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Zimmer: Vikings not backing off

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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — The Minnesota Vikings were eliminated from playoff contention days before taking the field Week 15 in Detroit.

But defensive-minded head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner are still coaching for wins to wrap up Year 1 of their program.

“The biggest progress I’d like to see is to get some wins,” said Zimmer, whose team takes a 6-8 record into Miami on Sunday. “I know people probably just blow smoke up my behind, but I get calls and texts from people and coaches and they say what a good football team we look like and the things that we’re doing are right.

“Maybe they’re just telling me to be nice, I don’t think that, but we’re doing so many good things. If we can get over the hump, just get over the hump to win. We’ve got progress to be made everywhere, there’s not one area that I’d say we don’t need to progress a lot. These next two weeks are so important for continuing the process of where we’re trying to get to. I just think they’re really important. I told the team today that I’m not backing down, I’m not backing off of anything.”

Offensively, Turner faces a Dolphins pass defense that ranks higher (No. 4) than the one he prepared for in last week’s 16-14 loss to Detroit. But the Dolphins (7-7) won’t have the same vicious pass rush that the playoff-bound Lions possess, nor will Miami match the crowd noise that Ford Field threw at rookie Teddy Bridgewater.

That should help Turner and Bridgewater devise and execute a similar game plan that leaned heavily on up-tempo, five-wide shotgun sets with Bridgewater making quick reads and unleashing slants and screens to negate the pass rush and sustain drives. In Detroit, the Vikings spread the Lions out and had them reeling 14-0 before they registered a first down. But, unfortunately for the Vikings, that’s when Bridgewater threw interceptions on back-to-back throws to hand the Lions 10 points and revive the home crowd.

Defensively, the Dolphins have a much better running game, which will be a challenge for a Vikings unit that has struggled at times against the run.

But Miami — or any team for that matter — can’t match the size, speed and physical nature of Detroit’s 6-5, 236-pound Calvin Johnson.

Zimmer’s defensive game plan for the Dolphins remains to be seen, of course, but last week, he put together an attack that featured 6-1, 210-pound cornerback Xavier Rhodes as a shutdown corner who shadowed Johnson everywhere except when Johnson lined up in the slot. It was the first time since perhaps Carl Lee did it over 20 years ago that the Vikings had a corner move around the field like that.

“I just felt like it was time to try it, and didn’t really have anything to lose, and he’d been playing well,” Zimmer said. “He’d been competing well and playing well. It was a good size matchup. I mean this guy (Johnson) is huge.”

Johnson was limited to four catches for 53 yards and no touchdowns. With Rhodes on him, Johnson caught three balls for 49 yards. The longest catch, a 23-yarder to set up the game-winning field goal, came when the Lions ran a crossing route designed to use linebacker Gerald Hodges as a pick to re-route Rhodes just enough to get Johnson free for a split second.

“I’ve been here since ’06 and it’s the first time for me,” linebacker Chad Greenway said. “The plan all week was to give Xavier the opportunity and trust that it would be good for our defense. And it was. He’s as good a cover corner as there is in the league.”

Whether the Vikings try that again on Sunday isn’t important at this point in a season that will fall short of the playoffs. What is important, however, is they have a gifted 24-year-old cover corner, a coaching staff that knows how to use him and a trust between the players and coaches.

“The best thing about it is he accepted the challenge, he fought and competed,” Zimmer said of Rhodes’ assignment. “I think that the defensive players say, ‘At least these guys have an idea how to go up against some big-time guys and try to cover them, not let them beat you’ and things like that.”

SERIES HISTORY: 12th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 7-4. Vikings are 1-3 in Miami, with the win being a 29-7 decision in 1976. The last time these teams met in Miami, the Dolphins won 24-10 in 2006. The last time they met overall, Miami won 14-10 at the Metrodome in 2010. The teams also met in Super Bowl VIII. The Dolphins won 24-7.


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