On Sunday, the New England Patriots beat another NFC opponent, the Los Angeles Rams, to win the Super Bowl. Because there was only one touchdown scored in the game, it was an unusual win. What can the Minnesota Vikings learn from it?
A reminder to those who have forgotten; defense wins championships.
The New England Patriots have won three of the last five Super Bowls with defense. Cornerback Malcolm Butler’s now legendary interception beat the Seattle Seahawks at the goal line in 2016, Dont’a Hightower’s strip sack of Matt Ryan lead the mighty Patriots’ offensive charge against the Atlanta Falcons in 2017, and last year it was defensive end Brandon Graham that took the ball from Tom Brady himself to win the game for the Philadelphia Eagles.
It’s not always a direct causality that does it–often, as noted, it is a play or a defensive stand that sets the stage for victory. But it is never less important than the player who finds the end zone or the kicker who splits the uprights for the ultimate winning score.
Unless, of course, you are talking about Super Bowl LIII, played on Sunday in Atlanta, where defense ruled the entire day.
In that game, both New England and the Los Angeles Rams played brilliantly and the outcome of a championship game hung on one possession for almost the entire contest. Not what the average Super Bowl fan wanted, but an ancient lesson to all of those that know the game of professional football.
Most especially, Minnesota Vikings fans, who understand a few things about defense. Forgive me then, as I make a large digression to make a salient and crucial point about the team who represented the NFC in Super Bowl LIII.
Before there was now NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes and the offensive powerhouse of the Kansas City Chiefs, the darlings of the new-NFL were Rams head coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff, who, together, commandeered the league’s top offense in 2017.
Both were blond, very young, and loving Los Angeles., just what commissioner Roger Goodell ordered in his global expansion of the National Football League. No matter that football fans in Los Angeles are, and always will be, an endangered species, that beautiful market was there for the league to get a piece of.
But, somewhere on the way to McVay and Goodell’s “Kurt Warner Moment” in NFL mythology, the Rams traveled to Minnesota to play the Vikings in 2017 for a matchup in Week 11. The golden boys of the league entered the contest with a 7-2 record and had scored a total of 117 points in their previous three games.
Was it an “offensive hiccup” that allowed the Minnesota to embarrass Los Angeles by a final score of 24-7, hold the Rams to 3-for-11 on third down, give up just 45 rushing yards (with a healthy Todd Gurley) and a mere 254 total yards to the Rams?
No, instead it was Mike Zimmer’s solid defensive game plan for the Vikings that stymied McVay’s diverse aerial attack, completely shut down Los Angeles’ running game, and confused the young Goff at nearly every turn.
Basically, the same thing that New England head coach Bill Belichick did on Sunday in the Super Bowl. The Patriots’ defense held the Rams to just three points, 3-of-13 on third down, and only 62 rushing yards.
There is not a doubt in my mind that Belichick spent hours studying Los Angeles 2017 loss to Minnesota. Like Zimmer, Belichick disguised man and zone schemes and used numerous variations on quarterback pressures to squeeze Goff.
Let’s face it, The Rams’ offense has not changed much since then and New England’s head coach knew it.
Even McVay said after Sunday’s game that his, “play selection didn’t really give (Goff) much of a chance,” and he confessed that he had been “out-coached” in the contest.
In two other games that stand out in pulling the royal curtain away from Los Angeles is a disappointing playoff loss to a fairly average Falcons team in 2017 and a dreadful showing during the 2018 regular season against the Chicago Bears. Sitting with an 11-1 record and holding the one seed in the NFC prior to the matchup, the Rams traveled to Chicago only to be dressed down by the Bears’ defense to the tune of just 214 total yards (52 rushing) and going 3-for-13 on third down.
Is this starting to look familiar?
Giving credit where it’s due, Los Angeles made it to the big game by beating the the pretty average defenses of the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints. But on Sunday, the Rams were canned like rats under glass by a New England passing defense that ranked in the NFL’s bottom half in 2018.
Here’s the point. Los Angeles has a solid passing offense with a solid quarterback combined with a bit of a magic show and a bit of a virtual reality. A superior defense–and defensive mind–can put a lot of wind on their smoke, and can certainly beat the Rams with an offense that provides balance.
More than potentially, that’s a description of Zimmer and Minnesota’s defense, but not in the vaguest way of its 2018 offense.
The reason that Gary Kubiak was commissioned to aid and augment the Vikings’ coaching staff this year is pretty simple; Zimmer knows just enough about NFL offenses to defend them, but not to design them.
Clearly, the Minnesota head coach needed a counterpart who could help the team win with the players they have and not have to compensate for things he could not control.
It’s time to put the pieces of this team–who had a very solid chance of getting to Super Bowl LII after the 2017 season–back together for a run to represent the NFC in Super Bowl LIV.
It’s good to remember that Zimmer is from the Bill Parcells coaching tree and although he has somewhat matched his mentor’s success, so has Belichick.
Both Parcells and Bellichick have always have a vivid and precise battle plan concept; defend and attack with a solid and consistent (not necessarily explosive) offense that wins in the trenches and with a defense that has the brains and the brawn to eliminate superlative players.
After watching a Super Bowl that was won about as “ugly” as it gets, it’s nice to pay homage to the “Old Heads” in this game, which included Belichick and Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips, whose unit not only played brilliantly in holding the Patriots to 13 points on Sunday, but also led a Denver Broncos team over New England in the 2015 AFC Championship on their way to a win in Super Bowl 50.
So forgive me if I appear exempt from delusion in thinking that a revamped Vikings team, led by a veteran coaching staff, an improved offensive line, and a defensive dynamic that resembles a version seen on the field a little more than one season ago, could not best a tournament of teams from New Orleans, Los Angeles, Chicago, or Dallas in 2019.
In thinking so, and perhaps in doing so, the hardest part may be in putting the failures of 2018 in the past.