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Analyzing Mike Zimmer’s Defensive Rankings, Cowboys Secure a Strong Addition

The Dallas Cowboys made a bold move last week, one that could propel them to multiple playoff wins and a Super Bowl berth, or lead to a disastrous season – and there’s no middle ground. With the hiring of long-time defensive coordinator and former head football coach Mike Zimmer, the Cowboys are looking for the veteran, fiery and passionate, coach to turn the page on an organization looking to win a Super Bowl for the first time since January 28, 1996.

When assessing whether a coach is the right fit for an organization, many factors come into play. The biggest factors as of late and with this new generation, is can this football coach teach and relate just enough to his players that they play hard for him? If the answer is a yes, then the rest of the pieces will fall into place. For a 67-year-old Mike Zimmer, he has seen enough in his lifetime and has coached Hall of Fame caliber players that he doesn’t need to worry about this factor. Zimmer’s job is to take an already top tier NFL defense and propel them to make even larger strides, with the ultimate goal of reaching the Super Bowl and winning it.

Can he do it?


When the news broke that Zimmer was the new Cowboys defensive coordinator, I smiled and was excited about his return to the football field. As a teenager, I watched him coach a Cincinnati Bengals defense that was not only physical but extremely tough and intelligent. The coaching sound bites that came from Zimmer’s tenure in Cincinnati only got better when he was named the head coach of the Minnesota Vikings in 2014. It is there where I watched, rooted for, and was actually heartbroken when they reached the NFC Championship game only to lose in a beatdown to the soon-to-be Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles.

With the hiring official, it is a great opportunity to take some time to analyze Zimmer’s defensive rankings over the years as coordinator and how one of his staple defensive schemes could make its way to Dallas in 2024.

Zimmer’s Defensive Rankings – Bengals (2008-2013)

Bengals 2008 Season: 

Record: 4-11-1 Defensive Ranking: 12th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 364 Pts/G: 22.8

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,921 Pass Yards: 3,287 Total Yards: 5,208 Yards Per Game: 325.5

Bengals 2009 Season: 

Record: 10-6 Defensive Ranking: 4th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 291 Pts/G: 18.2

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,573 Pass Yards: 3,249 Total Yards: 4,822 Yards Per Game: 301.4

Bengals 2010 Season: 

Record: 4-12 Defensive Ranking: 15th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 395 Pts/G: 24.7

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,843 Pass Yards: 3,469 Total Yards: 5,312 Yards Per Game: 332.0

Bengals 2011 Season: 

Record: 9-7 Defensive Ranking: 7th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 323 Pts/G: 20.2

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,675 Pass Yards: 3,385 Total Yards: 5,060 Yards Per Game: 316.2

Bengals 2012 Season: 

Record: 10-6 Defensive Ranking: 6th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 320 Pts/G: 20.0

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,715 Pass Yards: 3,400 Total Yards: 5,115 Yards Per Game: 319.7

Bengals 2013 Season: 

Record: 11-5 Defensive Ranking: 3rd (Entire Defense) Total Points: 305 Pts/G: 19.1

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,544 Pass Yards: 3,344 Total Yards: 4,888 Yards Per Game: 305.5

Total Defense Recap: 12th, 4th, 15th, 7th, 6th, 3rd 

Side Note: This is quite impressive for a defensive coordinator tenure, especially the seasons where the team had double digit losses but still managed to play respectable defense.

Zimmer’s Defensive Rankings – Vikings (2014-2021)

Vikings 2014 Season:

Record: 11-5 Defensive Ranking: 14th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 343 Pts/G: 21.4

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,943 Pass Yards: 3,572 Total Yards: 5,515 Yards Per Game: 344.7

Vikings 2015 Season:

Record: 11-5 Defensive Ranking: 13th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 302 Pts/G: 18.9

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,748 Pass Yards: 3,759 Total Yards: 5,507 Yards Per Game: 344.2

Vikings 2016 Season:

Record: 8-8 Defensive Ranking: 3rd (Entire Defense) Total Points: 307 Pts/G: 19.2

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,711 Pass Yards: 3,327 Total Yards: 5,038 Yards Per Game: 314.9

Vikings 2017 Season:

Record: 13-3 Defensive Ranking: 1st (Entire Defense) Total Points: 252 Pts/G: 15.8

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,337 Pass Yards: 3,078 Total Yards: 4,415 Yards Per Game: 275.9

Vikings 2018 Season:

Record: 8-7-1 Defensive Ranking: 4th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 341 Pts/G: 21.3

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,815 Pass Yards: 3,140 Total Yards: 4,955 Yards Per Game: 309.7

Vikings 2019 Season:

Record: 10-6 Defensive Ranking: 14th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 303 Pts/G: 18.9

Rush Yards Allowed: 1,728 Pass Yards: 3,737 Total Yards: 5,465 Yards Per Game: 341.6

Vikings 2020 Season:

Record: 7-9 Defensive Ranking: 27th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 475 Pts/G: 29.7

Rush Yards Allowed: 2,151 Pass Yards: 4,141 Total Yards: 6,292 Yards Per Game: 393.2

Vikings 2021 Season:

Record: 8-9 Defensive Ranking: 30th (Entire Defense) Total Points: 426 Pts/G: 25.1

Rush Yards Allowed: 2,222 Pass Yards: 4,300 Total Yards: 6,522 Yards Per Game: 383.6

Total Defense Recap: 14th, 13th, 3rd, 1st, 4th, 14th, 27th, 30th

Side Note: Zimmer’s last two seasons as defensive coordinator/ head coach posted his worst rankings – 27th and 30th. Prior to that, he had a respectable defense with the Bengals and even with the Vikings after his first two seasons. Aging players began to change the dynamic rather quickly. With a young Cowboys defense, expect this issue not to arise in Dallas.

Double A Package Is Back?:

Coach Jon Gruden broke down how Zimmer’s defense in Minnesota adapted to their players and incorporated the ‘Double-A Gap Package’.

In simpler terms: The two linebackers who are normally at 5-yards depth, get placed into the ‘A Gap’ and can apply pressure there or disguise and drop out at the last possible second. Zimmer also moves his safety down on the line along with his nickel cornerback and can rush or drop them into coverage as well. This puts the opposing team’s offensive line in some trouble and can force the quarterback’s internal time clock to be sped up.

As Brandon Loree mentioned on this posting, we could see Micah Parsons and/or Donovan Wilson benefit from this, making both of these already stellar players even better in their statistical categories in 2024.

Final Thoughts: 

For the Dallas Cowboy fans who are torn on this decision, do not let his age fool you. Being almost 68 years old is actually a positive as Zimmer has seen so much in his time as a football coach. His defenses are always near the top of the NFL rankings and he took a struggling Vikings organization and brought them back from the depths of hell. He finished his Vikings tenure with a 74-59-1 (.556) winning record and won 2 playoffs games, almost advancing to the Super Bowl in his historic 2017 season.

Coach Zimmer is back and Cowboys fans should be happy not only for the coaching and his past success but also because his coaching style. Older veteran coaches, especially age 67 years old, is a slow dying breed in today’s NFL.

We, as fans, should begin to appreciate what we will witness this upcoming season and be excited for what could be a memorable year with good ole Coach Zim.


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