Lunchbreak: Zimmer’s Run-Game Philosophy ‘Goes Behind Carries’

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer mentioned on more than one occasion during the 2018 season that he wanted Minnesota’s offense to be more committed to the run game.

He once again addressed the topic with media members at the Annual League Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona, and further explained his philosophy when it comes to the run game, which Viking Update’s Tim Yotter delved into.

Yotter quoted Zimmer, who said the following:

“We want to be great running the football … but it’s not always about running for 200 yards,” Zimmer said. “The defense was on the field four minutes more a game [in 2018], I think that’s what it was. It’s time of possession, it’s controlling the game, it’s the mentality, the physicality of all that. If you look at the teams that played really good on offense this year, or the final four teams or whatever you want to call them, they ran the ball.”

Yotter wrote:

The Baltimore Ravens and Seattle Seahawks were easily the leaders in rushing attempts during the 2018 regular season, but the Super Bowl-winning Patriots were third. As far as rushing yards, the Super Bowl entrant from the NFC, the Los Angeles Rams, were third, the Patriots were fifth, the NFC runner-up Saints were sixth and the AFC runner-up Chiefs were 16th. So, three of the four conference championship entrants were in the top six in rushing yards.

Meanwhile, the Vikings were 30th in rushing yards and 27th in rushing attempts.

Yotter opined that the Vikings road contest against the Patriots to open December was “the most glaring example” of Minnesota’s “lack of a running game,” when the team averaged 7.3 yard per carry but ran the ball just 13 times.

“It really is game-dependent. There’s going to be some games where we’re going to have to throw the football more,” Zimmer said. “But if you’re not committed to running the ball, it’s not your mentality.

“I’ve talked to a couple coaches [at the annual league meetings last week]. Part of it is just the mentality of your football team,” he added. “The offensive and defensive lines and being physical, because that part of football is never going to change. It’s what I believe in.”

Expansion of replay on pass interference ‘promises to be interesting’

At last week’s Annual League Meetings, NFL Owners voted for the expansion of replay on pass interference.

The approval of the change by the league expanded the list of reviewable plays with Instant Replay to include offensive and defensive pass interference, whether a foul is called or not called.

Coaches will be able to challenge calls prior to the final two minutes of each half. Challenges thereafter will be prompted by replay officials under the established protocol.

In wake of the changes, Ben Goessling and Michael Rand of the Star Tribune shared their thoughts on how much it will impact the Vikings in 2019. Rand wrote:

ESPN has some interesting data showing that over the past three seasons, defensive pass interference has accounted for just 9 percent of all penalties called but that those calls have a massive influence over win probability. It’s not hard to imagine a Vikings game (or two) next year having an outcome very much connected to an overturned interference call.

In which direction is a good question. The Vikings last season had seven defensive pass interference penalties called against them and seven in their favor. The league average was 7.4 per team in the regular season, so they were very average.

Goessling specifically looked at cornerback Xavier Rhodes, who was flagged for pass interference twice during the 2018 season, which included a “31-yard call on the first play of the fourth quarter against the Seahawks [that proved] especially pivotal.” Goessling reminded readers that Rhodes dealt with a few different injuries last season that “might have led to him grabbing more frequently.”

But especially now that pass interference calls are reviewable, you can bet teams are going to try to put Rhodes in situations where his physicality could come back to bite him.

In the end, though, I don’t know that Zimmer will instruct his corners to play differently. He’ll teach them to adapt to the latest round of rule changes, to be sure, and he did have Rhodes playing off receivers in coverage in 2018 more frequently than he’s done in the past.

In response to Rand asking if “we’ll see more emotion-based challenges from coaches,” Goessling said “the key to this will be having eagle-eyed coaches up in the [booth] who can clearly diagnose a call and give the right advice quickly.”

Goessling added, “It’s hard to imagine the change not altering some games this season. It promises to be interesting, as always.”

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