EAGAN, Minn. — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer anticipates a significant challenge when Minnesota hosts Chicago for a Week 17 matchup that can dictate the Vikings postseason – or lack thereof. But he also believes that his team is ready for it.
If the Vikings beat the Bears, they are guaranteed a playoff spot. If they fall to the division rival, they would need help – either a loss or tie by Philadelphia against Washington would all Minnesota to slip in.
"We've got a lot of guys who have a lot of pride and character, so I think they'll be ready for the challenge," Zimmer told Twin Cities media members via conference call on Monday afternoon. "It will be a great challenge. We'll obviously need the home fans there and nice and loud for us, but I feel good about it, yeah."
Zimmer later was asked to reflect on a press conference held last spring when the Vikings signed free agent quarterback Kirk Cousins. In response to the signing, Zimmer said that Cousins had "a chip on his shoulder" and liked the attitude he played with.
Has Zimmer observed that mentality from Cousins this season?
He said that he has, but he added that it's a team-wide approach and ability to battle back after being knocked down.
"We've been pretty resilient. We've had a lot of things happen to us this year that have not been great," Zimmer said. "Like [in Week 15] against Miami, they punched us two plays in a row, and we decided we were going to punch back. This last week [against the Lions] we started out slow and then decided we're going to get back, be resilient again, punched them back a little bit, so I think all those things are important.
"But it's not just necessarily with the quarterback," Zimmer added. "It's with your whole football team, that you have that kind of mentality that, you know, we're going to fight through this little bit of struggle that we're having right now and get back to work, and good things are going to happen if we keep fighting."
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed during his conference call with media:
Tackling the Lions for loss
Against Detroit, Minnesota's defense did some damage behind the line of scrimmage.
The Vikings recorded 12 tackles for loss, including three from second-year linebacker Eric Wilson, who started in place of an injured Eric Kendricks.
Zimmer explained that their success was multifaceted.
"A couple of them, guys just made plays. A couple of them were on pressures," Zimmer said. "They were loading up with some big people in there, so we were trying to hit some of those runs, and we were lucky enough to get a couple."
Higher propensity for play-action
The Vikings also saw success with play-action passes, particularly in the second half.
For the majority of the season, Minnesota struggled to get anything going with play-action, but the play has cropped up more often under Interim Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski and been more effective.
"Play-action honestly is more difficult for the defense because they have to react to the run and then the pass, hopefully, and a lot of times you're getting a little bit more time to protect," Zimmer said. "We hit Dalvin [Cook] on that check-down off the play-action the one time, and it ended up being a big gain. Then we hit Rudy (Kyle Rudolph), or we hit Adam [Thielen], so there were quite a few explosive plays with those.
"I think the more that we can do that, and what I always try to do is look, on our play-actions, 'OK, are we getting the linebackers and the safeties to bite a little bit where we can get something behind them or get something to the perimeter?' " Zimmer continued. "I know one time we threw a ball on the sideline to Adam, so are we getting those kinds of things that we want and getting the defense out of position a little bit?"
Playing with an edge on the line
During an earlier call with media members, rookie tackle Brian O'Neill said he feels the offensive line is playing with even more of an "edge" as of late.
Zimmer was asked about that and it's been true over the past "couple of games."
"You know, I think they knew we were going to run the football a little bit more," Zimmer said. "It's hard, again, I'm not second-guessing anything that we've done in the past, but it's hard to sit back and back up 46, 47 times a game – because you're absorbing blows a lot of times that way, whereas at least when you try to run the football some, you're going forward a few more."
Hill stepping in
The Vikings signed undrafted rookie Holton Hill this spring because they saw potential in the young cornerback.
Now nearing the end of the regular season, that belief in Hill has paid off.
He has played 15 games so far this season and made two starts, and on several occasions he's stepped in due to injury. Against the Lions Sunday, Hill covered Kenny Golladay some rather than having Xavier Rhodes follow him full-time and did a good job.
"He's played pretty good all year long," Zimmer said. "We're kind of down on corners a little bit, anyway, so he's really the third corner. He's the guy that goes in."