While many marveled at the spectacle of the Rams’ 54-51 victory over the Chiefs during the 2018 regular season, it was enough to make a hardcore defensive coach a little grumpy.
“It’s not my cup of tea. Might run me out of football,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said last year when asked about it. “I think you have to have a well-rounded team, but I don’t think that you can give up 51 points or 54 points a lot of times and win games, in my opinion.”
OK, that last part isn’t an opinion. Giving up that many points is a recipe for disaster. But what about giving up a more reasonable total – like, say, 20 points?
Coming into this season, that benchmark has been almost as important for Zimmer’s Vikings. Including playoff games they were 9-26-1 from 2014-18, his first five years as head coach, when allowing an opponent to score 20 points or more.
The Packers’ record in the same span, by contrast, when allowing 20 or more points: 28-32-1 (and yes, the tie for both teams was against each other last year).
The Vikings’ mark was an especially unsightly 1-7-1 last season, with untimely defensive lapses combined with the offense’s inability to overcome them dooming the Vikings to being over-reliant on one side of the ball. They were 7-0, after all, when allowing fewer than 20 points.
This year, at least so far, has been a little different. The Vikings are 2-1 when allowing 20 points or more – and neither of the two wins were cheap: 38-20 over the Eagles, with two late touchdowns turning back a Philadelphia rally and 42-30 over Detroit, with a late TD sealing Zimmer’s second win as a head coach when the Vikings allowed 30 points in a game.
Even if the Vikings don’t face Patrick Mahomes on Sunday – the Chiefs haven’t officially ruled him out yet, a ruse as old as coaches pining for ball control – there are a lot of offensive playmakers on both sides.
With that as a backdrop, I asked Zimmer on Wednesday if he felt like he has a team this year better-equipped to win a high-scoring game, should one unfortunately break out, compared to past years.
“I mean we’ve been fortunate, we’ve been able to move the ball pretty well,” said Zimmer, who it should be noted still presides over a defense ranked in the top five in points allowed and yards in the NFL. “That does give me hope, and we’ve run it in a variety of ways. We can score in a variety of ways, whether it’s running or throwing. So I guess the answer would be yes.”
The obvious goal, of course, is to dominate on both sides of the ball while producing a lopsided result. Beyond that stated goal, though, is the recognition that a good team will probably need to win a variety of ways – as the Vikings did in grinding out a 19-9 win over Washington just four days after putting 42 points on Detroit.
“I would hope that we have the confidence. I certainly don’t want to walk into a game and say, ‘hopefully we don’t give up too many points because we can’t keep pace with them,” quarterback Kirk Cousins said. “I think we have confidence. You have to go out and prove it, though. … We’ll do whatever the game calls for, and certainly if it does call for a high-scoring affair we need to be ready to respond.”
Added receiver Stefon Diggs: “If it does become a high-scoring game, a big-play matchup, we have to do what we’ve got to do.”
That swagger and ability on offense is a departure from most of the Zimmer era. It was supposed to be a part of the narrative last season. But if it holds up for the Vikings this season, the feeling will be better late than never.