Pressure mounting on Vikings' Mike Zimmer to produce in the postseason
Second in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2019 regular season.
GREEN BAY - Outside of Lambeau Field, there was no bigger disappointment in the NFC North in 2018 than the Minnesota Vikings failing to reach the postseason.
After a 13-3 regular season and run to the NFC championship game in 2017, the club went “all in” by signing quarterback Kirk Cousins to a massive free-agent deal and fortifying a strong defense with solid role players and backups. It was all in vain, as the Vikings dropped to 8-7-1 and continued their streak of making the playoffs every other season in head coach Mike Zimmer’s five-year tenure.
Should form hold true, that would portend for a bounce-back to the playoffs in 2019. The Vikings faced some serious cap struggles — to the point where they couldn’t sign draft picks for a bit — and some key veterans were floated on the trade market. It will be interesting to see if those accomplished players, including longtime Vikings leader Kyle Rudolph, can put that behind them once training camp opens.
It’s also an important year for Zimmer. The Vikings exercised an option on his contract that will carry him through the 2020 season, but they did not sign him to a long-term extension. The 62-year-old has put together an impressive regular-season record of 47-32-1 and won two division titles — but he is only 1-3 in the playoffs, and that victory over New Orleans was dubbed the “Miracle in Minneapolis” thanks to a last-second missed tackle by a Saints cornerback. If the Vikings start slow, it’ll be fair to wonder how hot Zimmer’s seat will get.
Here are three things to know about the Vikings:
A new offensive coordinator
In the last three seasons, Zimmer has had offensive coordinator Norv Turner resign in November (2016), Pat Shurmur leave to take the head-coaching job with the New York Giants (2017) and fired John DeFilippo in December 2018. After allowing Kevin Stefanski to interview for the head-coaching job in Cleveland, the Vikings brought him back to call plays after he finished out last year in that role on an interim basis. Zimmer wanted more balance in the Vikings' offense, and it feels like the 2019 Vikings will feature third-year running back Dalvin Cook a bit more.
Spotlight on Cousins
A year ago, quarterback Kirk Cousins made headlines for signing a fully guaranteed $84 million deal. And he turned in career highs in completions (425), completion percentage (70.1) and touchdowns (30) — yet the Vikings went 8-7-1 and missed the playoffs. The Vikings went 1-6 against teams with a winning record last year and 1-5 in prime-time games (their lone victory there a 24-17 win over Green Bay). Cousins is in year two of his deal, will be 31 in August and has guided only one team to the playoffs — and that was back in 2015.
The defense’s last stand?
Since taking over in 2014, Zimmer has moved the Vikings’ defense from No. 14 in the league that year to the top four in each of the last three seasons. They’re coached well under coordinator George Edwards, and general manger Rick Spielman has drafted smartly. But, the Vikings made noise about trading corners Trae Waynes and All-Pro Xavier Rhodes. Including those two players, the defense has five players accounting for at least $8 million against the salary cap. Harrison Smith, Linval Joseph and Everson Griffen are 30 or older. They lost veteran contributors Andrew Sendejo, Tom Johnson, Sheldon Richardson, Marcus Sherels and George Iloka. There are still quality players on that side of the ball, and some emerging ones, but it’s fair to wonder how long it can remain an elite unit while they turn over some positions.
Packers schedule glimpse
Sept. 15 vs. Vikings, noon, FOX.
Week before: at Chicago, Sept. 5.
Week after: vs. Denver, Sept. 22.
On the horizon: vs. Philadelphia, Sept. 26.
Coach: Mike Zimmer (47-32-1 overall, sixth season with Vikings).
2017 record: 8-7-1, second in NFC North.
Scoring offense: 22.5 points per game (19th in NFL).
Total offense: 345.6 yards per game (20th).
Scoring defense: 21.3 points per game (ninth).
Total defense: 309.7 yards per game (fourth).
Series: Packers lead, 60-54-3.
Last meeting: The Packers lost 24-17 in Minnesota in prime time Nov. 25, a game that saw the Vikings score 17 unanswered points in the second and third quarters to take a 24-14 lead. The Packers managed just 254 yards of offense while Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times. The game was marred for Green Bay by some uncharacteristically errant attempts by Rodgers, a fumbled punt return attempt by Tramon Williams and coach Mike McCarthy going for it on fourth-and-2 at his own 33, resulting in a turnover on downs.