Mike Zimmer's legacy in Cincy cemented

CINCINNATI -- Now that the Minnesota Vikings have hired Mike Zimmer away from the Cincinnati Bengals, filling their head coaching vacancy, let's look back at the legacy the former defensive coordinator has left behind.

To say it's a good legacy would be an understatement.

It's a great one.

In addition to helping the Bengals do something they hadn't previously accomplished in their 45-year history -- earn three straight playoff berths, including this season's brief appearance -- Zimmer established in Cincinnati a defensive juggernaut. Under his careful watch, he showed the league the last six seasons that as much as a good offense can support a team, an even better defense can carry it.

Throughout the 2013 season, Zimmer's defense put Cincinnati's entire team atop its shoulders. Among the nicknames the group earned was "the eraser," for its ability to seemingly wipe clean turnovers and potentially costly mistakes its offense had incurred.

One of Zimmer's favorite football phrases is "sudden-change possessions," as in the defensive drives that come immediately after the offense turns the ball over. Often this year, and routinely on short fields, the Bengals' defense held, forcing field goals after interceptions and fumbles instead of allowing touchdowns. That strong sudden-change play kept Cincinnati in several ballgames this season.

The Bengals' ability to force their own turnovers and create points off them were big factors in the overall team's success during the 11-5, division-championship season, too.

Six times at home this season, Bengals defenders returned interceptions or fumbles for touchdowns. Those scores arguably won the Week 4 game against Green Bay, turned the momentum against Cleveland in November and helped hold a lead late in the regular-season finale win over Baltimore.

When asked Wednesday to share his thoughts on Zimmer's legacy in Cincinnati, cornerback Chris Crocker, who spent parts of the last seven seasons with the new head coach, told ESPN.com the following: "Cincinnati wasn't known for having defense before Zim arrived," said Crocker, who also was with him in Atlanta in 2007. "Forget the fact that he's a heck of a coach, he's a heck of a talent evaluator, as well. You see what he was able to do with a defense that wasn't full of first-round guys. A lot of us were undrafted players, but if you looked at our defense, you would have thought otherwise.

"Zim was a coach who got the most out of his players, and that's what we'll remember him for doing."

Along with the memories Bengals like Crocker will be able to hold on to, there are these statistics that help cement Zimmer's place among Cincinnati's coaching giants. For the Bengals, that history is mostly filled with offensive-minded men like the team's founder, the late Paul Brown. Bill Walsh and Sam Wyche were other offensive innovators who's place in Cincinnati sports history is well regarded.

Now Zimmer joins the likes of Steelers coordinator Dick LeBeau in taking a place in the defensive wing of the Bengals' unofficial coaching Hall.

Here are a few statistics from Zimmer's time as the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, Dallas and Atlanta that might help show just what his defensive wizardry has meant to the game:

  • Since 2008, Zimmer's first season as the Bengals' defensive coordinator, his defense's have ranked as the NFL's fifth best. Only the Steelers (LeBeau), Jets, Ravens and 49ers have had lower total-yard averages across that six-season span.

  • Three times during his tenure in Cincinnati, Zimmer had a top-10 defense. The highest ranking came this past season, when the Bengals finished third in total defense.

  • Between 2001 and 2006, Zimmer's Cowboys defenses combined to rank as the NFL's sixth-best unit in the league, allowing an average 304.0 yards per game.

  • From 2001-06, Zimmer's Cowboys ranked third in the league in first downs allowed.

  • Since 2008, Zimmer's Bengals defenses ranked fifth in first downs allowed per game at home.

  • At home, Zimmer's 2013 defense led the league in third-down conversion percentage, goal-to-go efficiency, points scored on defense and yards allowed per passing attempt. The group also had the league's lowest QBR allowed, forcing opposing quarterbacks to register an abysmal 18.8 showing in games at Paul Brown Stadium.

As Zimmer makes the move back to the NFC, here are a couple of statistics from his time spent in that conference. Eight of his 14 years were spent with NFC teams. His track record against AFC opponents, though, has been slightly better. Part of that could be the result of a smaller pool of games against the AFC, as well as the fact that perhaps Zimmer got better as a coordinator as his career went on.

  • Zimmer has now been a defensive coordinator for 224 regular-season games. He has coached NFC teams in 128 games, or for 57.1 percent of his career.

  • Of the 30 career games Zimmer has coached in which teams have gained more than 400 yards on his defenses, 20 have come against NFC teams.

  • Of the 30 career games Zimmer has coached in which teams have gained more than 400 yards on his defenses, 12 came while he was with the Bengals.

  • Of those 12, five came against NFC teams.