Mike Zimmer is not happy with the Vikings’ struggling offense, and other Week 13 thoughts
Nationally, John DeFilippo’s name is getting thrown around as a potential head coaching candidate for January’s hiring cycle. The Vikings’ 40-year-old offensive coordinator did a phenomenal job last year as quarterbacks coach for the Super Bowl champion Eagles, and is already being linked to the Packers vacancy.
But in Minnesota, a lot of frustration is growing with the Vikings’ surprisingly stagnant offense, and not just among fans. Head coach Mike Zimmer’s displeasure with his first-year offensive coordinator has been simmering for weeks, and showed up again Sunday night after the Vikings’ 24-10 loss to the Patriots.
The disconnect with the Vikings’ offense is where we begin our Week 13 roundup:
■ Zimmer was blunt when asked if the Vikings ran the ball enough.
“No,” he said.
And what can be done to get the offense rolling better?
“Same thing I’ve been saying all year,” Zimmer said. That message: Run the football.
The Vikings are third in the NFL in pass attempts and 29th in rushing attempts, and that imbalance played out again in Sunday’s loss. Kirk Cousins dropped back to pass 46 times while the Vikings called just 13 rushing plays, and the result was just 10 points, 278 yards and 3-for-12 efficiency on third down. Dalvin Cook rushed for 84 yards but got just nine carries.
This is nothing new for the inconsistent, 6-5-1 Vikings, who have scored 30-plus points only twice this season, and not since Week 7.
Zimmer’s frustration has been palpable. After a 25-20 loss to the Bears two weeks ago, he wondered aloud if the playbook had “too much volume” and said the Vikings “need to focus a little bit on not trying to trick the other team quite so much.”
The implication is that DeFilippo, the son of former Boston College athletic director Gene DeFilippo, is more concerned about executing whiz-bang plays in order to get a head coaching job, and not doing what’s best for the Vikings.
Whether or not DeFilippo gets a head coaching job in January, this marriage with Zimmer and the Vikings might not last long.
■ The Chargers had been suffering from “they haven’t beaten anyone” syndrome this year, before Sunday’s game at Pittsburgh. They had only two wins over teams that are .500 or better (Titans and Seahawks), and currently own a strength-of-victory mark of just .352, second-lowest in the AFC.
But their 33-30 win in Pittsburgh proved that they are very much for real — winning a crucial game on the road, in prime time, against a division leader, and overcoming a 23-7 halftime deficit.
Most impressively, the Chargers won without star running back Melvin Gordon, who has 1,255 total yards and 13 touchdowns this year. Rookie seventh-round pick Justin Jackson missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury and spent the first four weeks of the regular season on the practice squad, but came through with 63 yards and a touchdown on eight carries, plus a 19-yard reception.
“It’s what we live for, being in that type of environment with the game on the line,” Jackson said. “It’s what you dream about, right?”
The Chargers are now 9-3, and though they sit in the No. 5 spot in the AFC playoffs, they are just one game behind the Chiefs for the AFC West lead, and have a shot at one of the two first-round byes. And Gordon has a chance to return for this Sunday’s game against Cincinnati.
■ As for the Steelers, they not only are losing games, they’re doing it in the worst possible way: by wilting in crunch time. Last week, it was Ben Roethlisberger throwing an interception in the end zone in the final minute at Denver. This week, it was a combination of the offense stalling (7 points in the second half) and the defense melting down (26 points allowed after halftime).
Per Elias, the Steelers had been 174-0-1 at home with at least a 16-point lead. The Steelers have also lost three games at home in a season for the first time since 2013.
Roethlisberger entered the game leading the NFL with four red zone interceptions. His INT on Sunday did not fall into that category — the play started on the 22 — but Derwin James picked it off at the 8, ruining yet another Steelers scoring opportunity.
■ The Packers finally put Mike McCarthy out of his misery, firing him after the Packers lost at home to the lowly Cardinals, 20-17, to drop to 4-7-1. McCarthy made the playoffs nine times and won a Super Bowl in his 13 seasons as head coach, but his relationship with Aaron Rodgers has soured, the Packers have lost five of six, and, frankly, McCarthy’s teams have underachieved for years.
The Packers have taken criticism for being callous in firing McCarthy now and not letting him finish out the season, but doing it now is best for everyone involved. The Packers can commence the coaching search and get a four-week head start without having to worry about going behind McCarthy’s back or breaking NFL rules.
And McCarthy can start getting his ducks in a row for his next job — whether it’s assembling a staff for another head coaching gig (the Browns reportedly have interest) or finding a spot as a coordinator.
Packers president Mark Murphy will have final say on the new coach, though general manager Brian Gutekunst will be heavily involved. One person who apparently won’t is Rodgers.
“Obviously, he’s free to provide input and talk to us,” Murphy said. “But he’s not going to be a part of the process.”
■ The Seahawks beat the 49ers, 43-16, for their third win in a row to improve to 7-5 and ascend to the No. 5 NFC seed. And they are doing it with a run-pass balance that would make Zimmer envious.
The Seahawks had 29 rush attempts and just 17 pass attempts in their win, continuing their season-long emphasis on the run game.
Last year, the Seahawks had no run game to speak of; quarterback Russell Wilson had 95 attempts for 586 yards and three touchdowns, leading the team in all three categories. The Seahawks threw the ball 555 times and ran it 409.
