NFC North: Harrison Smith

Good morning from the Twin Cities, where, as the eagle-eyed followers among you will note, the Minnesota Vikings are not playing Sunday. They're down in Miami, taking on the Dolphins at 1 p.m. ET, but I'm just getting back into the swing of things Sunday after some time off following the birth of my daughter, Greta, last Tuesday morning. Mom and baby are doing well, but I'll be covering the game remotely Sunday before returning to the grind on Monday. No doubt you enjoyed the return of the esteemed Kevin Seifert to the NFC North hinterlands last week; as I offer a heartfelt thanks to him for filling in while I was gone, I'll try to take the baton and get back to full speed.

Now with that out of the way, let's move on to what you really care about: The Vikings and Dolphins kick off in less than an hour, and the Vikings will, of course, be without linebacker Anthony Barr, who will miss the rest of the season with the knee injury that's bothered him since November. Gerald Hodges will start in Barr's place, and the Vikings will have Chad Greenway lining up next to Hodges in nickel situations.

Greenway, though, will be playing with a heavy heart; his father, Alan, passed away at age 56 on Friday after a two-year battle with leukemia. Chad had spent more time helping out at his family's farm in South Dakota in recent years, and he held a deep admiration for his dad, whom he credited for teaching him the work ethic necessary to succeed as a farmer and a football player. He'll look to honor his father with a big game Sunday.

Safety Robert Blanton will be in the lineup, though the Vikings listed Andrew Sendejo as the starter next to Harrison Smith while Blanton returns from a leg injury. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is also active Sunday after being listed as probable with his lingering knee bruise.

Lastly, tight end Kyle Rudolph won't play after being listed as doubtful with ankle and knee injuries. It's been a frustrating season for Rudolph, who came in expecting to have a big role in Norv Turner's offense but will miss his seventh game of the season because of injury on Sunday. Rudolph only played eight games last year, too, and he'll have to stay healthy next season to maximize the value of the five-year contract extension he signed during training camp.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives for Sunday:
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings will be without three defensive starters and an offensive lineman on Sunday in Detroit, and Cordarrelle Patterson's status is uncertain.

The Vikings listed linebacker Anthony Barr (knee), safety Robert Blanton (ankle/knee), defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee) and guard Charlie Johnson (ankle) as out for Sunday's game against the Lions. Patterson, who showed up on the injury report for the first time on Friday, is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury.

Patterson was returning kickoffs during the open portion of practice, which means he could have tweaked his hamstring later in the session once it was closed to reporters. He played only one offensive snap last week against the New York Jets and lost a fumble on the opening kickoff in the second half.

The loss of Barr and Floyd, in particular, might hinder the Vikings as they face the 9-4 Lions on Sunday afternoon. Detroit's offense thrives when Matthew Stafford has time to throw downfield to Calvin Johnson, and though the Lions beat the Vikings with quick passes in Week 6, Johnson wasn't on the field for that game. Stafford has been sacked 39 times this year; the Vikings can hope for another big day from Everson Griffen, but having Barr and Floyd would certainly help them generate a pass rush.

With Blanton out, Andrew Sendejo figures to start at safety next to Harrison Smith. Vlad Ducasse will likely start at left guard with Johnson sidelined, meaning the Vikings will have just two of their five preferred linemen (Matt Kalil and John Sullivan) on the field against a Lions pass rush that took Teddy Bridgewater down eight times on Oct. 12.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings got back to work on Wednesday with a fairly extensive group of players missing from practice. Linebacker Anthony Barr and Sharrif Floyd were still out with the knee injuries that kept them out of Sunday's game, and safety Robert Blanton joined them on the injury report after sustaining ankle and knee injuries in overtime against the New York Jets.

Coach Mike Zimmer said Wednesday that Barr was feeling better, but still wasn't sure about the rookie's status for Sunday's game against the Detroit Lions.

In addition to Barr, Floyd and Blanton, guard Charlie Johnson (ankle) and fullback Jerome Felton (neck) missed practice. X-rays on Johnson's sprained ankle were negative on Sunday, but it remains to be seen whether he'll be healthy enough to play on Sunday.

Safety Harrison Smith was limited with the shoulder injury that's bothered him for several weeks, and defensive end Everson Griffen also was limited with a low back injury. It's the first time Griffen has been on the injury report for his back, and we'll have to see if it affects his practice time through the rest of the week before Sunday.

Cornerback Jabari Price, who has dealt with a nagging hamstring injury, returned to full participation.
MINNEAPOLIS -- As a longtime defensive coordinator who still is largely responsible for the Minnesota Vikings' operations on that side of the ball, Mike Zimmer seems more peeved when shortcomings arise with the Vikings' defense than he does when they occur with any other facet of the team. And despite the Vikings' victory in dramatic fashion over the New York Jets on Sunday, the defense's performance against a 2-11 club would explain Zimmer's somewhat dour mood after the 30-24 overtime win.

