EAGAN, Minn. – It’s been a long time since Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer was a defensive coordinator for the first time, but he shared some advice with Interim Offensive Coordinator Kevin Stefanski.
Zimmer told Twin Cities media members that Stefanski will call plays from the sidelines on Sunday after being promoted to the role Tuesday.
“I’m sure it was [a difficult whirlwind], but we’ve talked quite a few times this week,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s done a nice job of incorporating the other coaches in the mix with things. Excited to see it go.”
Zimmer said he gave Stefanski “a few tips” from when he first called plays “100 years ago” – or, in literal terms, 18 years ago in Dallas.
“It’s a little different when you’re reading it off the script at practice, and you go out to the game and there’s 70,000 people yelling, and they’ve got a different personnel group, and you’ve got 25 seconds to [call the play], the [headset] cuts off at 15, so now you’ve got 10 a lot of times,” Zimmer said. “Yeah, it can be [hectic], but it’s practice and getting used to it.”
Added Zimmer: “I’m sure he’ll do a good job.”
Here are four other topics Zimmer discussed during his podium session Friday afternoon:
1. Taking a look at Tannehill
The Vikings defense will be facing quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who missed all of the 2017 campaign with an injury and has played just eight games so far this season. In that time, he’s 132-of-197 passing for 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. His quarterback rating is 105.7.
Minnesota last played against Tannehill in 2014, Zimmer’s first season at the helm, in a December loss at Miami.
Zimmer highlighted Tannehill’s ball security, accuracy and ability to throw a “good deep ball.”
“It’s been a while since we’ve played him, but he looks like he’s matured quite a bit,” Zimmer said. “He’s playing well.”
2. Prepping for a good pass rush
The Dolphins have a pair of veteran pass rushers in Cameron Wake and Robert Quinn, ages 36 and 28, respectively.
Zimmer said Minnesota has typically been facing at least one good pass rusher each week but acknowledged that the defensive end duo will keep the Vikings on their toes.
“Quinn is very good, he’s very athletic. Wake has a lot of power, speed-to-power, the physicality of the rush,” Zimmer said. “So both of those two guys will be big challenges for us.”
Zimmer also said that he’s seen Miami’s overall defensive unit improve from the beginning of the season until now.
“I think they’ve done a better job of being in the right place,” Zimmer said. “I think earlier in the year they were kind of out of their spots a little bit, so I think [linebacker Raekwon McMillan has] helped in that. But I think overall, their entire group has been much better.”
3. Rudolph the red-zone target?
Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph has been targeted much less inside the red zone this season, having just three catches on 10 passes inside the 20-yard line. Over his career, Rudolph has 56 red-zone catches on 87 targets in the red zone.
Zimmer was asked about the decrease, and he offered two possible explanations.
“We haven’t been down in the red zone very much,” Zimmer said, “and they are paying a lot of attention to him, so that’s been a little bit of it. I think guys are well-aware of the red zone targets that he’s had over his career.”
Zimmer said that teams can afford to pay more attention to Rudolph in the red zone because they don’t necessarily double Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs in that situation.
“You can still double guys down there, but there’s a lot less room,” Zimmer said. “Typically, the back end line and the side lines kind of help you out on the other guys, so you can keep a safety over there closer to a tight end usually.”
4. ‘Players, not the plays’
Zimmer was asked by a reporter to expound on a statement by Stefanski during his Thursday media availability.
Stefanski quoted Pat Shurmur, who took over the Vikings Offensive Coordinator position partway through the 2016 season and held the role throughout 2017: “It’s about the players, not the plays.”
Zimmer said it’s a common coaching saying.
“Another way to say it is, ‘It’s not the Xs and the Os; it’s the Jimmys and the Joes,’ ” Zimmer explained. “It’s getting them in the right place and letting them play. The calls are important obviously, but a lot of times you can make a bad call and the players can make up to help you, and then sometimes you can help them by making a good call.
“The biggest thing is, there’s a lot of times I make bad calls, and the guys make good plays – but you can’t dwell on it because you don’t have time during the game,” Zimmer continued. “What you do is, after the game you go back and you think, ‘OK, well maybe I should have done this here, or, ‘Maybe I should have done this there.’ ”