EAGAN, Minn. – Following the decision to move on from offensive coordinator John DeFilippo after just 13 games, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said one reason was that he didn’t want the 2018 season to be wasted.
Zimmer promoted quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski to offensive coordinator to replace DeFilippo, finally giving the longtime Minnesota assistant a chance to direct the offense. Now comes the question of how much can Stefanski change an offense that has failed to reach 300 total yards in four of the past five games.
“I have a lot of time spent with coach Stefanski in the quarterback room for many months now, and he knows me well,” Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins said Wednesday. “But at the same time, you don’t reinvent much this late in the year. So, I think we’ll get back to business as usual today and just find a way to try to win these last three games, you know? We have so much to play for, and we have two home games, and the focus is on the Miami Dolphins now.”
Minnesota (6-6-1) does have the line on a playoff spot, currently holding the sixth seed in the NFC as it hosts Miami (7-6) on Sunday. Another loss would be devastating, so Zimmer tried to be proactive to fix the offense.
The Vikings’ defense has recovered after some early-season struggles and now gives up the fifth-fewest yards in the NFL.
“I don’t know that it does,” Zimmer admitted on Wednesday about saving the season. “I just felt like this is what we need to do at this particular time. I didn’t feel like we could continue to do what we’ve been doing the last few weeks and accomplish much that we want to do. It may work, it may not work.
“You get feelings and you trust your gut and it’s no difference than it’s fourth-and-eight and you have to call blitz. You meet it head on and you go. That is just the way we are going to do it.”
In many ways, Cousins and DeFilippo were the combination that was going to allow Minnesota to keep pace with explosive passing offenses seen throughout the NFL in 2018. There was success early as Cousins was one of the league’s top passers and receiver Adam Thielen was breaking records, with receiver Stefon Diggs as a strong second option.
Defenses adjusted, the schedule got tougher and Minnesota slipped.
“That was one of the things I did communicate to coach Flip yesterday was, I believe with the ball in my hand, had I played at my fullest potential play-in and play-out, we’re probably not having this conversation right now,” Cousins said. “That’s something I take personally and is certainly tough for me, and keeps you up at night. But at the same time, all you can do now is go forward and you know, ‘Hey, faced adversity before, been able to overcome it, been able to push through it.’”
Cousins’ relationship with Stefanski now gets increased exposure.
“I think, No. 1, they have a good working relationship,” Zimmer said. “There is a lot of back and forth with those guys. I feel like Kirk will be open to suggesting things a little bit more.”
But how much can change in Week 14?
“We’re not going to become a team that runs a zone read every play and runs a bunch of trick plays, and we’re not going to just reinvent our offensive scheme,” Cousins said. “But what needs to change as far as execution is, we’ve got to score points, and you do that and you put yourself in a position especially with the way our defense has played. So that’s where our focus is, how do we score points? How do we execute play in and play out to make sure we’re getting in the end zone and coming away with enough points to win a game?”
Zimmer said Wednesday that he’s spent time in the offensive meeting rooms and offered “just ideas.” He did the same with DeFilippo, but changing a coordinator less than a year in adds even more incentive for Zimmer and the Vikings to get the offense working better.
In announcing the move on Tuesday, a team press release stated that Stefanski will call plays. A day later, Zimmer was coy when asked about Stefanski calling plays and said, “maybe.”
After saying, repeatedly, that he wanted to run the ball more with DeFilippo, surely Zimmer has preached running to his new coordinator.
“I think we just want to be a balanced offense,” center Pat Elflein said. “We want to run the ball and do play actions and drop back and we want to be able to be efficient in all areas of offense and there’s some that we are doing well at and some that we’re not doing well at.”
The coaching change has been made. The playoffs are still a reasonable goal for the Vikings. Now the players are left to make sure the season isn’t “wasted,” as Zimmer said.
“I think, no matter who’s coaching this team, we’ve got to come together and execute as players,” Cousins said. “Take ownership, prepare well, help one another, communicate well, and that’s where our focus is. I think we believe in coach Stefanski and we believe in the coaches that will be leading us, and we’ll get behind them and put a good plan together and be ready to execute it come Sunday.”
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/vikings