Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was adamant he has never had a bad defense in his career and that he didn’t anticipate any dropoff this season after the departure of five starters in what was called a re-tooling of the roster.
But after surrendering several records to opposing offenses this season, the group that took the field for Friday’s Christmas Day game, broke Zimmer’s poker face.
“Yeah this is a bad defense,” Zimmer said after the New Orleans Saints steamrolled the Vikings 52-33, officially eliminating Minnesota from playoff contention.
“Worst one I’ve ever had,” Zimmer added.
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Historically Poor Outing by the Vikings
Saints running back Alvin Kamara tied a 91-year-old NFL record by scoring six rushing touchdowns in a game where Minnesota was bullied at the line of scrimmage from the onset.
The 52 points allowed were not only the most by a Mike Zimmer defense, but the most given up since 1963 when the St. Louis Cardinals poured on 56 points just two years after the Vikings’ franchise was formed.
“Really disappointed defensively,” Zimmer said. “You’ve gotta work really hard to give up 52 [points].”
Injuries and COVID-19 had worn down the defensive unit that lost newly signed nose tackle Michael Pierce, who opted out under COVID-19 protocols in the preseason, saw season-ending injuries to Pro Bowlers Danielle Hunter and Anthony Barr and a lingering groin injury that has forced 2019 All-Pro linebacker Eric Kendricks to miss the past four games.
This week’s injury report didn’t help as fill-in linebackers Todd Davis and fourth-round rookie Troy Dye both were ruled out, thrusting Hardy Nickerson and undrafted rookie Blake Lynch into prominent roles. Lynch led the team in tackles (10) and played on 72 of 75 defensive snaps, while Nickerson played 40 snaps and had an interception.
Nickerson and Lynch, along with the rest of the defense, struggled to stop Kamara who scored all five times he faced eight defenders in the box, per NFL Next Gen Stats.
Zimmer made no excuses for inexperience being the culprit for the team tackling poorly on Friday.
“No, I don’t think being young has got anything to do with tackling. They manhandled us up front pretty well with the front guys and linebackers, but we didn’t tackle,” Zimmer said. “When we had chances, we didn’t cover very well today. Defensive backs came off the receivers. It was disappointing.”
Vikings Defense Will Look Different in 2021
While Zimmer rarely made excuses for an unprecedented season for Minnesota, Friday’s loss forced the Vikings to face the reality of 2020.
“We’re a little undermanned, but they should play better than that. Really it wasn’t so much the six touchdowns, it’s more that they just mashed us up front. We couldn’t slow them down. It would be eight-yard gain, seven-yard gain,” Zimmer said. “The first touchdown we fitted wrong with the linebackers I believe. It was one of those kind of days.”
A positive take away is the wealth of playing time rookie cornerbacks Cameron Dantzler, Jeff Gladney, rookie defensive end D.J. Wonnum and many other contributors have seen that will translate to more experience when several key defenders return in 2021.
“We’ve got to get Hunter back, we’ve got to get Pierce here, we’ve got to get Barr, Kendricks, Pro Bowl players, good players that we have, they need to be back, and then we lost another corner again today,” Zimmer said. “If you go back, and honest, I’m not trying to make excuses, it was embarrassing today. We’re missing four defensive linemen, we’re missing a safety, we’re missing three corners, we’re missing six linebackers, I believe, from where we started. We’re just a little undermanned. That’s still no excuse. These guys put on an NFL jersey they’ve got to play.”
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- Trevor Squire is a Heavy contributor covering the Minnesota Vikings and journalism graduate from the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities. Connect with him on Twitter @trevordsquire and join our Vikings community at Heavy on Vikings on Facebook.