EAGAN, Minn. – It’s crunch time for the Vikings, who now face a three-game sprint to try and snag a playoff spot in the NFC.
Minnesota sports a 6-6-1 record and would be the second and final Wild Card team if the season ended today. The Vikings are still in contention for a division title as well, but they will need help.
The Vikings host Miami in Week 15 before traveling to Detroit in Week 16. Minnesota then comes home to face Chicago in the regular-season finale.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer spoke to the media Wednesday afternoon and offered an overall outlook on where things stand 13 games into the 2018 season.
Zimmer said that, with expectations high, he expects the Vikings to rise to the challenge against the Dolphins.
“I don’t think we’ll play tight. Just go out and play football and do what they’ve been taught to do for a long time,” Zimmer said. “Everybody understands the situation and the stakes of this particular game and the next couple of games. Our guys are pretty smart, and we understand that.
“But I have a lot of confidence in this group. We have really good guys on this team, and they understand where we’re at,” Zimmer added. “There’s obviously pressure, but there’s pressure every single week. That doesn’t change. Just go out and perform … I don’t think we’ll play tight.”
Chicago leads the NFC North with a 9-4 record and would be the No. 3 seed. Seattle would be the fifth seed at 8-5.
Carolina, Philadelphia and Washington are all 6-7 and trail the Vikings in the Wild Card race.
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Wednesday:
1. Kevin and Kirk
The Vikings will feature a new offensive play-caller Sunday against Miami, as quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski was elevated to interim offensive coordinator on Tuesday when Minnesota relieved John DeFilippo of his duties.
Stefanksi is in his second season of working with Vikings quarterbacks and has been with the organization since 2006.
Stefanski has also worked closely with Kirk Cousins since the Vikings quarterback arrived in Minnesota this spring, and Zimmer believes that relationship should be beneficial going forward.
“No. 1, they have a good working relationship,” Zimmer said. “They sit in meetings all the time and talk a lot, so there’s a lot of back and forth with those guys.
“I feel like Kirk will be open to suggesting things a little bit more,” Zimmer added.
Cousins has completed 70.6 percent of his passes and thrown for 3,698 yards with 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions in his first season in Purple.
2. Home sweet home
The Vikings should also benefit from being at home, where they are 16-6 in the regular season since U.S. Bank Stadium opened in 2016.
“We’re excited to get back home in front of our fans,” Zimmer said. “Hopefully the crowd will be nice and loud, we’ll need all the help we can get with them.”
If Zimmer had his way, the Vikings would play at noon (CT) each Sunday, because that constant time slot gets players and coaches into a weekly routine.
But Zimmer said a wacky schedule over the past month has been difficult to navigate, as Minnesota’s last noon kickoff was in Week 9 against Detroit.
The Vikings then had a bye before they split back-to-back games on Sunday Night Football at Chicago (the game was flexed) and against Green Bay. Minnesota then racked up more than 5,000 round-trip miles with two straight losses at New England and in Seattle.
“We’ve had an East Coast [game], West Coast [game], night games, afternoon games, late afternoon games,” Zimmer said. “It’s nice to get into a little routine, hopefully.”
“We knew it’d be tough going to New England, and we knew it’d be tough going to Seattle. We didn’t get those games done, but we still have everything we need in front of us,” Zimmer added. “If we go out and play the way we’re capable of playing, we have a chance to do what we need to do.”
3. Coming up short
The Vikings were in a handful of short-yardage situations Monday against Seattle but came away frustrated.
Minnesota faced and third-and-1 and a pair of fourth-and-1 plays in the second half and couldn’t convert on any of them against Seattle.
Cousins tried a play-action pass on the third-down play but it fell incomplete. Running back Latavius Murray was later stopped short on fourth-and-1 before Cousins threw incomplete in the direction of tight end Kyle Rudolph on fourth-and-goal at the 1-yard line.
“The one, they did a really good job of covering it,” Zimmer said of the first pass. “The other one, they loaded up inside, and we got beat inside.
“You can always say it is play calling if it doesn’t work, or you could say it is execution if it doesn’t work,” Zimmer added before crediting Seattle. “They did a good job.”
Minnesota has converted on 14 of 24 plays on third-and-1 this season. The Vikings have picked up first downs on five of 10 plays when running the ball, and nine of 14 plays while passing it.
Minnesota is 6-for-10 on fourth-and-1 plays in 2018. The Vikings are three of four on such plays when running the ball and have converted on three of six pass plays.
4. Still looking for something special
The Vikings will need to be on alert Sunday as the Dolphins are the lone NFL team with both a punt and kickoff return for score in 2018, although the man with those touchdowns, Jakeem Grant, is out for the year with an Achilles injury.
Still, Zimmer said he’d like to see better play from Minnesota’s special teams units, whether it be in coverage or on field goals, where the Vikings had a kick blocked Monday.
“We need to do a better job in all phases of special teams. We need to do a better job in all areas,” Zimmer said. “I’d like to be a lot more explosive on special teams than what we have been.
“I thought there were a couple opportunities the other night we had where we didn’t get it taken care of,” Zimmer added. “Hopefully we can get that better.”
The Vikings had three fair catches on punts while two of Seattle’s punts were downed. Ameer Abdullah had three kickoff returns for 64 total yards against the Seahawks.