The game plan implemented on Sunday by Mike Zimmer was a main reason why the Minnesota Vikings got their first win of the season. Indeed, Zimmer’s fingerprints were all over the stats at the end of the opening half. Minnesota possessed the ball for nearly twenty minutes, largely due to Dalvin Cook’s 15 runs. The Houston Texans, in contrast, struggled to do anything; Deshaun Watson was 6/15 for 79 yards whereas David Johnson had eight carries for 29 yards. With a 17-6 lead, the Vikings’ opening half was by far their best of the young season.
Things were tougher in the second half, but Minnesota won largely due to Zimmer out-coaching Bill O’Brien (these days, outcoaching O’Brien isn’t saying much, but still). The Vikings’ defense held up four times on fourth and goal to end the game, thus preserving the one-score lead. On the final play for the Texans, Zimmer called an aggressive blitz, thereby putting Will Fuller one-on-one with Holton Hill. Fuller almost made an incredible catch, but Watson’s throw was a little too far out of reach. Zimmer’s pressure contributed to the throw’s inaccuracy.
While the various blitz calls and coverages made a big difference, so too did the way that Zimmer used his players. Two defensive rookies – D.J. Wonnum and Cameron Dantzler – played well, especially given their inexperience.
Mike Zimmer’s Game Plan for the Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings, quite evidently, came into the game intending to rely on D.J. Wonnum to help contain Watson. Watson is deceptively strong, and he’s obviously a tremendously gifted athlete. For these reasons, scheming ways to free Wonnum makes a ton of sense. In the clip below, you’ll see several Vikings crowding the line of scrimmage. In so doing, the Texans can’t sort out their protection assignments, freeing Wonnum for the first sack of his career.
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) October 4, 2020
At 6’5″, 258 pounds, Wonnum is among the longer, faster linemen on Minnesota’s roster. He was inactive in Week 1, but since then has become a regular part of the d-line rotation. Though raw, Wonnum’s length and strength create issues for opposing offensive linemen. Zimmer specifically mentioned Wonnum this past week during one of his press conferences as someone who has shown growth. The sack was an impact play, and he was able to generate another pressure with around nine minutes left in the second quarter. On the final defensive drive, Wonnum was on the field, playing both three-technique and end. Athletic and versatile, Wonnum is going to be a great player.
The Vikings are a better team when Cameron Dantzler is on the field. With Mike Hughes injured and Holton Hill taking a sizeable step back, Dantzler has emerged as Minnesota’s number one corner.
Over the past couple of seasons, Minnesota hasn’t had a true shutdown corner. Dantzler is still a long way from being a corner who strikes fear into opposing offensive coordinators, but he has nevertheless been solid. At this point, getting solid, consistent production from a corner is huge. The biggest knock on Dantzler coming into the season was his underwhelming 40-yard dash. Though the official time suggests he would struggle to keep up, Dantzler’s play – both in college and so far in the NFL – points to a different reality. Zimmer obviously feels confident in Dantzler given that he played nearly the entire game. His ability to play in all situations allows Zimmer to allocate his elite safeties to other assignments while also freeing Zimmer to rotate his other corners.
Another positive is that Dantzler is physical and a willing tackler. He looks like former-Viking Trae Waynes when is he tackling on the edge. The defensive line isn’t what it used to be, and Anthony Barr’s absence further depletes the front-seven. As a result, the Vikings will need their defensive backs to contribute in run defense. Much of Zimmer’s success rests in sending creative blitzes at the opposing team’s quarterback. Being able to send these blitzes, though, usually involves getting the other team in third and long. In other words, the Vikings need to stop the run on early downs. So far, Dantzler has been up to the task, playing far stronger than his 185 pounds suggest he would.
It’s encouraging to see the Vikings’ defense play well, especially since they’re coming off three straight tough weeks. Of course, the defense was far from perfect. George Iloka understandably struggled to replace Harrison Smith as the Texans wisely targeted him. Jeff Gladney allowed another long completion, and Holton Hill is still struggling with consistency. At various passes in the second half, the d-line failed to generate any pressure.
It came down to the wire, but they found a way to win. Zimmer praised his team’s resiliency in the post-game press conference. Up until this point, Minnesota has shown next to no resiliency. On Sunday, the result was different, largely due to the play from Wonnum and Dantzler. Mike Zimmer and the Minnesota Vikings will need a similarly strong, resilient performances next week against the Seattle Seahawks; the season is depending on it.