When the Minnesota Vikings agreed to a three-year contract extension with Mike Zimmer in the 2020 offseason, Zimmer was entrusted to work his magic again — molding the defense into one of the league’s top units.
It hasn’t been an easy task.
Five defensive starters, forged in Zimmer’s scheme that took three years to reach its fruition, were part of the team’s top-ranked defense in 2017 departed for free agency in 2020, leaving Minnesota looking for players who can be installed in the system.
What’s left is a mirage of the defense that carried the Vikings to an NFC Championship game appearance.
In 2020, the Vikings defense ranked 29th in points allowed. The arrival of eight veterans in the past offseason hasn’t stopped the bleeding. The defense ranks 27th in points allowed through 13 games this season — prompting calls for Zimmer’s job after complete late-game collapses by the defense this season.
Defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson, signed on for his second stint with Minnesota in June, came to his coach’s defense and called out players who haven’t seen success yet in the team’s system.
The latest Vikings news straight to your inbox! Join the Heavy on Vikings newsletter here!
‘We Deserve to Do Better’
On the latest episode of Vikings.com’s The Audible, Richardson reflected on the 2021 season so far, explaining the need for the defense to execute Zimmer’s scheme at a higher level.
“We deserve to do better for ourselves because we put this work in. Zimmer’s a tough coach — great defensive scheme. Whether we execute it or not, that’s a different question,” Richardson said with a chuckle. “He’s gonna let us hear about it.”
Richardson elaborated on execution, saying that players trying to do more than their role often are the ones making the mistakes on defense.
“But the little things, attention of detail in his defense is definitely what it is,” Richardson said. “That’s where most cats get away from because they see guys going and freestyling. ‘Aaron Donald rush like this or this cat cover like this.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, you’re not one of them.’ ”
Richardson, drawing from his experience with the New York Jets when he earned Pro Bowl recognition under coach Rex Ryan in 2014, doubled down on how a system complements a player’s abilities.
“They built this system around (Donald), and it worked for him. He came out with 20 sacks when they built the system around him,” Richardson said. “You gotta do your job, but know the plays that come up for you to make, just make them.”
Die-hard Vikings fan? Follow the Heavy on Vikings Facebook page for the latest breaking news, rumors and content from Skol Nation!
Vikings Pass Rush Remains Resilient
Minnesota’s pass rush remains productive despite losing Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen.
Zimmer has engineered pressure by using safety and linebacker blitzes that have helped the Vikings post an NFL-leading 41 sacks this season. Despite the high mark, Minnesota could improve its quarterback pressures, ranking 22nd in the league with a 38% pressure rate, per ESPN.
The issue remains the secondary holding up its end of the deal in coverage. This season, no Vikings starting cornerback ranks within the top 70-ranked corners by Pro Football Focus (PFF). Patrick Peterson is the highest-graded starting cornerback at No. 71, followed by Bashaud Breeland, 117th of 120, and Mackensie Alexander, ranked 119th of 120.