Presser Points: Zimmer on Stopping the Run, 3rd-Down Defense & Anticipating the Saints

EAGAN, Minn. – The Vikings successfully contained the Jets run game on Sunday.

The Jets had logged four games with more than 100 yards rushing entering their Week 7 contest against the Vikings, who held them to 71 yards, which was their third-lowest total of the season.

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer said that he spoke with the team all last week about perimeter run force.

“A lot of their big runs had come from bounce-outs to the perimeter with [Isaiah] Crowell,” Zimmer told Twin Cities media members Monday. “Trae [Waynes] made a couple of really nice tackles coming off the perimeter, I thought we were strong at the point of attack, I thought Jaleel Johnson played well, Sheldon [Richardson] played well inside. That helps, and then the linebackers were in the right place most of the time.”

Zimmer said that Waynes has improved at reading his keys, which has helped the fourth-year cornerback develop into a strong defender against the run.

Zimmer explained that young corners sometimes aren’t looking at the right part of the play.

“He still has some issues sometimes where his eyes are in the wrong place, but the majority of the time now in the past couple of years, he’s been really good with looking at his key,” Zimmer said. “They get in all those different formations and they’ve got three guys over there, if you’re looking at the wrong one – you’re looking at the quarterback, you’re looking at the running back – that’s where you get in trouble.

“If you focus on your key, typically that gives you a good read,” Zimmer added.

Here are four other topics Zimmer addressed during his podium session:

1. Emphasizing importance of good tacklers

Many factors go into fielding a strong defense in the NFL: play-calling, personnel and depth, to name a few.

But on top of having athletically gifted players, Zimmer emphasized the importance of having players who can wrap up guys and finish tackles.

“In today’s NFL, the way everybody is playing in space now, if you’re not a good tackler in space it makes it really hard to be a good defensive team,” Zimmer said. “Because they don’t bunch everything up anymore. Everything is rockets, ‘Don’t block this guy and leave this guy alone,’ five wide receivers.

“Yesterday [the Jets] came out in three wide receivers and two tight ends a lot, and they had maximum protections and they had no backs, all five guys out,” Zimmer continued. “It becomes a space game, really, and that’s partly why you want to get more cover guys in there if you can.”

2. Evaluating rookies on offensive, defensive lines

Two of the Vikings draft picks got action on the offensive and defensive lines against the Jets Sunday.

Tackle Brian O’Neill saw a lot of action, actually, making his second career start and playing all 69 of Minnesota’s offensive snaps. The second-round draft pick started at right tackle in place of Rashod Hill, who slid to the left side in place of Riley Reiff.

“I thought he played well yesterday,” Zimmer said. “Physical, much better in the pass protection, good in the running game. I thought he did well.”

Fourth rounder Jalyn Holmes played 18 snaps (25 percent) on defense and logged his first career sack with a takedown of Jets QB Sam Darnold.

Zimmer said that Holmes “did better” in his third NFL game.

“I thought he played to his strength a little bit more than trying to be somebody he’s not, so I think that helped him to have a better game,” Zimmer said.

3. Dominating defensively on third downs

The Vikings over the past two weeks have allowed opponents to convert just two of 23 third-down attempts.

Zimmer was asked if the defense’s performance on first and second downs is setting it up for success on third or if it’s more of a “get-off-the-field” mentality.

“It’s hard to say,” Zimmer said. “[Actually, the] worst thing we’ve been doing defensively is first and second down. We haven’t been very good there. Recently, we’ve been better.

“We work really hard on third downs,” Zimmer continued. “We’ve been working really hard on first and second downs the last few weeks. Guys are executing. We change up some calls here and there every week and try to figure out what is the best way to stop them, and guys have executed.”

4. Expecting an aggressive Saints team

The Vikings celebration of a third consecutive win was short-lived, as the team is turning its attention immediately to the Saints.

Minnesota will host New Orleans for Sunday Night Football, the first matchup between the two teams since the Minneapolis Miracle lifted the Vikings over the Saints in the Divisional Round of the playoffs last season.

Zimmer was asked if he believes the Saints will “a chip on their shoulder” Sunday night based on the way last year’s game ended.

“I think the Saints will come in with a chip on their shoulder because that’s who they are,” Zimmer answered. “They’re very aggressive on defense. They’re aggressive offensively. They’ve got a good football team. So I don’t know. It was a long time ago.”

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