Honeymoons for NFL coaches have always been short, but in today’s social-media heavy environment where everyone is a self-aggrandizing critic, they are the football equivalent of a staycation.
Take Mike Zimmer for example.
A scant five days ago the Vikings coach was riding high, atop the NFC North. Now, after an Aaron Rodgers Hail Mary in Detroit followed by Seattle’s injury-fueled 31-point beatdown of Zimmer’s team, the folks in Minneapolis are looking toward the sky and waiting for the next shoe to drop.
They are not going to have to wait long either because fate has tortured the Vikings with a short week and a matchup with the high-powered Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night. And the three injuries on defense that hamstrung Minnesota against the Seahawks are still in play against MVP candidate Carson Palmer and the league’s best offense.
Every team has to fight through injuries this time of year but the Vikings’ current maladies on defense are the yin to New England’s yang on offense without Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. Zimmer is currently down an All-Pro type player at every level, nose tackle Linval Joseph, linebacker Anthony Barr and safety Harrison Smith.
It’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
A lot of critics aren’t big on context, however, and for the first time since being named the head coach in Minnesota before the 2014 season, Zimmer is starting to hear some whispers over his job performance.
And some of those are coming from his own locker room.
After the rout by Seattle, the Vikings’ marquee player, former league MVP Adrian Peterson, claimed his team was outplayed (an obvious assessment) and outcoached (a comment which raised more than a few eyebrows).
Instead of scaling that observation back Tuesday, Peterson doubled down on a conference call with the Arizona media.
“We got outcoached and we got outplayed,” Peterson again asserted. “The way I look at things, it’s not all about the players. It’s about this team, this organization.”
A lot of Peterson’s frustration stemmed from his own plight as the league’s leading rusher carried the football only five times in the first half and finished the afternoon with eight totes, a nod to the fact the Vikings got behind early and abandoned the running game.
“When a guy throws an interception, or a guy fumbles or a guy gives up a sack, or the defense don’t play well, it’s quick for people to say, ‘Oh, the defense didn’t play well,’ or ‘This guy threw an interception at a critical time,'” Peterson lamented. “That’s always OK (to say). But then someone mentions something about coaches being outcoached, it’s always like a big issue. And to me, it’s not a big issue.”
While Peterson’s comments are certainly fueled by selfishness (and make no mistake, all great players always want the football in their hands) that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any truth to his complaints.
The main culprit is Zimmer’s offensive lieutenant Norv Turner, who has put together a one-dimensional offense and refuses to take the shrink wrap off talented second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who seems to be regressing due to the fact his coaching staff shows little confidence in him. Zimmer, however, is also not without fault, especially when it comes to enigmatic kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson.
The description of Patterson there is key because he is no longer a wide receiver. Why?
Because the supposed adult in the room can barely hide his disdain for Patterson’s work ethic, poor route running and undisciplined play like celebrating his latest return for a TD last week with the Vikings down four-plus touchdowns.
This critic sees it a little differently, though.
Yeah, with his skill set Patterson could have been a star in this league if he went about things like Jerry Rice. That said, the fact that Turner can’t manufacture a few touches a game for him to get that kind of big-play ability on the field and help the spacing for both Bridgewater and Peterson is a pox on the staff not the underachieving player.
The head-strong Zimmer already brushed off Peterson’s comments earlier this week and he’ll certainly ignore my points and any other observations, be they lucid or not.
“I don’t really worry about other people’s opinions. I just worry about what I think,” the coach said.
And maybe that’s why the honeymoon is over in Minneapolis. Everyone can be helped by constructive criticism but you need an open mind to hear it.
— John McMullen is a national football columnist for FanRagSports.com and TodaysPigskin.com. You can reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @jfmcmullen — Also catch John this season on ESPN Southwest Florida every Monday at 3 PM ET; on ESPN Lexington every Thursday at 6:05 ET, and live every Tuesday from 2 to 6 PM ET at the Golden Nugget Casino in Atlantic City for the NFL Wraparound on ESPN South Jersey.
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