MINNEAPOLIS -- In his opening news conference as the Minnesota Vikings' head coach, Mike Zimmer laid out his manifesto in response to a question about whether he'd call the defense on game days. Here's what he said on Jan. 17:
"I go out and I observe to find out what needs to be fixed and then I fix. I do think I am a fixer and I do think I am an observer," Zimmer said. "If guys are doing things correctly there is no issue whatsoever. I have told my players many, many times before we have had a bad game, 'Here is what I do. I fix stuff. I am going to go out and I am going to fix this.' They all trust that I can get it fixed and so that kind of is what my personality is."
As he applies that standard to the Vikings' defense, Zimmer will find some of his most obvious work in film where the Vikings are backed up against their own end zone. Their defense was 26th in the league in red zone efficiency last season, allowing touchdowns on 61.9 percent of their red zone defensive series. They finished 27th in 2012 at 60.8 percent, slipping from 15th in 2011.
On the other hand, the Bengals got better each season from 2011-13 with Zimmer as their defensive coordinator, jumping from 25th in 2011 to a tie for 10th in 2012 and a tie for eighth in 2013. Last season, the Bengals allowed touchdowns on just half of their red zone series, and tied the Seattle Seahawks for the fewest trips allowed inside their 20.
The Bengals did that without forcing a single red zone turnover, according to ESPN Stats and Information, which means they had to get most of their stops by holding firm and forcing opponents to run out of downs. The Vikings, with an inexperienced secondary and inconsistency in their linebacker group, weren't able to hold together as efficiently. Neither Zimmer's defenses nor the Vikings' defenses under Leslie Frazier were blitz-heavy attacks, and neither team rushed five or more in the red zone very often last year (17.3 percent of the time for the Vikings, 21.1 percent for the Bengals, according to ESPN Stats and Information).
Zimmer might not bring in a much more aggressive approach, but if he's able to clean things up with the Vikings' red zone defense, it could be one of the quickest ways to juice the team's record. All five of the scores that led to blown last-minute leads in 2013, of course, were inside the 20, and had the Vikings been able to come up with a few red zone stops at key times, the head coaching job might not have been open for Zimmer to take.
Now that he's here, fixing the Vikings' red zone issues will likely be high on Zimmer's to-do list.