EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings may have looked dead in the water sitting at 1-5 heading into their bye week.
But they never gave up their fight.
After back-to-back wins against division foes, Minnesota is now looking to claw its way back into the playoff picture.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke with media members Monday afternoon and was asked about the team's refusal to give up despite such a difficult start to the season.
"Each game is different. We lost to a couple of good teams (Tennessee and Seattle) by one point," Zimmer said. "Defensively, we've had so many guys come in and have to adjust and adapt. I think, as coaches, we've done that as well. I think we're running the ball well. Kirk [Cousins] is throwing the ball well, getting us in the right plays.
"Part of it is sticking to it and believing you can get some wins," Zimmer added. "I talked to [the team], I guess a few weeks ago, 'Just believe. You got to believe that you're going to pull these games out, the ones we didn't win early.' "
With a third straight NFC North game on the horizon for Monday Night Football, Zimmer addressed a number of topics at the season's midway point:
1. Push forward from the O-line
Minnesota's offensive line has played a big role in the past two wins over Green Bay and Detroit, helping the Vikings rack up 811 yards from scrimmage.
Zimmer said the schemes "have been good" for the line.
"We changed up some of the schemes again this week. They're getting on the right guys, getting up to the second level, getting some guys on the ground and creating some space for the runners," he explained. "But it's always a combination of the tight ends being able to do a good job in either cutting a guy off or getting him reached to the front side. Then C.J. [Ham] has done a great job, as well."
He later further expanded on the o-line's success by addressing each of the starting five.
"Riley Reiff is playing really well right now, Garrett Bradbury, I think Dakota [Dozier's] been playing well. I think [Ezra] Cleveland's been doing a nice job since he's been in there, and [Brian] O'Neill just keeps improving each and every week and year, as he's continued his progression," Zimmer said. "They're doing really well. Dalvin helps them, too, just as much as they help Dalvin. It's a combination of things, I think."
2. The Chef makes guys miss
There's no denying the role Dalvin Cook has also played in Minnesota's back-to-back wins, having totaled 163 and 206 yards rushing, respectively.
Plenty of hoopla was made – and rightly so – about Cook's 70-yard touchdown run on Sunday. A less-heralded play, however, was mentioned to Zimmer: a toss in which it seemed Cook would be downed for a loss of 7 via a cornerback blitz but instead made the defender miss and turned it into a 13-yard gain and first down.
"Yeah, that looked really bad coming out of there," Zimmer acknowledged and brought up one of Cook's receptions earlier in the game. "But he makes guys miss in the open field. I think the third-and-7, he caught the ball out of the backfield and the linebacker was there and stopped and cut back inside and accelerated to the first down.
"He's really hard to tackle 1-on-1, let alone when there's some space," he added. "For him to have a vision on the play you're talking about, and then be able to stop and start and make the two guys miss, that was pretty impressive."
3. Another week, another round of kudos for Kendricks
Is it fair to say yet that Eric Kendricks is currently the NFL's best middle linebacker?
Kendricks put up another impressive performance Sunday afternoon, including picking off Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, recording a pass defensed and totaling six tackles.
Zimmer was asked if he's given Kendricks "extra responsibilities" with fellow linebacker Anthony Barr on Injured Reserve.
"I tried not to," Zimmer said with a chuckle. "No, you know, Eric takes on a lot of responsibilities in some of the things he has to do. But it hasn't been a lot more, really. He's a good player because … Eric sees things really well. He's got an idea of what the play might be, and then he anticipates. He's one of those guys who's better when he can just go and play football, I think. He anticipates things so well, and that allows him to play fast and make plays. The interception he made in the end zone was a double move [by] the tight end and was really a good play."
4. Speaking of anticipation…
Zimmer on two different occasions emphasized the ability for defenders to anticipate the offense's next move.
So then, is anticipation a teachable skill for young players, specifically for Minnesota's inexperienced cornerbacks?
Zimmer said there always are "tips and tells" to study ahead of any given opponent.
"Based on splits of receivers, based on where the back is, based on where the tight end is. I mean, there's always little things that can give you a tip, and if you're able to line up quickly and then be able to see the bigger picture, [you can capitalize on that]," Zimmer said.
He referenced former Vikings cornerback Terence Newman, who often was called upon to play in different positions.
"When [Newman] was playing in the nickel or playing outside, he always had some tips. And it might be as little as the receiver has his inside foot up or outside foot up," Zimmer said. "There's so many different things – the tight end's off the ball, or the tight end is in line and the back is to him.
"There's so many different little tips that as these guys get more mature, they'll start understanding these things. It's just taken a while," he added. "They want to do what they're told to do, which is what we expect them to do, but we want them to do that naturally and then see the rest of the picture."
The Voyage delivers unprecedented access to fans, who will be able to step inside the office of Head Coach Mike Zimmer and have an insider's look and listen during his talks with the team. Viewers also will hear directly from current Vikings players who will be writing outcomes of games through their play on the field.