With an old school philosophy and questionable decision making, is the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings holding his team’s offense back?
The Minnesota Vikings put on an ugly performance on Monday night as the Seattle Seahawks completely shut them down in a 21-7 loss. The Vikings mustered just 276 yards of total offense in the victory with 70 of those coming on a late, garbage time drive that resulted in a Dalvin Cook touchdown.
With the offense posting just 17 points in their last two games, Minnesota decided to make a move to try to save their season by firing offensive coordinator John DeFilippo on Tuesday.
The import from the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles was supposed to take the Vikings’ offense to the next step with new quarterback Kirk Cousins in 2018. But the results haven’t been there as Minnesota currently ranks 20th in points scored and 17th in total offense.
Because of the disaster that happened in Seattle, DeFilippo was the scapegoat that was shown the door. However, since head coach Mike Zimmer took over the Vikings in 2014, he’s ran through three offensive coordinators and the fourth, interim Kevin Stefanski will have his hands full with a team that has had major issues across the offensive line.
With conservative play-calling and a desire to run the ball, that begs the question. Is Zimmer the real problem for Minnesota on offense?
When the Vikings head coach decided to hire DeFilippo to run the offense, he envisioned a unit that would have the same balance that it did under Pat Shurmur in 2017. But in recent weeks, Zimmer has reiterated that desire to run the ball like Minnesota did a year ago when they ranked second in the league with 501 rushing attempts.
On the surface, the Vikings plucked the quarterbacks coach from the Eagles, who ran the ball 473 times (sixth in the NFL) and ranked third in the league with 2,115 rushing yards.
The numbers sound nice, but looking at DeFilippo’s previous stop with the Cleveland Browns in 2015 should have been an omen.
That year, the Browns ranked 27th in rushing attempts and 22nd in rushing yards. That makes this season’s numbers a little less shocking as the Vikings have run on just 33 percent of their plays in 2018 — the lowest clip since the AFL-NFL merger.
With this history, it’s questionable to even wonder why Zimmer would even bring DeFilippo in to run the offense when he has a history of chucking the ball more often than not.
This styles clash led to an old school vs. new school brawl in the past month where Zimmer even admitted that high-scoring games such as the Kansas City Chiefs/Los Angeles Rams Week 11 showdown, “wasn’t his cup of tea.” Even as Minnesota ranked toward the top of the league in passing offense at the beginning of the season, the team’s head coach still craved balance, which was met with resistance from DeFilippo.
This could have come from two things. First, the Vikings’ offensive line hasn’t been at good running the football this year and only left tackle Riley Reiff has cracked a grade over 70 from Pro Football Focus.
Second, Minnesota’s top running back, Dalvin Cook, has missed a majority of the season battling a hamstring injury suffered in Week 2. Although the Vikings have gotten a solid fill-in from Latavius Murray on a couple occasions this year, he’s not the same runner that Cook is.
These two factors could suggest that Zimmer has been trying to jam a square peg into a round hole during the past month and it’s possible that DeFilippo had the attitude to run the ball into a cloud of dust just to prove a point.
This scenario is believable when you look at Zimmer’s history of offensive coordinators, which included Norv Turner quitting in the middle of a season in which the team started 5-0. And while Shurmur wound up producing the offense his head coach wanted, that even got off to a rocky start with the Vikings going 3-6 in his first nine games as the offensive coordinator.
Once leaving Minnesota, both Turner and Shurmur have had mixed results.
Turner is currently coaching the Carolina Panthers’ offense where he has elevated the play of quarterback Cam Newton and running back Christian McCaffrey. While Shurmur has struggled as the head coach of the New York Giants in 2018 thanks to his declining 37-year old quarterback in Eli Manning.
Perhaps the move to Stefanski is one that could not only save the Vikings’ current season, but the 2019 season as well (assuming he gets the interim tag removed). However, if Zimmer doesn’t find a way to adapt to the wide-open nature of today’s NFL, it could be more of the same.