Mike Zimmer walked into Arizona needing a victory. What he got was an 0-2 start.

The Vikings had plenty on the line last Sunday and looked like a team ready to make a statement. But instead, they replayed a common scene that's dated back to Zimmer's arrival in 2014.

The Vikings jumped out to a 20-7 lead on the strength of Kirk Cousins' three touchdown passes. But the aggressiveness didn't last as the playcalling was scaled back, serving as one of the reasons the Cardinals were able to turn things around. 

The Cardinals played one safety deep in order to stop the run and Cousins took advantage by averaging 12.5 yards on his first 10 attempts. While his performance was efficient, it was also sustainable to end the game before it even started.

But Zimmer had other plans. After the Vikings saw the Cardinals take a 21-20 lead, they were driving at the end of the first half. With a timeout and the ball at the Arizona 50, a touchdown would have gone a long way in sustaining their early momentum.

Instead, Zimmer chose to run Cook up the middle to burn his final timeout before attempting two short passes. The safe call led to a 52-yard field goal by Greg Joseph and a squib kick in order to kill time. Playing a modern offense, Arizona regained the lead with a quick drive that led to a 62-yard field goal by Matt Prater.

Even into the second half, the Vikings were up to their old tricks. A big reason for last year's disappointment was their tendency to run on 2nd and long and on Sunday, they ran on five of seven of those plays.

Although Cook was averaging 5.9 yards per carry, the carries didn't set up the short-yardage situations where play-action and other deep passes thrive. As a result, the Vikings went just 2-of-10 on third downs.

The fun continued when the Vikings drove for the potential game-winning score. With a pair of big receptions by Adam Thielen and Osborn, the offense got the ball down to the 19-yard line with 40 seconds to play. 

An aggressive strategy could have seen the Vikings score the go-ahead touchdown and force the Cardinals to drive the length of the field with no timeouts. Instead, Zimmer chose to leave it up to chance with a 37-yard field goal citing Joseph's "recent success."

Disregarding that Joseph missed a 33-yard PAT earlier in the game, it was an example of Zimmer playing not to lose rather than going for the win. It's a strategy that's gotten Zimmer to the playoffs but hasn't gotten him over the hump. 

It's the strategy that gave the Vikings a 17-0 lead in the 2018 Divisional Playoff Game against New Orleans but needed the "Minneapolis Miracle" to close it out.

It's the strategy that gave the Vikings a 20-10 lead over the Saints in the 2020 Wild Card but needed a Kyle Rudolph touchdown in overtime to pick up the victory.

And it's now one that has the Vikings at 0-2 thanks to what Zimmer calls "a handful of plays."

"If we play like that, we’ll win a lot of games," Zimmer said after the game. "They may all come down to this like the last two have [but] as long as we do that and keep fighting and trying to get better, keep working together and sticking together as a football team, I think we’ve got a chance."

Having a chance is nice but it means nothing when not trying to grab the bull by the horns and win the game. Perhaps Zimmer can learn from Ron Rivera, who went 13-19 in his first two seasons before going all-in on analytics. A couple of fourth-down conversions later, the Panthers went 12-4 and "Riverboat Ron" lasted nine seasons in Carolina.

Sitting on the hot seat, Zimmer would be wise to adapt to the times. Otherwise, he could be searching for a new job.

Next Up

Anthony Edwards

Timberwolves smash Rockets in season opener

The Timberwolves showed they have plenty of firepower in a victory over Houston.

Knuth - Nezhad - side by side

Frey challengers Knuth, Nezhad agree to rank each other 2nd

They're urging supporters to do the same on Nov. 2.

Jerome Horton - Sherburne Co. Jail - CROP

Charges: Man lied to buy gun later used by St. Paul mass shooting suspect

He's accused of making false statements during the purchase of a firearm.

Screen Shot 2021-06-04 at 6.30.24 AM

BCA releases investigative file in Winston Smith's shooting death

The file contains 1,000 pages of documents, hundreds of photos and dozens of audio files.

Slice

Fire at Mpls. pizza joint weeks after opening, owners suspect arson

The owners arrived at work Tuesday to find the building on fire.

vaccine, covid

New COVID charts show hospitalization, death rates based on vaccine status

The unvaccinated are far more likely than the fully vaccinated to become hospitalized or die.

Flickr - Superior National Forest Boundary Waters

White House begins process to ban new mining near BWCAW

The stated goal is to protect the "unique natural wonder" of the BWCAW.

Autumn Merrick, Autumn Rose Merrick

Man charged in shootout, crash that killed 18-year-old on scooter

Autumn Rose Merrick was with a friend near the Holiday gas station.

Related

Mike Zimmer

‘Fire Zimmer’ trending after Vikings beat Panthers

The Vikings won the game but their coach is still on the hot seat.

Mike Zimmer

Bad luck or failure to adapt? Vikings must decide Mike Zimmer's future

2020 has been a rough year for the Vikings, but Zimmer's flaws go beyond some bad luck.

Mike Zimmer

Should the Vikings extend Mike Zimmer prior to 2020?

The Vikings' head coach is entering the final year of his contract.

Mike Zimmer expecting Everson Griffen back with the Vikings

The veteran lineman opted out of his contract and became a free agent last week.

Mike Zimmer

Browns smother Vikings offense, puts Minnesota back on the brink

The Browns won with a game plan reserved for Mike Zimmer's squad.

Mike Zimmer

Report: Vikings finalizing multi-year extension with Mike Zimmer

The Vikings' head coach was heading into the final year of his contract.

Mike Zimmer

Mike Zimmer apparently doesn't know what Kirk Cousins' contract situation is

Cousins' contract ends after next season, but his head coach is currently unaware.

Justin Jefferson, Adam Thielen

With Patrick Peterson injured, Vikings need to unleash the offense

Peterson's absence could have a bigger effect on the opposite side of the ball.