EAGAN, Minn. – The Chargers have been eliminated from the playoffs, but don't count them out as legitimate competitors.
The Los Angeles team is 5-8, with two of their five wins coming against Minnesota's NFC North opponents Chicago and Green Bay.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was asked during his media availability Wednesday how the Chargers were able to overtake the Packers in Week 9.
"When they don't turn the ball over, they're pretty hard to beat, and they've done a good job in those games," Zimmer said. "And they get some turnovers defensively."
The Chargers have committed 22 turnovers offensively this season but had just one against the Bears and none against the Packers. They had two takeaways against Chicago.
The Vikings won't be taking the Chargers lightly based on record. After all, Los Angeles has yet to lose a game by more than seven points.
"They're good in a lot of areas; we're going to have to be really effective in understanding their defense, the things that they allow us to do and the things they don't, being aware of the protection," Zimmer added. "They don't have a huge [number] of sacks, but they've got a lot of quarterback hits. And then offensively, they'll run the ball, but they like to hit big plays, especially on first down. So, we're going to have to do a good job there."
Zimmer also pointed out that the Chargers are "a lot healthier" now than earlier in the season.
Safety Derwin James and tackle Russell Okung have returned to action after missing time, and running back Melvin Gordon has been back since Week 5 after holding out to start the season.
"They've got a lot more weapons now," Zimmer said.
Here are four other topics Zimmer covered with Twin Cities media members:
1. Derwin and the defense | by Lindsey Young
The Chargers drafted James 17th overall in 2018, and he impressed in his rookie season with three interceptions, 13 passes defensed and 3.5 sacks over 16 games.
James has played just two games this season after missing the first 12 weeks with a broken foot suffered in training camp. He has 10 tackles, two tackles for loss and a pass defensed in those contests.
"He's a good player. He plays [up at the] line of scrimmage most of the time. I've always been a big fan of his," Zimmer said of James, "He's one of those game-wrecker kind of guys because he's big and fast and physical. They've used him on blitzing a lot in the past – maybe not so much right now, but we have to be prepared for it as he comes out.
"You add him and [defensive end Joey] Bosa and [defensive end Melvin] Ingram, three guys close to the line of scrimmage, they can do some damage," Zimmer added.
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster for the 2019 season.
2. Recalling Hunter's early days | by Lindsey Young
When the Vikings drafted defensive end Danielle Hunter 88th overall in 2015, he had just 4.5 collegiate sacks to his name through three seasons at LSU.
He's now 25 years old and has 52.5 career sacks in the NFL and was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday morning.
Zimmer was asked what he saw in Hunter and what he thought of the low sack total when they scouted him for the NFL Draft.
"We looked at his athletic ability, which was top-notch; we looked at the type of person he was, which is top-notch," Zimmer. "We looked at his sack numbers and why he didn't have very many, and [we] felt like if he changed some of his angles and some of the things he did and changed some of his hand usage and things like that – did we know he was going to have 50 sacks at 25? No. But we felt like we could improve him as a pass rusher."
What did Hunter correct in that first season in Minnesota?
"[In college, he] had a tendency to run straight up the field and turn left as opposed to taking the proper angle, getting on the offensive tackle and using his hands and athletic ability," Zimmer said. "Basically, he would run straight up the field, make it a wide turn and have to turn left, and he didn't have time to get [to the quarterback]."
3. 2015 draft class shining | by Craig Peters
The Vikings and Chargers play so infrequently that this will be the first opportunity for several major players on Minnesota's roster to log significant time in the series.
Hunter and draft classmate Stefon Diggs were inactive when the Vikings welcomed the Chargers from San Diego in 2015. Eric Kendricks and Trae Waynes, who also were rookies that season, played 40 and 41 defensive snaps, respectively but neither started in the Vikings 31-14 victory.
Zimmer was asked about his thoughts on the 2015 class.
"At that point in time, we're just trying to find the best players," Zimmer said. "We were fortunate with Diggs, obviously. There's reasons why he probably fell lower. Kendricks, we thought he was a good player, a little undersized, and Hunter had minimal sacks [in college]. You never know going into a draft. You know, [General Manager] Rick [Spielman] says he knows everything, but at the end of the day, you've got to be lucky."
Zimmer said the players showed they belonged at training camp and during practices before game days.
"Kendricks showed up pretty quickly," Zimmer said. "Diggs, you could kind of tell when he was going through camp and making some of the plays in camp. If I remember right, we didn't play him for the first [three] games, but in practice every day, he was making plays.
"Hunter, honestly, I had a former player of mine, Greg Ellis here at the time, doing evaluations, and he said, 'I think this guy is going to be like DeMarcus Ware.' I said, 'Are you kidding me?' Then, when we played Denver, I think it was that year, [Hunter] was DeMarcus Ware on the scout team, and that really showed the things he can do."
4. Game of adjustments | by Craig Peters
The Vikings are making their sixth trip to the West Coast under Zimmer and second in a three-week span.
Minnesota is 1-4 with a loss at San Francisco and win at Oakland in 2015, as well as a loss against the Rams on Thursday Night Football in 2018 and back-to-back seasons of falling to the Seahawks on Monday Night Football.
Minnesota did not go to San Francisco earlier than the traditional day before a game but did for its game against the Raiders. Last season, Minnesota went to Los Angeles and Seattle earlier than the traditional day before a game.
Zimmer said he didn't want to go early because the game against the Seahawks was on Monday night.
The Vikings plan to leave for Los Angeles this Saturday. Zimmer said he was glad that the game got reverse-flexed from Sunday Night Football to a 3:05 p.m. (CT) start time because it's a smaller change to the schedule.
As for the other adjustments, the Chargers current use of Dignity Health Sports Park means the Vikings will be playing in the smallest venue to host NFL games this season. A total of 25,435 attended the game between the Chargers and Packers earlier this season.
Zimmer was asked about the possibility of having another strong road showing of Vikings fans.
"I hope all of our fans come out," Zimmer said. "We talked about the stadium today, the grass, the size of the stadium and things like that, so hopefully we get a lot of people there."