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Vikings Lose to Lowly Lions: End of the Zimmer Era?

NFL: Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions David Reginek-USA TODAY Sports

The Vikings started off slow, unable to convert red zone opportunities and 3rd down attempts against the Lions defense, while the defense allowed 20 Lions points in the 2nd quarter, putting the Vikings in a 20-6 hole at the half.

The Vikings offense rallied, and as has been the case all season, made it a close game. Kirk Cousins engineered a couple TD drives in the 4th quarter to take the lead, 27-23, with 1:50 remaining. But once again, the Vikings defense couldn’t stop the Lions and Jared Goff, playing mostly a prevent defense throughout the Lions final drive, which ended in a last second TD pass that gave the Lions their first win of the season, and first in 16 games.

But for the Vikings and Mike Zimmer, it may well prove to be the end of their season, and the end of the Mike Zimmer era in Minnesota.

There can be some second-guessing about how Zimmer managed this game defensively, and that the Vikings were down a number of starters defensively, but at the end of the day, they were facing a Lions offense that ranked 30th in the league, and also minus one of their best players in D’Andre Swift at RB. But at this point in the season, the Vikings defense- Zimmer’s claim to fame - was ranked 24th in points, and 30th in yards - numbers that are unlikely to improve after this weekend. It is the 2nd straight season Zimmer’s defense has been a liability, albeit with some significant injuries, but one that should’ve been able to do more than it has.

That puts a huge question mark on Zimmer’s ability to run the defense, which is really the only side of the ball he manages much. The Vikings offense was ranked 9th going into the game, and will probably emerge with roughly the same ranking, despite a slow start to the game.

The Vikings are now 5-7. While still not out of the playoff picture, their chances of making the playoffs took a big blow after losing to the lowly Lions, and now stands around 23%. But regardless of whether the Vikings are able to rally and make the playoffs with 5 games to play, it makes less and less sense to continue with Zimmer as head coach. The Vikings should begin their search for a new head coach, if they haven’t already, with a plan to make a change at the end of the season.

The Vikings may well want to begin their search for Zimmer’s replacement in Tampa Bay. Both offense coordinator Byron Leftwich and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles could be targeted as potential replacements for Zimmer and have complied impressive resumes over the years as coordinators. Regardless of who the Vikings select to replace Zimmer, if indeed they do decide to make a change, there will need to be a major revamping of the Vikings defense next season.

The offense remains top ten, and has nearly all the pieces in place to be so again next season. The offensive line is still a work in progress, but is nearly there. Skill position players are also there, although they could use another top talent at WR to replace Thielen in the not too distant future, as the Vikings’ fan favorite advances into his 30s.

But defensively, the Vikings have a lot of starters on one-year deals, and it’s unlikely they’ll keep them all, and some they may be ready to move on from. Xavier Woods and Bashaud Breeland have not been all that good over the course of the season, and with Camryn Bynum looking good in limited action, he may be a better candidate at safety opposite Harrison Smith. Cornerback may yet again be a position the Vikings draft highly this off-season. Patrick Peterson may be worth bringing back if possible, as he has not played badly when he’s been healthy. Cameron Dantzler has played well at times, but needs to develop the confidence and swagger that comes when your coaching staff is behind him. That hasn’t always been the case with Zimmer, and that may have had an impact on Dantzler’s progress this season, after turning in a pretty strong finish to his rookie campaign. The Vikings could also use a top talent at linebacker to go with Eric Kendricks. They could also consider moving to a 3-4 front given the interior size and talent they have, and use Danielle Hunter and the winner of the other edge competition as the other OLB edge-rusher.

But at this point, it’s not just about the defensive roster, it’s about the coordinator and coaching staff. The Vikings have enough talent in place for next year so they should be able to augment that in the draft and free agency to field a pretty good unit. Such was the case this year too, but it never realized it’s potential. That’s on the coordinator, which is Mike Zimmer.

Offensively, this is Klint Kubiak’s first year as an offensive coordinator, and he’s done a decent job, albeit with some rookie hiccups. He could be better after a season under his belt as well. The question is whether the Kubiak scheme is the best one for the Vikings personnel on offense, which is debatable but could be yes or no.

In any case, this Vikings loss would seem to be a key one in the Zimmer era, and perhaps one that marks the point of no return for the Vikings head coach of 8 seasons.

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Is there any circumstance where the Vikings keep Mike Zimmer as head coach next season?

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