He billed himself as a “Fixer” when he was hired. Mike Zimmer came with that reputation, a football coach skilled at fixing problem areas, especially on defense.
The Fixer has tackled big projects at different times in his seven seasons in Minnesota, some of his own doing, some not. Teddy Bridgewater’s knee injury, a revolving door at quarterback, offensive coordinators coming and going. He’s managed to keep the Vikings relevant as a playoff contender through turbulence.
This project feels different. He has a whopper of a mess on his hands — and once again some of it is his own doing, some of it not. His to-do list is extensive:
Repair the offensive line after years of neglect by the front office.
Shore up the depleted defensive line.
Help Kirk Cousins regroup and find his way after a poor start.
Develop a cast of inexperienced cornerbacks.
Establish more options at receiver after trading the best option.
Improve backups pressed into duty because of injuries to key starters.
This repair job will take more than a quick run to The Home Depot.
“Right now, we’re not very good at anything,” Zimmer said in a moment of brutal honesty after a 17-point loss to the Indianapolis Colts last week.
An 0-2 start to an NFL season under any circumstance is cause for concern. The manner in which the Vikings have arrived at 0-2 has spawned a “Tank for Trevor” rallying cry within the fan base, which is an unfamiliar position for the organization.
Two games, two ugly losses and now people have visions of Clemson’s can’t-miss quarterback Trevor Lawrence riding in on a white horse.
Sorry to ruin that dream, but the Vikings aren’t going to purposely sabotage their chances, hoping to go lower than the Jets or Eagles. And tanking in football isn’t as easy as tanking in basketball. The Vikings aren’t going to sit Cousins or Harrison Smith under the pretense of “load management.”
Besides, can you imagine trying to sell Zimmer on the idea of tanking? The person delivering that edict might find his head on the trophy wall at Zim’s ranch in Kentucky.
This is on Zimmer and General Manager Rick Spielman to figure out. They committed to this plan, this youth movement, after years of relative roster stability. They have holes now that will be difficult to fill. (Offensive line, for the millionth time.)
Zimmer is responsible for how his team plays, so criticism deserves to be shared by him as well as his players. The ineptitude on display has been alarming, even for those of us who expected early struggles because of so many new faces, injuries and absences of key players.
Zimmer’s dismissive “I’ve never had a bad defense” retort to questions about sweeping personnel changes ignored common sense. This looked like a rebuild from the outside, even if the organization didn’t want to admit it.
A defense that replaces five starters in one offseason with mostly unproven youngsters is ripe for growing pains. An offense that trades its best wide receiver — a top-15 player at his position — and replaces him with a rookie won’t be as explosive and difficult to defend right away.
That’s just not how the NFL works.
Can things improve? Sure. Bounce-back games happen all the time in the NFL, though three consecutive games against 2019 playoff teams starting Sunday is hardly an ideal launchpad for a turnaround.
There was social media chatter this week about whether Zimmer could be on the hot seat if his team produces a stinkeroo season, despite him receiving a contract extension before the season. Highly doubtful. Nor should he be, given the roster turnover and lost offseason because of the pandemic.
Two losses have been eye-opening, though. As Zimmer correctly noted, the Vikings have not been good at anything.
The head coach fancies himself a fixer. Well, here you go.