EAGAN - Mike Zimmer wants to have as many minds as possible meet in the middle when it comes to the Minnesota Vikings defensive coaching staff.
Zimmer had a decision to make after the contract of previous defensive coordinator George Edwards was not renewed following the 2019 season. The Vikings finished 19th in total defense (341.6 yards per game), fifth in scoring (18.9 points per game), 15th in passing yards and maybe most glaringly, 13th in rushing defense (108 yards per game).
Zimmer doesn’t like it when opponents can run the football on his defense. He decided to make a change, and made the coaching staff a more collaborative effort. Edwards is out, Adam Zimmer and Andre Patterson are in and will share co-defensive coordinator duties. But what does it really mean? Until something changes, Mike Zimmer will be making the defensive play-calls on Sundays.
“Both those guys do a great job. Adam has been coaching 14 years, Andre has been with me most my career. I just felt like if we could combine those guys in their roles, the way we got it set up now I thought it would be the best of both worlds,” Mike Zimmer said.
Adam Zimmer will remain in charge of the linebackers, led by All-Pro Eric Kendricks. Patterson will stay in charge of the defensive line, led by Danielle Hunter’s 14.5 sacks last season. Dom Capers, at 69 years old and entering his 33rd NFL season, will mentor them both as a senior defensive assistant.
Patterson and Adam Zimmer will take on more responsibility, and insist they can share the job.
“I think about doing the best we can to make this defense the best it can be. Whatever role that has for me, whatever role that has for how we play defense, how coach wants to play defense, that’s the goal is to be the best defense in the NFL,” Adam Zimmer said.
“It’s no issue at all. To me that transition is very smooth, Adam and I have had great communication in the six years that we’ve been together,” Patterson said.
Adam Zimmer also shrugged off the notion that his promotion was father-son inspired.
“I know he wouldn’t have made this move if he didn’t think I was ready. He’s just like that, he’s not just going to do something because I’m his son or anything like that. I think he believes that this is the time, I’m ready and I’m going to try and prove him right,” Adam said.
In Adam Zimmer’s six seasons with his dad, the Vikings’ defense leads the NFL in third down conversion rate (36.1 percent), is second in points allowed and third in yards per game and sacks. The 2018 Vikings’ defense was in the top five in total defense and scoring defense for the third straight season.
In Patterson’s six seasons with Mike Zimmer, the Vikings are third in the NFL with 260 sacks and third with 123 rushing touchdowns allowed. Last year, the Vikings were third in the NFL with 30 takeaways, including 17 interceptions. He’s been instrumental with Hunter, who became the fastest in NFL history to 50 career sacks in his first five seasons. He’s got the third-most sacks in the NFL since 2016 with 48.5
Patterson is entering his 39th season in coaching, 18th in the NFL.
Adam Zimmer said running the defense will be a group effort. Patterson said it came down to both agreeing to do it, and defining their roles.
“What part of the defense did Adam feel was his strength, what part of the defense did I feel was my strength and how we can bring that together to where we become one strong fist. We had several conversations about it, and I feel very strongly that we’re in a great situation,” Patterson said.
Their success running the defense largely comes down to continuity. The Vikings currently have at least nine regular starters who have all played multiple seasons together. It’s a group led by Everson Griffen, Anthony Barr, Harrison Smith, Xavier Rhodes and Linval Joseph.
“I think that plays a big part too in the decision that Zim made to do what he did. He knows that Adam and I understand what it’s supposed to look like. I think that’s the biggest thing. You can’t achieve it until you know what it’s supposed to look like,” Patterson said. “Adam and I know when this defense is right, what it’s supposed to look like. I think Mike understands that and because our players have been here for so long, that’s made it easy.”
We’ll find out how seamless that transition is going into OTAs, Training Camp and once the season commences in September.