EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings performances in the first two weeks of the 2020 season haven't matched what Head Coach Mike Zimmer has come to expect on a consistent basis.
A lack of execution on offense, failure to get stops on defense and miscues on special teams have produced an unpalatable concoction and led to the first 0-2 start by the Vikings since 2013, a season before Zimmer's hire.
He doesn't recognize the Vikings identity in this year's team — yet — but he made sure to point out Monday that there's a good bit of football remaining.
"Well, I think the biggest thing is we've got to get back to being who we are as a football team," Zimmer said Monday. "Not just offense or defense, but we've made too many mistakes. We've had turnovers, penalties. If you go back and look at the times that we've been here, the identity of our team has always been tough, and physical, and smart and not beating ourselves. So, we're going to have to fix that."
The Vikings scored a touchdown in Week 1 and a field goal in Week 2 of their opening drives before wayward second quarters caused downward spirals.
Zimmer was asked about his messaging to the team and how to avoid the tone coming across as one of panic.
"They kind of know me pretty well. They know that I'm going to be emotional," Zimmer said. "There's still a lot of football left to be played, but we've got to get better faster. The second quarter has not been good to us these last two weeks. So, hopefully we can get back on track this week."
Here are three other topics covered by Zimmer Monday.
1. Tough times
The task will be just as rough — or perhaps tougher in some ways — this week when a physical 2-0 Titans team visits U.S. Bank Stadium at noon (CT) Sunday.
The Vikings will again be without Pro Bowl defensive end Danielle Hunter, who is on injured reserve, and on Monday announced that four-time Pro Bowler Anthony Barr has suffered a torn pectoral muscle that will end his season.
Minnesota also is playing this year without marquee run-stuffer Michael Pierce, who signed in free agency to play the nose tackle spot formerly manned by Linval Joseph. Pierce, however, opted out of the season because of his high-risk condition as the COVID-19 pandemic continues. The Vikings responded by moving Shamar Stephen, who started alongside Joseph in 2019, to nose tackle, but that appears to have created a ripple effect so far.
Zimmer said he did see some improvements from Week 1 to Week 2 against the run. The problem was the conditions of the game allowed Indianapolis to rush 40 times.
"We had some good plays against the run. There's a couple where we mis-fitted, one time we lined up wrong and we got a call wrong, but it was much better than the week before," Zimmer said. "We had a bunch of 1s and 2s (gains allowed) as opposed to 5s and 6s. There were some in there obviously. Shamar's done a good job. We've got to get the other tackles playing better."
View photos of the Vikings 53-man roster as of January 4, 2021.
2. LB Depth
The loss of Barr is a big one for the Vikings. Zimmer has talked about how the 2014 first-round pick's presence has caused teams to make adjustments to their plans, as well as a few teams that haven't effectively accounted for him and suffered the consequences.
If Barr's been active, he's worn the headset communications device and been tasked with lining the unit up before snaps. Zimmer said Eric Kendricks handled the role in Barr's absence Sunday.
"I thought Troy [Dye] came in and did some good things. He had a couple missed tackles but he ran pretty well," Zimmer said. "Once Barr went out, it got a little confusing because Eric (Kendricks) was trying to get the calls from the headset and then make the calls and get guys lined up. So that got a little confusing. [Eric] Wilson did fine. We've still got a lot of things we have to work on with those guys, but we anticipate that they'll continue to get better."
Minus Barr, the Vikings have four linebackers — Kendricks, Wilson, Dye and Ryan Connelly — on the 53-man roster, as well as Blake Lynch and Hardy Nickerson on the practice squad.
3. Confident Cousins will bounce back
Kirk Cousins' stat line Sunday was one of the worst of his career, but Zimmer said he expects the quarterback and other players to bounce back.
"Well, Kirk's a veteran guy that has had a lot of success in the league. So, we expect him to come back and play better this week," Zimmer said. "But we expect everybody to come back and play better. There were times in the game where we get an 11-yard run and we get called for holding. We dropped a lot of balls, which you wouldn't expect from the receivers that we have. So, there's a combination of things that kept us from moving the football."