Mike Zimmer’s underperforming defense may have sealed his fate in Minnesota

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DETROIT – When they had to dig deep and show their very best, the Minnesota Vikings’ defense made it easy for Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff on Sunday.

After the Vikings regained the lead – 27-23 – with a late fourth quarter touchdown, Goff and the Lions’ attack took the field on their own 25-yard line with 1:50 left. During 14 plays, the Vikings got Goff only once, and that game almost resulted in an interception by Bashaud Breeland, who could not come down with the ball.

Instead of stopping, Minnesota let a Lions team that was on a 15-game winless streak – and had no timeouts – march 75 yards en route to an 11-yard touchdown and 29-27 victory.

“It was as good as you can make it offensive for us and we were able to go down the pitch there on them and make that game in the end,” Goff said. “It came down to a game and we were able to handle it.”

It has become routine at this point for the Vikings to play “off and soft” – as Goff described Minnesota’s zone coverage – as a method of preventing a big game from happening, only to allow a team to come back and score eventually . Four times the Vikings have been beaten by their opponent’s last drive.

Coach Mike Zimmer called two timeouts over the final eight seconds to help his defense get put on the 11-yard line, but it backfired and gave the Lions a chance to regroup and figure out how to attack it. last fourth and -2 games.

Zimmer said he probably should have put more pressure on Detroit’s last run – Minnesota sent only three rushers on Lions’ TD – but the Vikings let Goff off the hook. Minnesota received only 14% of Goff’s dropbacks, the lowest blitz rate they have ever had against him, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

“We did not cover that well,” Zimmer said. “So, I mean, everything is hindsight, I think.”

Make no mistake about a loss that lowers the Vikings to 5-7 and reduces their chances of getting to the playoffs to 26%. Offensive playcalling deserves most of the blame for the poor start Minnesota got to Sunday, but Zimmer’s defense – this once infamous unit – has failed the Vikings time and time again.

It happened in Carolina on October 17 when the Vikings let Sam Darnold force overtime by going 96 yards in 1:27 to score a touchdown and convert a 2-point attempt. It happened again when Dallas backup quarterback Cooper Rush put together a 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown in the final minute to give the Cowboys the victory two weeks later.

It even happened against Detroit on October 10, when the Vikings allowed the Lions to take a 17-16 lead with 41 seconds left of the fourth quarter and had to rely on a 54-yard field goal to escape.

Minnesota’s two-minute defense has been a struggle all season, but now it’s approaching historic lows. The Vikings lead the NFL in allowed points in the final two minutes of any half with 101 (the next closest team is Seattle with 83). The most allowed points in the final two minutes of halftime in the last 20 seasons is 107 – a record set by Minnesota in 2020.

For weeks, they have been trying to remedy this problem area by condensing their defensive playcalls and emphasizing the two-minute drills in practice to focus on preventing the pass interference penalties that have been killed driven.

None of it has worked.

“It has been an area we have struggled with all year and it bit us [Sunday], “said Security Harrison Smith.” We have to fix it. “

As they regroup for a brief turnaround with Pittsburgh coming to Minneapolis for Thursday Night Football (20:20 ET, Fox), the Vikings face a stark reality around this defense. It looks like this unit would never be good enough to stand up to the type of team it would face in the playoffs, and it could very well be what seals Zimmer’s fate after eight seasons in Minnesota.

There has not been a consistent return on investment for a defense that was the focus of the offseason. By remodeling this entire unit, Minnesota handed out $ 46 million in guaranteed money to defensive players.

Of course, injuries are a problem behind many of their fights. The Vikings found out on Sunday morning that they would be without linebacker Anthony Barr (knee / hamstring) in addition to Eric Kendricks (biceps), while top cornerback Patrick Peterson remained on the COVID-19 / reserve list. And even though the Vikings got offensive tackles started, Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce back in Detroit, their passing rush is still thin, especially on the defensive.

But being a victim of Detroit’s first win is unforgivable, no matter who is on the field. Goff went 6-for-10 for 124 yards and two touchdowns on throws that traveled more than 10 yards down the field on Sunday. He threw a touchdown and four interceptions on throws that traveled the same distance in his first nine games of the season combined.

The Vikings made a quarterback at the bottom level look competent and blew another lead in the late game. The same problems for this defense in week 13 were there in week 1, but Sunday could have been the drop on what has been a consistent pattern under Zimmer for years: This team has not been able to put away or stop teams, when it matters. , and it has gone back every year since losing the NFC Championship Game to Philadelphia in 2017 with a defense ranked No. 1.

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