Mike Zimmer knows defense. Always has, even when he was getting rejected for head coaching jobs because some were turned off to his in-your-face-don't-hold-back style.

That's why his Minnesota Vikings playing great defense shouldn't really come as a surprise.

Great is the right word, too.

We had that debate on some of our shows Sunday here at CBSSports, and I said the Vikings had a really good defense -- and maybe it had a chance to be great.

Then they took the field and had what was a great performance against the Carolina Panthers. They brutalized 2015 MVP Cam Newton and the high-flying Carolina offense in a 22-10 victory that keeps the Vikings undefeated at 3-0.

The Vikings sacked Newton eight times, three by right end Everson Griffin, and they shut out the Panthers in the second half after trailing 10-8 at the half.

This is a team that lost its quarterback for the season in Teddy Bridgewater, top runner Adrian Peterson is out for a while with a bad knee and left tackle Matt Kalil is gone for the season with a hip injury.

That puts it on the defense, and they gladly showed they are to up to it against the Panthers, handing Carolina its first home loss since November of 2014.

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Anthony Barr chases down Cam Newton, who was sacked eight times. USATSI

This is a hard-nosed defense with good pass rushers, fast linebackers, an aggressive group of corners and a top-level safety in Harrison Smith, who can do so many things.

That's gives Zimmer and defensive coordinator George Edwards a lot of versatility -- and speed.

After giving up a field goal and a touchdown on Carolina's first two possessions, this how the next 10 went: safety, punt, missed FG, punt, interception, punt, interception, punt, interception, downs.

This was against a Carolina offense that came in ranked first in scoring with 33 points per game. The Vikings held receiver Kelvin Benjamin without a catch and had six different players get sacks

The defense will have to be special. The offense has done some good things, but without Peterson the running game is limited. We've seen great defenses carry teams to Super Bowls, which is what Denver did last season. For that to happen, the Vikings have to play mistake free, get a few big plays on offense and hope the defense can take the ball away.

They won Sunday with just 211 yards of offense. That doesn't' happen often in the NFL, which is why that defensive performance was indeed great.

If it stays that way the rest of the season, it will be hard to argue this is a great unit, and they could be a deep playoff team.

If that happens, and he's the early leader, Zimmer will be coach of the year.

Wonder how all those owners who got turned off by his in-your-face demeanor and vocabulary of four-letter bombs, will feel then?

One thing's for sure: Zimmer knows defense.

As he would say, the proof is in the f------ pudding.

More musings from around the NFL:

Philadelphia Eagles

It's just three games, but Carson Wentz is proving he may be on his way to being the next great star at the quarterback position. In Philadelphia's dominating 35-3 victory over the Steelers, going 23-of-31 for 301 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. In three games, he still hasn't turned the ball over. That's impressive.

But for all the fanfare that Wentz has received -- and deserves -- I love the way the Eagles are playing on defense. They held the Steelers to 251 yards, which is truly impressive. Coordinator Jim Schwartz has brought his 4-3 "wide-nine" style to the Eagles and it's working. Fletcher Cox was special with two sacks against the Steelers, but a lot of players are playing well.

The Eagles defenders were on the field a lot under Chip Kelly because of his style of play on offense. Now they are getting rested and winning in a lot of ways.

At 3-0, Philadelphia is atop the NFC East going into their bye this week. If Wentz can keep it up, watch out. That defense is much improved.

Jacksonville Jaguars

It's a bad look when any player leaves the field early. It's even worse when a quarterback, who is supposed to be a leader, does it. That's what happened Sunday when Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles left the field with 16 seconds left in the game after his third pick of the day in Baltimore's 19-17 victory. That should never happen.

Coach Gus Bradley, who is clearly on the hot seat now, needs to bring his quarterback in and have a chat about his actions. He also might want to get him to work on his mechanics. They are bad.

His windup is long, and he's not stepping into throws. The accuracy isn't there either. He was picked off three times against the Ravens, giving him six for the season, and he took a sack late in the game when the Jaguars had a chance to kick a field goal and go up five. But they instead had to try a 52-yard kick and it was blocked. That shouldn't happen in year three.

The 0-3 Jaguars have to be considered one of the biggest disappointments of the season so far. They go to London this week to play the Colts. If it goes bad there, it would be hard to imagine that a coaching change isn't on the mind of owner Shad Khan.

Tennessee Titans

I say it each week, but why aren't the Titans building their offense around Marcus Mariota? They ran for 181 yards in coach Mike Mularkey's run-based offense, but scored just 10 points in a 17-10 loss to the Raiders. That's proof enough that the style doesn't work.

Yes, Mariota has turned the ball over at times in three games -- throwing four picks -- but it's the style of play that's making it happen. He's thrown much better when he's playing fast and up-tempo. He has three fourth-quarter touchdown passes, and just one in the other three quarters combined.

Set him free, Mike. The 1970s offense doesn't work

New York Jets

It was a horror show for Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on Sunday in Kansas City. He threw six interceptions, tying a career high, and it could have been even more. He never got into a groove as the Jets fell to 1-2 in the loss to the Chiefs.

Fitzpatrick was coming off an impressive road victory at Buffalo in which he played well, but that's who you get with him: An inconsistent passer who is not much more than average.

It's hard to believe they were pining for Fitzpatrick in New York when he was a holdout deep into the summer. There's a reason nobody else tried to sign him.

Sunday is that proof.

Los Angeles Rams

Can you believe the Rams are in first place in the NFC West? Well, they are actually tied with Seattle, but they beat the Seahawks. Weird, considering they scored just three offensive touchdowns in three games -- all Sunday in their victory over Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

In that Tampa Bay game, the Bucs botched the end of the game. The clock ran out when Jameis Winston was tackled on a weird play at end of the game at the Los Angeles 5. The Bucs completed a pass to the Rams' 15 with 35 seconds left, but didn't call a timeout -- even though they had two. The clock ran and they eventually ended up taking one home.

The final play was a second-down play, which means time was the issue. A timeout earlier would have saved it. That's bad clock management -- and this is a team with a situational coach. In the end, the blame goes to coach Dirk Koetter, who makes the final decisions.

Denver Broncos

Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian, who has the Broncos off to a 3-0 start, was really impressive in leading Denver to victory over Cincinnati. He became the first quarterback ever to throw for over 300 yards, four touchdown passes and no picks in his first road start. The moment wasn't too big for him. I thought there was a chance rookie Paxton Lynch might take over as the starter in October, but the Bengals performance pushes that way off in the future.

Dallas Cowboys

Is there a quarterback controversy in Dallas when Tony Romo returns? Rookie Dak Prescott has played well in his three games so far, but I can't imagine Romo won't go back in as the starter when he returns. But if Romo struggles, watch out.

And finally ...

The NFL has to be far more lenient with the unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties. There's no way Giants center Weston Richburg deserved one for his in-your-face comment to Josh Norman in the Giants-Redskins game, and Philip Rivers got one late in the Colts-Chargers game for saying something -- with a smile, mind you -- to a Colts player. Both penalties impacted the game.

I am for trying to put an end to over-the-top foolishness, but those two were absurd.