Zimmer off to good start with Vikings
EDEN PRAIRIE -- Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has been around the NFL long enough to know now isn't the time to thump his chest and declare "Mission Accomplished!"...
EDEN PRAIRIE - Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer has been around the NFL long enough to know now isn’t the time to thump his chest and declare “Mission Accomplished!”
“It was a good start,” Zimmer said the day after winning his head coaching debut, 34-6, at St. Louis. “We were a tough-minded, physical football team.
“But we have to keep grinding. This is one game out of 16. We know the schedule, and it’s a little different deal this week.”
Yes, the Vikings are going from Shaun Hill and Austin Davis to playing host to Tom Brady and a Patriots team that’s presumably ticked off for blowing a double-digit halftime lead in a loss at Miami.
But for a few days, Vikings fans deserve to enjoy one of the best season openers in franchise history, not to mention the successful debut of dramatically different coaching philosophies on both sides of the ball.
Both Zimmer, the de facto defensive coordinator, and offensive coordinator Norv Turner were unpredictable and aggressive while winning the turnover battle, 2-0.
“It’s so much different than what we’ve been doing around here for a long time,” linebacker Chad Greenway said, referring to the switch from a conservative, read-and-react Tampa 2 scheme to a multi-faceted pressure-based attack that confused the Rams throughout Sunday’s game. “Once we get lined up, we play fast.”
Offensively, Turner called a game that quarterback Matt Cassel was able to execute efficiently. Cassel threw for only 170 yards, but had a 113.8 passer rating and kept a cool head during some early hiccups caused by penalties and crowd noise.
Turner also sprinkled in three carries for 102 yards, including a 67-yard touchdown off a perfectly-blocked toss sweep, for receiver Cordarrelle Patterson.
Defensively, Zimmer used multiple fronts and blitz packages that had the Rams guessing and scrambling to match up with players such as rookie first-round draft pick Anthony Barr and defensive ends Everson Griffen and Brian Robison lining up in different spots throughout the game.
Embattled No. 3 cornerback Josh Robinson made the play of the game with a leaping interception barely in bounds late in the first half. That gave the Vikings a short field and a quick touchdown for a 13-0 lead at the half.
Meanwhile, the big beneficiary of Zimmer’s diverse schemes will be free safety Harrison Smith, who had a sack and an 81-yard interception return for a touchdown.
“In this defense, you get to do a lot,” Smith said. “You mix things up, which puts the offense on its toes instead of dictating things to us.
“You get to blitz, you get to play deep, you get to play all over the place, really. It’s a lot of fun as a football player.”
A season ago, the Vikings finished last in the league in points allowed (30.0 per game). Sunday, they gave up the second-fewest points on opening day in franchise history. So, yeah, everybody seems to be having fun right now.
REPORT CARD VS. RAMS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-
It wasn’t beautiful, but it was efficient and turnover-free. And the way the Vikings are constructed, that’s enough to win. Matt Cassel threw for only 170 yards, but his passer rating was 113.8. His calm amid an early storm in a loud Edward Jones Dome contributed to the Vikings moving past a tenuous 6-0 lead late in the second quarter to a 34-6 blowout. Three penalties in one three-and-out and a 19-yard loss on a shotgun snap that wasn’t expected would have had a lasting effect on some of the previous quarterbacks the Vikings have had recently. Receiver Greg Jennings had a team-high six catches as he and Cassel continue to get comfortable together. Jennings had two third-down catches for first downs and also caught one of Cassel’s two red-zone touchdown passes. Tight end Kyle Rudolph caught the other.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A-
As if defending Adrian Peterson isn’t enough, now comes the added pressure of preparing for receiver Cordarrelle Patterson taking quick tosses while lined up in the backfield. While Peterson was contained and finished with 75 yards on 21 carries, Patterson had 102 yards while carrying the ball only three times, including two on end-around plays and one on a toss sweep that went 67 zig-zagging yards before Patterson and a defender toppled across the goal line for a Vikings touchdown. Patterson broke a 43-year-old team record for longest run by a receiver. He became the first receiver to run for over 100 yards. He tied Percy Harvin’s team record for rushing touchdowns by a receiver (six). And he became the first receiver since the 1970 merger to rush for three touchdowns of 35 yards or more in three consecutive games. And, oh yeah, he gave 15 more defensive coordinators a lot to think about.
PASS DEFENSE: A+
Much-maligned No. 3 cornerback Josh Robinson had the play of the game and free safety Harrison Smith went 81 yards with his team-record fourth career interception return for a touchdown once the game was long decided. Robinson jumped a deep route, leaped high in the air to take a ball from tight end Jared Cook and then got his toes down just in bounds. That gave the Vikings a short field, a touchdown and a 13-0 lead right before halftime. Granted, they weren’t facing the NFL’s best quarterback situation, but the Vikings held Rams starter Shaun Hill and backup Austin Davis to a 66.1 passer rating. Hill, who was forced to start when Sam Bradford was lost for the season because of another ACL tear, left at halftime with a quad injury. Davis came on in his NFL debut.
RUSH DEFENSE: A-
The Rams had to run the ball effectively and explosively for them to win with Hill or Davis at quarterback. The Vikings made sure that didn’t happen, holding the Rams to 72 yards and a 3.3 average on 22 carries. Zac Stacy had just 43 yards on 11 carries. When it was still a contest at halftime, the Rams were averaging only 2.8 yards on 11 attempts.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
There was nothing particularly special in the first game of special teams coordinator Mike Priefer’s suspension for using an anti-gay remark to former Vikings punter Chris Kluwe during a team setting in 2012. Interim coordinator Joe Marciano had a quiet, effective day, but no explosive plays. There also were two special teams penalties, including a hold on the opening kickoff. Punter Jeff Locke averaged 47.4 yards with a net of 42.6, which was a sign that he’s improving in Year 2. Kicker Blair Walsh also made a 52-yarder. It was his first make from 50 or longer since opening his career by making an NFL-record 12 straight. He missed his last three a year ago and went 0 for 2 in the preseason. Rams punt returner Tavon Austin averaged just 4.8 yards on five returns.
It’s difficult to imagine a better result for a guy making his head coaching debut at any level. Mike Zimmer produced an aggressive, unpredictable defense that forced two turnovers and gave up the second-fewest points on opening day in franchise history. He also, for one week at least, turned last year’s league-worst scoring defense (30.0) into the first-place scoring defense. Offensively, coordinator Norv Turner proved to be as unpredictable and creative as advertised. He committed to the run with Peterson, but sprinkled in Patterson’s three carries beautifully. The third-down conversion rate (3 for 11) was poor and there were four offensive penalties, including two holding calls. But there also were no turnovers, which is especially critical on the road. Speaking of the road, Zimmer also gave the Vikings their first true road win (not counting last year’s win over Pittsburgh in London) since the 2012 season.