When a coach throws a player under the bus, it usually raises eyebrows. When he throws an entire unit under the bus, it's going to raise a lot more than that.
After the Vikings were thoroughly embarrassed by the Saints, 52-33, on a nationally-televised Christmas game for all to see, head coach Mike Zimmer didn't sugarcoat his assessment of the defense, saying, "This is a bad defense. The worst one I've ever had."
Having just been eliminated from playoff contention in a season where the defensive side of the ball underwent a massive overhaul of starters and coaches, the timing of the admission from Zimmer was curious. If he was trying to call out the replacement players he picked, he failed. Instead, that statement points the finger directly back at Zimmer and puts him squarely on the hot seat heading into the final game of the 2020 season and beyond.
Zimmer signed a three-year extension with Minnesota this past offseason and is locked up until 2023. While he likely won't be fired one year into that deal, Zimmer has built a case for his dismissal this year and is one more bad season away from being fired.
It started when Zimmer boldly proclaimed in preseason, "I've never had a bad defense. Ever. So I don't anticipate that changing." Not only was that a lie (he's had six defenses ranked 26th or worst in points allowed including two ranked 30th), but it was also shortsighted.
The Vikings came into this season with five new starters on defense and two new co-defensive coordinators, Andre Patterson and Adam Zimmer, Mike's son. This Vikings defense was always going to be a reclamation project and Zimmer either didn't want to admit it or was too stubborn to change his defensive play-calling (he still calls the plays) to simplify things for the new additions. Either way, the elder Zimmer hasn't adjusted and it's cost the Vikings dearly.
The Vikings are giving up over 29 points per game this year and over 390 yards per game, both of which rank 27th in the NFL. They've already matched the most losses in a season under Zimmer's watch (nine) and against the Saints they allowed Alvin Kamara to tie the NFL record for rushing touchdowns in a game with six. It felt like the defense gave up in the second half against the Saints, which has to fall on Zimmer both from a motivational standpoint as a head coach, a half-time adjustment standpoint, and also from a play-calling standpoint.
That's what made his statement after the game so surprising. That was the time to tell your defense they suck? That was the moment to call out an entire group of players who were put in a position to fail by you? That was the moment to remind us all about what you said in preseason? Bad timing.
In his seven years as the Vikings head coach, Zimmer has only led them to the playoffs three times. Their best run came when they made the NFC Championship in 2017 thanks to a lucky missed tackle by two Saints players on Stefon Diggs, which led to a miracle game-winning 61-yard touchdown as time expired. In that NFC Championship, they were embarrassed by the Eagles, 38-7. Outside of that season, they have never been past the divisional round of the playoffs.
The Vikings have had some highs with Zimmer leading their franchise, including the Minneapolis Miracle authored by Diggs. But they've also failed to make the playoffs in over half of his seasons as head coach and, with the exception of that lucky play from Diggs, haven't come close to sniffing a Super Bowl berth. This year they've failed across the board on defense and head into the final game of the season on a three-game losing streak.
At some point, the blame for those shortcomings has to fall on the coach. This statement might have been the first step toward Zimmer's removal from Minnesota or at least the spark that lit his seat on fire.