This year, those numbers are flipped. The Seahawks lead the NFL with 380 rushes and 1,786 yards, and they’re 32nd in pass attempts (326, as one of two teams, along with the Texans, who have more rushes than pass attempts). And Wilson is just fourth on his team in rushing attempts and yards, and doesn’t have a touchdown.
The Seahawks are No. 9 in the NFL in scoring with this run-heavy approach, and Wilson is taking far fewer hits.
■ Scapegoat Season has come to Carolina, where head coach Ron Rivera fired two assistant coaches Monday following the Panthers’ 24-17 loss to the Bucs. The loss was the Panthers’ fourth in a row, dropping them to 6-6 and the No. 7 seed in the NFC, and on Monday they fired defensive line coach Brady Hoke and cornerbacks coach Jeff Imamura.
Rivera is clearly on the hot seat, with a struggling team and a new owner itching to hire his own head coach. So Rivera is taking over the defensive play-calling for the final four games in an effort to save his job.
■ A lot of cool and/or strange touchdowns in Week 13.
Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks did his best William “Refrigerator” Perry impersonation, plunging into the end zone on fourth and 1 in the Bears’ 30-27 loss to the Giants. It was the first rushing touchdown by a defensive player since the Bills’ Kyle Williams did it last year.
Bears scatback Tarik Cohen also threw his first career touchdown pass, a 1-yard toss to Anthony Miller, and it couldn’t have come at a better time — with time expiring in the fourth quarter, to send the game to overtime.
And in the same game, Odell Beckham threw his second touchdown pass of the season, a 49-yard strike to Russell Shepard. Beckham is 2 for 2 for 106 yards and two touchdowns this year.
Lions left tackle Taylor Decker caught an 11-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter of a 30-16 loss to the Rams, and posted this on Twitter afterward: “To whoever caught/has the ball I threw into the stands. I’ve played football since first grade, and that was my first ever touchdown. I’d love to have that ball, and would be more than happy to hook you up if you’d be willing.”
Decker announced Monday night that the fan had contacted him.
And there were six defensive touchdowns, plus a punt-return touchdown.
■ With all due respect to J.J. Watt, Khalil Mack, Von Miller, and others, the race for NFL Defensive Player of the Year is over. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald freaked out again in the win over the Lions, collecting two sacks, four quarterback hits, four tackles for loss, and a forced fumble.
Donald’s 16½ sacks this year are four more than anyone else, and the fact that he is doing it as a defensive tackle is incredible. Donald also leads the NFL in tackles for loss (20), QB knockdowns (27) and hurries (44.5), and is tied for fourth with four forced fumbles.
Watt is the only player in NFL history to win the Defensive Player of the Year award in back-to-back seasons (2014-15), but Donald should pull off the feat this year.
■ Props to Vance Joseph and the Broncos for not giving up after an ugly 3-6 start. Sunday’s 24-10 win at Cincinnati was the Broncos’ third in a row, and the list is impressive: at Chargers, vs. Steelers, and at Bengals.
Undrafted rookie running back Phillip Lindsay rushed 19 times for 157 yards and two touchdowns. Lindsay has 937 yards and eight touchdowns and could break Dominic Rhodes’s record of 1,104 rushing yards by an undrafted rookie.
■ Rams WR Brandin Cooks: Caught 4 of 6 targets for 62 yards. He is 12th in the NFL with 1,026 receiving yards, becoming the first player in league history to amass 1,000 receiving yards in three consecutive seasons for three teams (Saints, Patriots, Rams).
■ Dolphins WR Danny Amendola: Missed his first game of the year, sitting out the Dolphins’ 21-17 win over Buffalo with a knee injury that he suffered the week before. It is unclear whether he will be ready to play for Sunday’s reunion with the Patriots.
■ Titans RB Dion Lewis: Rushed six times for 36 yards and caught two passes for minus-2 yards in the Titans’ 26-22 comeback win over the Jets. Since talking trash about the Patriots after their big Week 10 win, Lewis has just 68 rushing yards on 2.96 yards per carry, 39 receiving yards on 10 catches, and no touchdowns.
■ Titans CB Malcolm Butler: Played 48 snaps and continued his role as the third cornerback, but had six tackles (one for loss), a pass defensed, and his second interception of the year, picking off Josh McCown in the closing seconds to seal the Titans’ victory.
Favorite stats and nuggets
■ Tom Brady remains undefeated against five teams: 5-0 vs. the Vikings, Bears, and Falcons, and 4-0 vs. the Cowboys and Bucs.
■ Touchdown passes of 40-plus yards this year: Odell Beckham 2, Eli Manning 0.
■ The Cardinals won at Green Bay for the first time since 1949, snapping a nine-game losing streak. At the time of the last win, the team was the Chicago Cardinals, Curly Lambeau was the Packers coach, and Lambeau Field hadn’t been built yet.
■ Seahawks-49ers was the first 43-16 game in NFL history.
■ Chargers QB Philip Rivers has two-plus passing touchdowns in 13 straight games, tied for the second-longest streak ever (Peyton Manning, 15).
■ Redskins RB Adrian Peterson had a 90-yard rushing touchdown but didn’t have a 100-yard game. Peterson finished with nine carries for 98 yards, becoming the second player in NFL history to not crack 100 yards despite having a 90-yard carry. In 1994, Herschel Walker had three carries for 98 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown, in the Eagles’ 28-21 loss to the Falcons.