EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings head into their bye with a 1-5 record and do so on the heels of perhaps their worst loss of the season.
After weeks of showing improvement, Minnesota struggled in all three phases in a 40-23 home loss to previously winless Atlanta on Sunday.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer met with the Twin Cities media Monday afternoon and assessed his team's performance.
The Vikings offense crawled through three quarters thanks to a trio of interceptions thrown by Kirk Cousins, and the defense struggled against the Falcons aerial attack. Atlanta netted 363 passing yards and four scores.
Coming off a bitter, one-point loss to Seattle in Week 5, Zimmer said he expected his team to respond with a vengeance against the Falcons, but that did not happen.
"If we lost a game by one point and we had a letdown in the next game, that would be surprising to me," Zimmer said. "If you lose a game, you shouldn't have a letdown. You should put a foot on the grinder and get back to work."
Zimmer said he didn't buy into the fact that the Vikings had an emotional drop off and noted that Minnesota just couldn't match Atlanta's intensity at U.S. Bank Stadium.
"I don't really ever go on that stuff. We have a week to prepare, a week to get ready, I told them all week long that [the Falcons] were going to come out and play really hard and really well to prove that it wasn't their fault," Zimmer said. "And they did. We didn't play good enough in a lot of different areas.
"We didn't challenge their receivers enough. If you look at the game, we start out with an interception, they hit on a third-and-11 for a touchdown that we would assume if we were in the right place that doesn't happen and then we turn the ball over three times in the first half," Zimmer added. "We don't ever allow the offense to keep the ball, whether it's because of us offensively or because of us defensively, so the time of possession gets out of control and you get to a point where the running game is diminished. I think we had 10 runs in the first half but we had 24 plays, they end up with 80 plays for the game. There's a lot of things like that that didn't give us an opportunity to win the game."
Minnesota is one of six teams around the NFL at 1-5, including Atlanta, Houston, Jacksonville, the New York Giants and Washington. The New York Jets (0-6) are the only team without a win.
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Monday:
1. Taking responsibility
With the Vikings at the bottom of the league standings, Zimmer was asked how much personal responsibility he feels for the poor record thus far.
"100 percent," Zimmer said.
Minnesota's 1-5 start is its worst since Zimmer was hired in 2014.
The Vikings are 0-3 at home and are tied for the league's second-worst turnover differential at minus-7.
Minnesota's defense ranks 31st in points per game allowed at 32.0, and is 28th at 413.7 yards allowed per game.
The Vikings offense ranks 26th on third-down rate at 37.70 percent and 29th in time of possession at 27 minutes and 27 seconds.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.
2. The bye-week approach
Unlike in previous seasons, Zimmer won't be able to relax at his Kentucky ranch for a few days during the bye.
And Vikings players won't be able to get out of town and refresh either, as players and coaches must continue their daily COVID-19 tests and adhere to league protocols.
Zimmer said that while players will be off Thursday through Sunday, the team will get some work done early in the week.
"We have to give them four days off," Zimmer said. "It's the same; they just have to get tested every single day. Obviously, with the different protocols and things like that, we'll be here."
Zimmer added that while he wishes he could work with his team later in the week, he is going to be mindful of players' health, too.
"It's a little bit of a catch-22," Zimmer added. "Some of these young guys need a lot of work, but some of them are playing every play. I'm kind of going through that a little bit now."
3. Assessing Cousins' 3 interceptions
Cousins was intercepted three times in one half of football for the first time in his career on Sunday. He threw the first one on the game's opening snap.
Zimmer said that his quarterback appeared to focus on one receiver and didn't look that player off when reading a coverage.
"He might have locked on, pre-determined some throws [Sunday] a little bit," Zimmer said.
"It's just a pre-snap read, probably determined a couple things a little too soon," Zimmer added. "He made some good throws in the second half. We just started out so poorly in the first half."
Cousins completed nine of 15 passes for 104 yards and three interceptions in the first half before rebounding. His second-half stat line was 15-of-21 passing for 239 yards and three scores.
Cousins has a league-high 10 interceptions through six games.
4. Cleveland's 1st NFL start
Rookie Ezra Cleveland made his first NFL start Sunday, stepping in at right guard for an injured Dru Samia.
The 2020 second-round pick played all 56 snaps on offense. Zimmer assessed his play the day after the game.
"I think he had some good moments and some moments he'd like to have back," Zimmer said. "He did some impressive things and then he had some poor moments. For the first time out, it wasn't too bad."
Cleveland starred at left tackle at Boise State but primarily lined up at left guard training camp.
Zimmer said the Vikings chose to play Cleveland at right guard Sunday because it required just a single spot, rather than possibly moving left guard Dakota Dozier — who started three games at right guard in 2019 — to the right side and then plugging Cleveland in at left guard.
"We didn't really want to move, Dakota, no," Zimmer said.
Win Great Prizes via Pass or Play
Back for the 2020 season is Pass or Play, a free-to-play fantasy-style game. Build your weekly lineup via digital trading cards that are randomly given to you. Users can elect to keep the first card sent to them and insert that player into their lineup, or pass and move on to the next card. If a user chooses to pass on all three cards, they can come back the next day for one new card.