Mike Zimmer’s team was humbled on Christmas Day at the Superdome as the Saints brought new meaning to the “Big Easy.”
The Minnesota Vikings probably didn’t like what they wound up getting for Christmas. A humbling 52-33 loss in the Crescent City to the Saints was not only disappointing but Mike Zimmer’s club – losers of three straight games – was eliminated from the playoffs.
New Orleans’ running back Alvin Kamara and his offensive counterparts had their way with a defensive unit under the guidance of coordinators Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson. Sean Payton’s team piled up 583 total yards – 264 on the ground – and another 319 through the air. The Vikings actually picked off Drew Brees twice but he was not sacked and threw for 311 yards.
Some may have been surprised by Minnesota’s defensive showing on Christmas. But in some ways, this group has never really recovered from that startling 38-7 loss to the Eagles in the 2017 NFC Championship Game. The final rankings in 2018 and ’19 were somewhat respectable. But those units were not quite as consistent as Zimmer’s defense three years ago, which led the NFL in total defense and fewest points allowed that season.
Of course, just the falloff from a year ago is highly concerning. In 2019, the team finished 10-6 and earned a wild card berth. The Purple Gang allowed just 303 points during the regular season and the club surrendered just 31 offensive touchdowns. Now with one game to play in a disappointing 6-9 showing, the Vikings have already given up 440 points and a whopping 44 offensive TDs.
It was an offseason of transition for this defense. Veterans such as Linval Joseph and Xavier Rhodes were cut loose and cornerbacks Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes left for free agency and both wound up with the Bengals. Defensive end Everson Griffen was not re-signed as well. Hence general manager Rick Spielman addressed this side of the ball in April as the club set a NFL record by selecting 15 players in a seven-round draft. Nine of those picks were on defense. And rookies such as cornerbacks Jeff Gladney, Cameron Dantzler, and Harrison Hand, end D.J. Wonnum, linebacker Troy Dye and safety Josh Metellus have all played in at least 10 games this season (the latter primarily on special teams).
In August, the team dealt for pass-rusher Yannick Ngakoue. He played six games for the Vikings and came up with five sacks. But then he was traded to Baltimore. All told, Minnesota defenders have totaled only 22 sacks in 15 games this season, quite a drop-off from a defense that produced 48 quarterback traps in ’19. And Ngakoue still leads the team in sacks.
With plenty of changes and an emphasis on youth, Mike Zimmer’s defense is certainly in transition. There have been some ugly moments this season. And it’s been quite the fall from grace in such a brief time.