Blame Mike Zimmer, but blame others for Vikings defensive downfall too

(Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) Andre Patterson
(Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports) Andre Patterson /

Major struggles for the Minnesota Vikings defense really began in 2020 when the team moved on from former defensive coordinator, George Edwards.

During their first six seasons with Mike Zimmer as their head coach from 2014 to 2019, the Minnesota Vikings consistently had one of the NFL’s top units on the defensive side of the ball.

But in 2020, Zimmer and the Vikings decided not to bring back longtime defensive coordinator George Edwards. Instead, Minnesota promoted defensive line coach Andre Patterson and linebackers coach Adam Zimmer to be the team’s co-defensive coordinators.

Since Patterson and the younger Zimmer were put in charge of the defense, the unit has trended in the wrong direction, and the Vikings have been one of the worst defensive teams in the NFL.

Should others be blamed for the struggles of the Minnesota Vikings defense since 2020?

With Mike Zimmer being the guy who calls the plays for Minnesota’s defense each week, he’s going to be the one who receives the majority of the blame for the unit’s struggles during the last two seasons. However, he was calling the plays from 2014 to 2019, and the team was able to perform very well on the defensive side of the ball. So why have things drastically changed?

It’s completely fair to put a bunch of the blame for the struggles of the Vikings’ defense on Zimmer’s shoulders. But it’s not fair to ignore several other factors that have contributed to the downfall of Minnesota’s defense since 2020.

Changes to the roster, changes to the coaching staff, and injuries all deserve to be included in the discussion about why the Vikings have performed so poorly on defense in the last two seasons.

One major factor that probably doesn’t get talked about enough when it comes to the declining performance of Minnesota’s defense is the amount of time defensive end Danielle Hunter has missed due to injuries since 2020.

Hunter is easily the best Vikings defender when he’s on the field and this has proven to be true this season.

In Minnesota’s seven games with Hunter in the lineup this year, they allowed an average of 22.4 points to their opponents. In the six matchups since he suffered his season-ending injury, that average has jumped to 29.3 points allowed per game.

Imagine the Vikings’ offense trying to succeed without Kirk Cousins or Dalvin Cook on the field each week because that is basically what the team’s defense has been dealing with since the start of the 2020 campaign.

Zimmer is the one who decided to make his son and Patterson Minnesota’s co-defensive coordinators, so he deserves some of the blame for the unit’s struggles under their leadership. At times though, it feels like Patterson and Adam Zimmer don’t even get mentioned whenever there’s a discussion about the poor performance of the Vikings’ defense since 2020.

The defensive line and linebackers might still be playing at a high level with Patterson and the younger Zimmer leading the way, but these two are in charge of the entire defensive unit. So if the secondary is struggling (which it has been since 2020), then they need to be held responsible for that as well.

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Unfortunately for Mike Zimmer, it might be too late for him to get the opportunity to find a different defensive coordinator for Minnesota in 2022. So we might not even be able to ever find out how much of an impact his son and Patterson leading the defense has actually had on the declining performance of the unit during the last two seasons.