Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer got a taste of his own medicine on Sunday.
Zimmer watched the Cleveland Browns, helmed by former Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski, seize a 14-7 win through a dominant ground game and imposing defensive performance. The Vikings surrendered a season-high 184 rushing yards to the Browns, who dominated time of possession 35:32 to 24:28.
“Mike Zimmer’s blueprint for success is alive and well in Cleveland and not even close to reality in Minnesota. Kevin Stefanski utilized Zimmer’s dream game plan against him by calling more runs than passes and dominating time of possession,” ESPN’s Courtney Cronin wrote. “Stefanski didn’t open up the playbook against his former team, but he didn’t have to once he found a way to consistently gash the Vikings on the ground.”
While the Browns didn’t produce many significant gains on offense, one, in particular, irked Zimmer and proved to be the difference-maker in a low-scoring affair.
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Zimmer maintained a relative optimism in Sunday’s postgame press conference despite the Vikings falling to 1-3 on the season.
I’m telling you now, they know how to run the football and those two backs run hard,” Zimmer said of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. “I’m not discouraged one bit of the lack of stopping the run.”
However, Zimmer, unprompted, brought up Hunt’s 33-yard run on 3rd and 20 in the final minute of the first half. The Browns’ biggest gain on offense of the day, Hunt’s run set up a 48-yard field goal by Chase McLaughlin, the Vikings’ former practice-squad kicker.
“I’m disgusted about that, but for the most part, there was a lot of good things that happened today,” Zimmer said.
That field goal put the Browns ahead by four points, which led the Vikings’ hapless chase for a touchdown the rest of the game.
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Kirk Cousins came back down to earth after an impressive three games to open the season.
The offense failed to score in the second half and sustained just three drives of four or more plays. Facing an aggressive Browns pass rush that tied for the highest pass-rush win rate in the NFL (58%), the Vikings offensive line folded far too often.
Cousins saw a season-high 16 pressures on 41 dropbacks and 2 for 13 passing when pressured, per Cronin. Cousins was pressured on just 1 of 7 dropbacks on the game-opening drive that he capped with a touchdown pass to Justin Jefferson.
“It was certainly a frustrating loss. We didn’t put enough points on the board. Started fast with a great first drive but we didn’t do enough the rest of the game. It was disappointing,” Cousins said. “At home, we have to do more. We have to learn from it and watch the film, be very critical and correct things and move forward.
Zimmer said he saw encouraging signs on defense and believes he still has a good team if coupled with the offense’s potential.
“At the end of the day, they scored one touchdown against us, and I still believe offensively we can look like we did a week ago,” Zimmer said. “Like I told the team, ‘I’ve been doing this for 27 years. I know good teams, and I know bad teams. I know this team has a chance to be pretty darn good.’ “