EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings will reach the halfway point of the 2018 regular season after Sunday’s game against New Orleans.
Minnesota’s offense has had some ups and downs so far, especially in the red zone, where the Vikings are an even 50 percent (10 of 20) in scoring touchdowns on possessions that venture inside the 20-yard line.
The Vikings are one of six teams in the league with a 50-50 split in the red zone. Minnesota is tied for 19th in the NFL with division foes such as Green Bay and Detroit along with San Francisco, Washington and Miami.
Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer summed up his offense’s red-zone production on Wednesday when he met with the Twin Cities media.
“It’s been week to week. It’s a point of emphasis for us,” Zimmer said. “We have to do better in the red zone when we get in there. We’d like to be 100 percent.”
The Vikings have scored 18 offensive touchdowns this season, but almost half of them [eight] have been scores of 20-plus yards.
Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has four touchdown passes of 30 yards or more.
“We’ve had some long touchdowns. Kirk [Cousins] throws a really good deep ball, and that helps,” Zimmer said. “The thing that happens when you get in the red zone, everything gets condensed. The passing lanes get tighter, everything gets tighter, and so the better that you can run the football in those areas makes it more difficult to defend.
“Otherwise most teams nowadays are getting into no-backs and spreads, things like that where they can try to create some space to throw the football,” Zimmer added.
Defensively, the Vikings have allowed 11 touchdowns in 27 drives, and that 40.7 percent mark ranks third in the NFL.
“We’ve been fairly good defensively in the red zone. That is one of our areas that we are always working on with the entire football team,” Zimmer said. “The offensive touchdown percentage and third-down conversions in the red zone and same thing consequently with the defense as well. We need to do better in there.”
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Wednesday:
1. Hey, Teddy
The Vikings will see multiple familiar faces Sunday, including Saints quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who is making his first return to Minnesota.
Bridgewater was a first-round draft pick by the Vikings in 2014 and played 30 career games in Purple, 28 of which as the starter.
Bridgewater helped lead Minnesota to the 2015 NFC North title but suffered a serious leg injury less than two weeks before the 2016 season opener.
The quarterback rehabbed for more than a year to return to the field in December of 2017, where he threw two passes in a Week 15 win over Cincinnati at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Zimmer professed his respect and admiration for Bridgewater, who is now backing up Drew Brees, on Wednesday.
“He’s a guy that everybody gravitates to. Teddy’s a winner, a competitor, unbelievable person,” Zimmer said. “I think the team saw how hard he worked to get back from that injury from how bad it was.
“I’ve got nothing but praise for him. Like I’ve said a million times, I thought he’d be the quarterback for the rest of my career,” Zimmer added. “I love the kid, I love his nature, competitiveness, everything about him.”
Bridgewater has played in one game but doesn’t have a pass attempt in 2018 with New Orleans.
2. Confidence in Holton Hill
Vikings cornerback Holton Hill wasn’t fazed Sunday against the Jets as he stepped in for Xavier Rhodes in the fourth quarter and recorded his first career interception.
Zimmer said he expects the same mindset this Sunday, even as the test will be stiffer with Brees in town.
“I’m not really worried about this guy as far as the game being too big for him or anything like that,” Zimmer said of Hill. “If he has to play, I feel like he’s a competitor. He’s going to get in some matchups that may not be great, but I like this kid.”
The Vikings added Hill as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Texas and brought him in to provide ever-needed depth in the secondary.
“We really liked him in the draft. We thought he had length and characteristics were looking for in a corner,” Zimmer said. “He’s a tough guy, tackles well, can run, has physicality, can get in and out of breaks.
“Corners always get hurt, it seems like,” Zimmer added. “You don’t go through the season with the same two corners every single ball game, typically, and so that’s why everybody laughs at me [when I say,] ‘We need one more corner.’ But it’s kind of proving out now. “
3. Quite the challenge
Zimmer had the perfect word when describing New Orleans offense on Wednesday.
“Indiscriminate,” Zimmer quipped using a word that means something is done at random and tough to predict.
Zimmer noted that sums up Saints Head Coach Sean Payton and the bag of tricks he’ll bring to the field in Sunday’s primetime matchup.
“[He’ll] call anything at any time. Call anything,” Zimmer said. “Second-and-1, he might be in no backs. Play-action shots on first and possession, it doesn’t matter. Formations, movements, personnel groupings, he doesn’t care. I don’t think he cares about down and distance.”
Zimmer and Payton coached together from 2003-2005 when both were with the Cowboys organization. Zimmer said
“Sean’s good. Sean is a good coach. He’s a good friend of mine,” Zimmer said. “I know we went against each other a lot of times when we were in Dallas – we didn’t really go against each other in Dallas, practice all the time.
“He’s innovative, he’s smart, and he finds good matchups. He uses players in great ways,” Zimmer added. “Their tempo, they’ll spring four guys on the field and they’ll get to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball. They want to take the defense’s breath away is really what they want to do.”
4. Moving on from ‘The Minneapolis Miracle’
Zimmer is over ‘The Minneapolis Miracle.’
While the unbelievable and incredible play will be a hot topic this week as the Saints come to town, Zimmer said he’s moved on from Stefon Diggs’ 61-yard touchdown catch on the final play of the January playoff game.
“I think I’ve gone through this a hundred times,” Zimmer said, “but I think I was trying to tell him to get out of bounds, honestly.”
Diggs, of course, did not get out of bounds when he caught the ball at the 35-yard line, instead scampering up the right sideline straight into an open end zone — and Vikings lore.