The Mike Zimmer era came to an end Sunday night at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Zimmer wasn’t fired immediately after the Vikings embarrassing 20-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys and someone named Cooper Rush and he very well could be allowed to coach the remaining 10 games of this season. But this needs to be it Zimmer and, if there was any question about that, it was cleared up over 60 atrocious minutes of football on Sunday.
Zimmer’s team has spent the first seven games of this season showing that a divorce between the head coach and the organization is an absolute must.
A coach who was once known as a top defensive mind now leads a unit that gave up 325 yards and two touchdowns to Rush (who was starting in place of the injured Dak Prescott) and far too often this season has looked inept in trying to stop the run. Areas of strength are now being attacked on a regular basis and with far too much ease.
The potential loss of Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter for the season because of a torn pectoral muscle suffered Sunday figures to derail the Vikings’ resurgent pass rush (three sacks against Rush) and cornerback Patrick Peterson’s hamstring injury has forced the Vikings to rely on veteran bust Bashaud Breeland and second-year player Cameron Dantzler, who barely saw any time early in the season.
The unit Zimmer should have embraced, the offense, has some top talent but looked like a mess Sunday after an impressive seven-play, 61-yard touchdown drive that was capped with a 20-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen. Blame can be pointed at offensive coordinator Klint Kubiak’s play calling and Cousins’ willingness to check down if there was pressure, but this all comes back to Zimmer.
He’s the leader of this team and the guy who was supposed to realize the 2021 Vikings only would be a threat if they went all in on offense. Instead, the Vikings play games as if they have been transported back to 1986.
It makes no sense but how else do you explain a formula that resulted in a 3-yard completion to Justin Jefferson and two deep shots to Jefferson (one which drew a pass interference penalty on Trevon Diggs) in the first two series but ended up with Jefferson being targeted on only four passes all evening?
We could go through Zimmer’s other blunders, getting a penalty for using back-to-back timeouts late in the game, the failure to use an available timeout just before halftime and other clock management miscues, but the problems are bigger than that.
Cousins, who reverted back to his prime-time woes Sunday, made an interesting comment after the game when he said that he didn’t call a timeout as the first half clock wound down because he wasn’t sure what Zimmer and the coaching staff wanted. We’ve also found out this year that for the first time since Cousins signed with Minnesota in 2018 that he’s actually started to meet with his head coach.
All of these things are called red flags if you’re owners Zygi and Mark Wilf.
So is the fact that the Vikings won back-to-back games before their bye week by having to rally to beat the 0-8 Lions late after blowing a lead at home and then allowing Sam Darnold and the Carolina Panthers to march down the field and tie the score before Cousins led a winning drive in overtime. The fact the Vikings won both games glossed over the fact that Zimmer’s defense couldn’t stop below-average quarterbacks Jared Goff or Darnold when it mattered.
It took Rush, a guy who might not start another game in his career, to finally expose the Vikings to the point where change is now inevitable. The only question is how big will the turnover at TCO Performance Center be when it likely arrives on Jan. 10, one day after the regular season ends. That is unless the Vikings do back into the playoffs, something that shouldn’t stop a housecleaning unless the team wins at least two games and that’s not going to happen.
Is Spielman’s job on the line or will he be allowed to hire the new coach? What about Cousins? He has another season left on his contract but that carries a $45 million salary-cap hit, meaning he likely would either need to get a contract extension from the Vikings or be traded. There are many who came away from Sunday’s debacle demanding everyone be jettisoned as soon as possible.
That probably isn’t going to happen and knowing the Vikings they still could have a winning streak in them. What’s important is to remember what we Sunday night. That was enough to confirm what many of us believed to be the case before Cooper Rush ever touched the ball. The Vikings are in need of a new coach and a new philosophy. The one old is no longer working.