pointed out that the offense especially struggled in the red zone and on third downs. They were 21st and 26th in those categories, respectively.

“I have to do a better job of creating the defensive mindset and attitude and things on offense,” Zimmer said. “It’s probably as simple as that.”

The Vikings’ head coach also indicated that the passing of offensive line coach Tony Sparano impacted the team’s mentality and its ability to run the ball.

“The death of Tony Sparano really kind of threw things into a little bit of a downward spiral, only because the fact this guy was a type-A personality, he was very innovative in the running game and had a strong voice in that room and a strong voice with me,” Zimmer said. “I do feel like we lost a bit of our identity. We’re going to get that back.”

Between 2017 and 2018, the 8-7-1 Vikings lost several of their established leaders in Brian Robison, Terence Newman and Joe Berger. But Zimmer did not want to point to their exit as the reason.

“It’s really hard for me to say that because every year you’re going to have guys leave, you’re going to have new coaches, you’re going to have new situations that happen,” Zimmer said. “I think some of the guys that took over some of the leadership roles did a good job. But it’s hard for me to say that that was a factor or not. A lot of the guys you mentioned were really good leaders.”

Under Zimmer the Vikings have had a trend of making the playoffs every other year. The 62-year-old head coach said that in 2017 they had a noticeable moxie that he wants to find again this offseason.

“A year ago I felt like we had a big chip on our shoulder,” Zimmer said. “This year, I don’t know that that chip was there. We’re going to get it back.”