Minnesota Vikings: Mike Zimmer on the Hot-Seat?

Last Sunday afternoon the Vikings hosted their division rivals, the Detroit Lions looking for their second win of the season.

Due to surrounding circumstances, particularly a 1-3 record after 4 weeks, the contest was quietly tagged as a "must win" game. Both the franchise and the fanbase were eager for a reaffirming and strong showing from the team at home against what was at least on paper a lesser opponent. While the final box score reads as a 19-17 victory for Minnesota, it was a game that the Vikings barely survived. It was an afternoon that can be characterized by frustratingly conservative play-calling and game management decisions, as well as a few costly mistakes that nearly landed the Vikings at 1-4 heading into the final game before their bye-week. 

However instead, after managing to steal a victory within the last minute of regulation with a last second field-goal, the Vikings now sit at a relatively disappointing but still relevant 2-3. A win this week against Carolina brings them back to .500 with a 3-3 record before their bye. This is important because after their bye-week the Vikings will be hard-pressed to find an easy victory as they face a gauntlet of playoff contenders including the Cowboys, Ravens, Chargers, and Packers.

Typically a win solidifies a Head Coach's situation and dispels notions such as this, but in this case it seemingly did little to do so for Mike Zimmer. At this point, it really is a mixed bag when discussing how the Vikings should move forward. A win this week would likely give Zimmer until the end of the season but if the team fails to make the playoffs this year its not unrealistic to expect that a change may take place eventually. This is all clearly speculative, but it is hard not to wonder if a move would have already been instituted had the Vikings lost to their winless division foes. It is also important to point out the irony of posing a discussion such as this, as the Vikings' 3 losses this season have derived from a cumulative 11 points and the team could just as likely be sitting at a record of something like 4-1, but that's the NFL right? 

On one hand, Zimmer's tenure has provided the franchise with relative stability that is hard to find in today's league as this is his eighth season at the helm. During this period, the team has unquestionably experienced periods of success with a 64-47-1 record under his leadership, a pair of NFC North titles, and even a few exciting playoff wins to their credit. Zimmer's fingerprints are also clearly all over the drafting and/or development of some of the league's, let alone the team's top talents over much of the last decade such as the LB duo of Anthony Barr and Eric Kendricks, as well as DE Danielle Hunter. There is more than a handful of reasons that Zimmer has managed to last this long as a Head Coach in the NFL, his defensive schemes are widely respected around the league and for the most part Zimmer has had and continues to have the support of his players.   

Unfortunately, despite being relatively competitive through Zimmer's tenure, the criticisms and questions concerning his status heading forward mostly stem from the team's and therefore Zimmer's inability to correct a few long standing problems. Over the last several years, the team has been unable to correct roster issues such as the offensive line, has demonstrated an apparent unwillingness to consistently embrace and/or adapt their passing attack to be competitive, and has held an unwavering commitment to overly conservative game management decisions and offensive play-calling that arguably handcuffs the potential productivity of the Vikings offense.  

Its disappointing for example to see Justin Jefferson be ranked by PFF as the second best receiver in the league next only to Davante Adams with a grade of 87.8 but twelfth in targets, being targeted 44 times relative to Adams' league leading 61. On the opposite side of Jefferson, fellow Pro-Bowl receiver Adam Thielen has only logged 33 targets through 5 games this year. It wasn't long ago that the Vikings and Zimmer pushed Stefon Diggs out of town for being frustrated by similar circumstances.  

Zimmer finds himself in a position that is difficult to navigate, his style and philosophies have become familiar to fans, and it is from that familiarity that this frustration with the existing state of affairs has developed. If the Vikings did move on at any point this season it would not be because Zimmer is not a capable coach, it would more likely be in order to approach existing problems with a fresh perspective and attempt to enable the team to be more competitive through different philosophies. Coaches such as Eric Bieniemy, Bryon Leftwich, and even Mike Tomlin could be available options to pursue following this year.

It definitely will be interesting to see how Zimmer's and the Vikings' narrative will develop over the next couple of weeks and potentially the rest of the season. What do you think the Vikings should do?   

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