INDIANAPOLIS – Coaches Frank Reich and Mike Zimmer spent a chunk of their postgame interviews talking about their teams’ identities.
Or lack thereof, in Zimmer’s case.
“No doubt this is the blueprint for how we want to play,” said Reich, whose Colts played the way Zimmer dreams about while mauling the Vikings 28-11 at Lucas Oil Stadium.
As for Zimmer and his first 0-2 start as Vikings coach, well, the seventh-year head coach nailed it when he said, “The identity of this team is not what it has been the last six years.”
Much will be said about Kirk Cousins’ three interceptions and career-low 15.9 passer rating. And the offense’s measly 175 yards.
But the tone in this one was established from the outset by Reich, rookie running back Jonathan Taylor and the best offensive line in football.
Together, they embarrassed the Vikings by feeding Taylor the ball 14 times in Indy’s first 19 snaps. The game was 18 minutes old when Taylor had 13 carries for 55 yards and a touchdown for a 7-3 lead the Colts never relinquished.
“The idea was to feature Jonathan,” said Reich, whose team lost starting tailback Marlon Mack to a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 1.
There was little the Vikings could do about it. They would have trailed by more than 12 at the half had Reich not gotten too cute with his play-calling in the second quarter.
The Colts had 151 yards rushing on 40 carries (3.8). And there was only one explosive run, a 13-yarder on Taylor’s first of 26 carries for 101 yards.
So there were no big gainers to excuse the inability of the Vikings’ front seven to stop the run. It was just a consistent pounding of a front that’s sorely missing nose tackles Linval Joseph, who signed with the Chargers, and Michael Pierce, the prized free agent signing who took the COVID-19 opt-out.
Making matters worse was a game plan that demanded Zimmer use his safeties more in coverage than run support because of the cornerback debacle in Week 1 against the Packers.
“Honestly, I was trying to help the corners out more than I normally do because I didn’t want the ball going over our head,” Zimmer said. “Playing a little bit more conservative with the coverages and using a few less guys in the running game.”
Two weeks before the season began, Zimmer gave his reasoning for desiring an old-school identity for his team.
“I’ve always felt if you can run the ball, it takes a lot of pride away from a defensive football team when you’re just pounding them and pounding them,” he said.
Zimmer got an up-close look at that identity from the wrong side Sunday.
Taylor’s first two carries went for 19 yards. Eleven of Reich’s first 14 play calls were runs.
When Reich faced third-and-6, he handed the ball to Taylor, who got 5 yards. Then, on fourth-and-1, Reich went hurry-up and handed the ball to Taylor up the middle. He gained 3 yards.
“Giving up 150 yards on the ground is not something we pride ourselves on around here,” safety Anthony Harris said. “It’s something we have to fix.”
After a red-zone interception ruined the Colts’ opening 16-play drive, they got the ball back at the Vikings’ 35-yard line following a terrible punt.
Four plays later, Taylor was lined up 8 yards deep on first-and-goal from the 5.
He got the handoff at the 9-yard line and charged up the middle. There was no contact until the 2-yard line, meaning tackles Shamar Stephen and Armon Watts were simply shoved embarrassingly far from the line of scrimmage.
Taylor and the Colts’ O-line fell into the end zone like a giant wave for which the Vikings had no answer.
“We’re going to have to keep fighting,” Zimmer said of the run defense. “We’re a little bit smaller in some of the areas than we were before. So we’re going to have to figure out a way.”
Next up: Tennessee’s Derrick Henry, last year’s rushing champion, and quite the load at 6-3, 247 pounds.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL.