There are several early favorites for NFL Coach of the Year, including Gary Kubiak, John Harbaugh and, of course, Bill Belichick.
Well, Pete Prisco is going in another direction.
“I’m a big believer in Mike Zimmer and Doug Pederson being the co-coaches of the year,” the CBSSports.com senior NFL columnist said on CBS Sports Radio’s The DA Show. “It’s hard to dismiss Belichick, but he’s got a ton of talent on defense, and Jimmy Garoppolo played far above what most people thought he would play. But I give this to Doug Pederson and Zimmer. I mean, Zimmer lost his quarterback, he lost his running back, he lost his left tackle – and they’re 3-0. And oh, by the way, they beat Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton in successive weeks. In fact, the more that I think about it, it’s probably Zimmer. Doug Pederson beat the Steelers at home, but he also beat a couple bad teams in Cleveland and Chicago. The more I think about it, it’s probably Mike Zimmer.”
The Vikings have beaten the Titans, Packers and Panthers. The win in Carolina was especially dominant.
Is this 3-0 start surprising? Yes and no.
“I still had them in the playoffs even when Teddy Bridgewater went down – and that was even before Sam Bradford was acquired in a trade,” Prisco said. “The reason I thought that was because I thought their defense was going to be special. Sometimes a defense that special can carry you to a certain level. Now you need the breaks to go your way once you get into the postseason when you play that style, but it can get you there. We saw that with Denver last year. We’ve seen it with Baltimore way back in the day when they won with their defense. We’ve seen it with Tampa Bay. But their defense is truly special.”
Especially Anthony Barr, who is more overwhelming than his 11 tackles and 1.0 sack suggest.
“In another scheme, he’d be getting a lot more hype,” Prisco said. “In their scheme, he’s very, very, very good and should be considered a budding star. But they have other guys. Linval Joseph is a heck of a player on the inside. They can get a pass rush. Danielle Hunter (is) . . . a potential breakout player. Harrison Smith is one of the better safeties in the league. When you add it all up, that’s why they’re good on defense.”
Hunter has 3.0 sacks, while Brian Robison has 2.0 and Everson Griffen has a team-high 4.0. Eric Kendricks and Andrew Sendejo are tied for the team lead in tackles, with 23, while Trae Waynes has two interceptions.
It’s been a balanced unit.
“They come in waves upfront and (with) their linebackers,” Prisco said. “Anthony Barr might be one of the most underrated players in the whole NFL. Eric Kendricks is emerging as a speedy run-and-chase linebacker and then you go to the secondary. The corners are good when Xavier Rhodes is on the field and then you look at the back end. Harrison Smith is a game-changer at safety. So add it all up, Mike Zimmer has a lot of pieces to play with. Am I surprised they’re 3-0? Probably. Am I surprised they’re going to be in the Wild Card or even win the division? No.”
The Vikings will go for 4-0 when they host the Giants (2-1) on Monday Night Football. Kickoff is at 8:30 p.m. ET.