EAGAN, Minn. – Take a walk around Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center and one will see the slogans and motivational messages that Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer regularly posts for his players to see.
Sometimes it’s a motivational quote. Other times, it can be a one-word reminder of an important characteristic he wants ingrained in players who see the messages as they shuffle from meetings to the cafeteria, and from the locker room to practice.
While Zimmer is known as an old-school coach who prides himself on his team having a stingy defense and a strong running game, the Vikings have taken a somewhat different approach this season as Minnesota ranks eighth in the league with 303.8 passing yards per game.
Zimmer met with the Twin Cities media Wednesday and was asked what he wants his football team to look like on a regular basis, and added that he always prefers a run-pass balance on offense.
“Hopefully we are a smart football team, we’re tough. We are passionate about the job that we do,” Zimmer said. “Typically, we know how to win games in the fourth quarter. I think how we move the ball has changed that part of it.
“Obviously, we want to be a tough team that can run the football,” Zimmer added. “Some of the situations haven’t dictated that yet, but that was good to see this last week.”
Minnesota rushed for a season-high 195 yards as a team on 32 carries in Sunday’s win against Arizona.
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed Wednesday:
1. Alexander steps up
With rookie cornerback Mike Hughes out for the season with a torn ACL, Zimmer said that third-year cornerback Mackensie Alexander is a prime candidate to “get some more work” in the slot going forward.
Zimmer said he was encouraged by Alexander’s Week 6 performance in which the cornerback had five tackles (according to coaches’ tally) with two tackles for loss, a sack and two passes defensed.
“I thought he played a lot better this last week, did some good things,” Zimmer said. “He’s been more disciplined in coverage, I guess that’s the best way to say it.
“I think he understands things so much better now, being there,” Zimmer added. “Sometimes these young guys have a hard time moving around to different spots, so I think it’s just good to settle things down.”
Alexander has played 183 defensive snaps (47.9 percent) so far in 2018.
2. Playing keep away
The Vikings will need to be wary of an opportunistic Jets defense on Sunday in New York.
That unit ranks among the top of the league in total takeaways with 15, which is the second-most in the NFL. The Jets are tied for second overall with 10 interceptions and tied for third in the NFL with five fumble recoveries.
Zimmer knows his offense will need to be cautious, and added that spreading out New York’s defense could be a plus.
“They’ve done a good job of getting their hands on a lot of balls,” Zimmer said. “I feel like we have to make sure that we open up some of the spaces in there so it doesn’t get congested in there on some of these things.
“When it does, a lot of bad things happen for the offenses,” Zimmer added.
Linebacker Darron Lee has a team-high three interceptions, and is one of seven Jets with at least one pick. Linebacker Jordan Jenkins has a pair of fumble recoveries.
The Jets rank eighth overall with a plus-3 turnover ratio. The Vikings are tied for 20th at minus-1.
Look back at photos over the course of time featuring games between the Vikings and the Jets.
3. Another rookie QB
For the second straight week, and the third time in five games, the Vikings defense will go up against a rookie quarterback.
This week’s test is New York signal-caller Sam Darnold, who was the third overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft out of Southern California.
Zimmer offered his assessment of the youngster on Wednesday.
“Very strong arm, very accurate, moves well in the pocket,” Zimmer said. “Scrambles well and gets out of there. He seems to be going to the right place with the ball. He’s thrown some great deep balls.
“Everyone tells me he’s a really smart kid … really good athlete,” Zimmer later added. “I’m sure they work with him each week on what to try to accomplish throughout the week.”
Darnold had started all six of New York’s games in 2018. He has thrown for 1,346 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions this season.
4. A wait-and-see approach
The NFL’s trade deadline is less than two weeks away and scheduled to go into effect at 3 p.m. (CT) on Oct. 30.
Zimmer was asked whether or not he expected the Vikings to be active in making a move over the next 13 days.
“I haven’t talked to [Vikings General Manager] Rick [Spielman] too much about that lately,” Zimmer said. “I’ve been in my own cubby hole, and he’s been in his so we haven’t talked too much about trades.
“Typically that comes down to that last week, but we have not said … I haven’t talked to him about a trade at all,” Zimmer added.