EAGAN, Minn. – A day after Minnesota’s 25-20 loss in Chicago, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer approached members of his team and wanted to know, essentially, if he’s lost his team.
Minnesota’s defense struggled to contain the running of Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky in the first half after a week of discussing Trubisky’s tendency, and ability, to run. Facing a Chicago defense known for taking the ball away from opponents, the Vikings had three turnovers, including two in the red zone as they looked to score.
“I think we had some lack of awareness on a few plays and I pointed them out today,” Zimmer said. “I’ve asked several players if they’re listening to me or not, or if they quit listening to me...I didn’t ask them, ‘Did you? but 'Do you think these guys have stopped listening to me' and they said no.”
The question from the fifth-year head coach is an interesting one.
Minnesota (5-4-1) missed a chance to gain control of the NFC North, instead falling 1.5 games behind Chicago (7-3). After all, it was two years ago when Zimmer’s defensive backs defied his instruction in a loss to Green Bay.
So, Zimmer wanted to make sure history wasn’t repeating itself. He got the answer that should please him. But his team made crucial mistakes in a pivotal game.
“I set the goals pretty high usually on most of the things but, you know, the turnovers we talked about that all week,” Zimmer said. “We had to win the turnover battle and we didn’t do that. We had to take care of the football.”
The Vikings ended up even in turnover-differential in the loss by turning over the Bears, but Minnesota also posted a season-low 268 yards of offense against Chicago's defense. The Vikings couldn’t take advantage of their takeaways.
“Didn’t do the things we needed to do on offense to help this football team win the game,” receiver Adam Thielen said on Monday. “Same things that we talk about every week about how you win a game and how you lose a game. We obviously did the things that help you lose a game.”
Running back Dalvin Cook fumbled in the red zone. Kirk Cousins threw two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown.
Chicago has seized hold of the division with a defense that leads the league in takeaways and a league-best plus-12 in turnover margin. The Vikings have taken the ball away 17 times, but just six teams have more giveaways than the 16 of Minnesota’s playoff hopeful squad.
“We’re not down,” Vikings defensive end Stephen Weatherly said. “We’re not out, we’re still in the driver’s seat. We know what the task we have in front of us, and we know how to attack it and we know what’s expected of us. We have absolutely no room for error at this point, which we’re comfortable with and we’re capable of handling.”
Minnesota’s defense was under siege early in the season, the spotlight on Zimmer’s unit after giving up 556 yards in a loss to the Los Angeles Rams. The defense improved and now Zimmer needs the offense to rally too.
The Vikings have their two lowest yardage outputs of the season in the past two games. Minnesota has again slipped to the league’s 31st-ranked rushing offense after running for just 22 yards against the Bears.
“I think we need to be more efficient at running the football,” Zimmer said. “I do think that there's times that we need to stick with it a little bit more. But I understand. It gets frustrating. You're trying to run the ball and you get a minus-1 and then you tend to go to something where you can get some yards.”
The offense has seven giveaways in the past three games. Cousins has seven interceptions this season and has thrown four in the past three games. He’s also tied for the league-lead with four fumbles lost.
“I think there's times when he wants to get the ball downfield, so he'll wait for a guy to get open instead of taking the sure thing sometimes,” Zimmer said. “But other than the turnovers, I have a hard time faulting him. This kid is tough. He plays outstanding. He works his rear end off. He's a great team guy. And, quite honestly, guys are in the wrong spot sometimes too. And that's not just our team, that's every team.”
Minnesota’s passing game is eighth in the league, averaging 279 yards per game.
Zimmer wondered if the offense needed some simplicity.
“It might be – what’s the best way to say this – it might be a little volume, a little too much volume.” Zimmer said, adding: “Maybe we just need to focus a little bit on not trying to trick the other team quite so much.”
Zimmer furthered his explanation.
“You want to add new plays every week and new plays and new plays and new plays,” Zimmer said. “It might be the best play in the world – Vince Lombardi might have designed it – but if you can’t execute it, it doesn’t do you any good or can’t protect for it or whatever it is.”
Zimmer has his team’s attention. Now all sides need to answer with another divisional, primetime game up next against Green Bay.
Brian can be found on Twitter at @MNBrianHall. See all of the Vikings’ coverage at footballmaven.io/Vikings