EAGAN, Minn. – Three losses in the past four games, following a midseason resurgence, has left the Minnesota Vikings with a precarious hold on a playoff spot.
Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer didn’t want to lose hold of playoff positioning and looked to an offense that has tallied 278 yards or less in four of the past five games as a big culprit of the slip.
Zimmer felt a change was necessary and relieved offensive coordinator John DeFilippo of his duties a day after the Vikings lost 21-7 at Seattle on Monday night. The team announced quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski will become the interim coordinator and call plays.
“I went around and around about it because I feel like I hired him, it’s my job to try to help him continue to get better,” Zimmer said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. “. I obviously didn’t do a good enough job there. I’ve always felt like if you hire a guy you should stick with him and try to help him and help him mature as a coach.
“This one, unfortunately, with the timing and the situation with the last three ballgames here, with us still having an opportunity to do something, I felt like I don’t want the season to be wasted. Maybe it will, maybe it won’t, but these three games to me are very, very critical and we need to play good.”
Zimmer chose not to get into specifics about what went wrong under DeFilippo and what changes might occur with Stefanski. Zimmer said the issues weren’t solely because of DeFilippo.
“It’s not just one person,” Zimmer said. “It doesn’t fall all on him. It falls on myself and everybody else that has anything to do with this team because we didn’t get it done. It was an extremely difficult day and extremely difficult decision.”
The Vikings posted 276 yards in the loss to the Seahawks, getting their only score on a Dalvin Cook receiving touchdown with 1:10 left in the game. The loss dropped Minnesota to 6-6-1. The Vikings still hold the sixth spot in the NFC playoffs, but have a host of teams a half-game behind.
Meanwhile, the early-season success Minnesota had with its new offensive coordinator-quarterback combination in DeFilippo and Cousins has struggled.
In recent weeks, with one of the league’s most anemic running games, Zimmer had spoken about the need to run the ball more and been public in questioning some of DeFilippo’s playcalling. During the weeks, Zimmer spoke highly of DeFilippo and the communication between the two, but the offense had hit a wall.
The Vikings averaged 385.8 yards per game through the first eight games and averaged 24.6 points per game in that span. Over the past five weeks, they’ve averaged 304.2 yards and 17 points per game.
“I just didn’t think we were making enough advancement in this part of the season to continue to go forward the way we want to go forward,” Zimmer said. “I’m not going to get into specifics about some of the things. I just felt it was in the best interest of the team to make this move now.”
Minnesota is 17th in the NFL with 354.4 yards per game and 20th at 21.7 points per game. The Vikings are 30th in rushing with an average of 85.4 points per game and top running back Dalvin Cook missed five games earlier this season.
Third downs have also been a concern recently and Minnesota is 22nd in the league in third-down percentage, converting at 37.7 percent.
“As a guy on offense, I feel terrible for Flip,” tight end Kyle Rudolph said on Sirius XM radio on Tuesday. “Obviously, we didn’t do well enough for him to keep his job. Bottom line, the players are the ones out there on the field on Sundays or Monday nights, and we didn’t execute well enough for him to keep his job…something has to spark this offense here in these last three weeks.”
The move to Stefanski is the second time in three years Minnesota has made a change at offensive coordinator. Norv Turner resigned after seven games in 2016 and was replaced by Pat Shurmur. Shurmur’s work earned him a chance at a head-coaching job and he left the Vikings in the offseason to became the coach of the New York Giants.
Zimmer turned to Philadelphia, which beat Minnesota in the playoffs last season, for DeFilippo. DeFilippo was the Eagles’ quarterbacks coach.
Stefanski, 36, gets his chance after being passed over for DeFilippo. Zimmer blocked Stefanski from interviewing with New York and Shurmur this offseason. Stefanski has had 13 seasons with the Vikings and has coached quarterbacks, running backs and tight ends. He became the full-time quarterbacks coach last season.
“He knows how we do things here, No. 1,” Zimmer said. “No. 2, I think he has a good grasp of his players. Kevin is a very brilliant guy. I interviewed him for the coordinator job this past offseason. We’ve got a lot of smart guys in that room. I will try to help him the best I can and so will everybody else and hopefully the players will, too. This really wasn’t about one guy. This was about a lot of us not holding up our end of the bargain. It was more of a corrective thing than anything else.”