The Vikings' defense spent nearly 36 minutes of the 64:29-contest on the field, giving up 410 yards and allowing the Jets to convert eight of their 17 third-down attempts. The Jets ran for 168 yards on 42 carries, pounding the middle of the Vikings' front seven, and found big plays with wide receivers Percy Harvin and Eric Decker throughout the day, erasing a 21-12 deficit and forcing overtime.

"That's not the kind of performance I want to have," Zimmer said on Sunday. "Quite honestly, I think we should have won that game handily. I expected us to win it that way."

Here are some observations about the Vikings' defense after a film review of Sunday's game:
  • The Vikings have allowed 639 rushing yards in their four games since the bye week, and while the Jets have found success against the ground plenty of times -- their rushing attack is ranked second in the league -- the Vikings did plenty of things to concern Zimmer. The Jets tried 33 of their 42 runs between the tackles, according to ESPN Stats & Information, with vaunted center Nick Mangold getting the better of tackles Linval Joseph and Shamar Stephen. Chris Ivory's long run of the day -- 15 yards -- came on a weak-side play where Chad Greenway couldn't set the edge and Harrison Smith missed a tackle.
  • The Jets wanted no part of Everson Griffen; of the nine times they tried running to the left side, one was an end around from Percy Harvin, two were on Wildcat snaps to Bilal Powell and two were on Geno Smith scrambles. Griffen was too much for D'Brickashaw Ferguson all day, getting a sack and a hurry after he used a spin move to get by the former top-10 pick. Griffen, who has 12 sacks for the year, was close to registering a couple more, and should have had an interception on Brian Robison's batted pass in the fourth quarter. Like several teams have done recently, the Jets sent extra help to Griffen's side of the field in passing situations.
  • Robison had a solid day, setting the edge on Captain Munnerlyn's first-series stop, chasing Smith out of bounds for a sack, drawing a holding penalty and helping Harrison Smith overwhelm tight end Jeff Cumberland on the safety's sack.
  • Zimmer turned up the heat on Geno Smith, blitzing on 13 of his 36 dropbacks and sending his heaviest pressure of the year at the end of the game. The coach dialed up a pair of seven-man rushes, sending Munnerlyn and Harrison Smith after the QB in overtime. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Zimmer blitzed a defensive back more often on Sunday (six times) than he has all year. The absence of linebacker Anthony Barr because of a knee injury also likely forced the coach to trot out some new tricks.
  • Zimmer's summation of his secondary was as sharp as it was succinct after the game -- "We didn't cover anybody," the coach said -- and for players other than cornerback Xavier Rhodes, it's hard to argue with that assessment. The Jets burned Munnerlyn on a pair of crossing routes, rekindling a problem from earlier this season, and he was flagged for two penalties. Josh Robinson had another tough day, giving up Harvin's touchdown pass, allowing a 26-yard completion to Decker in overtime and losing inside leverage in man coverage against Harvin on a 17-yard completion in the second quarter. Both Robinson and Munnerlyn had a good day in run support; Robinson's hard hit on Geno Smith's third-down scramble in the fourth quarter was one of the bigger plays of his career.

Jerick McKinnon inactive for Vikings

November, 30, 2014
Nov 30
MINNEAPOLIS -- Hello from TCF Bank Stadium, where it's a balmy 12 degrees and the temperature is expected to climb to a scorching 14. This should turn out to be the coldest home game the Minnesota Vikings have played since the Bud Grant era, and it will be interesting to see how quarterback Teddy Bridgewater handles his first true taste of frigid Minnesota temperatures.

One player who won't be out in the weather Sunday against the Carolina Panthers is running back Jerick McKinnon, who was listed as doubtful for the game and said Friday he wouldn't play. McKinnon, who has been dealing with a low back injury for the last two weeks, will give way to Matt Asiata, Joe Banyard and Ben Tate on Sunday.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (knee/ankle) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (knee) will both play, as will safety Harrison Smith (shoulder). Floyd was listed as questionable Friday, as was tight end Chase Ford, who is dealing with a foot injury. The Vikings' only player missing Sunday's game because of an injury, though, is McKinnon.

Tackle J'Marcus Webb, whom the Vikings signed this week after Phil Loadholt tore his pectoral muscle last Sunday, will be inactive Sunday, meaning Mike Harris will start at right tackle.

Here is the Vikings' full list of inactives for Sunday:
MINNEAPOLIS -- Good afternoon, and a happy Thanksgiving to all of you. The Minnesota Vikings practiced on Thanksgiving morning, in a session that was closed to reporters (no complaints here), and according to their injury report, they were still missing four starters as they prepare for the Carolina Panthers.

Wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson was out again with the knee and ankle injuries he suffered on Sunday, and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd did not practice again after sitting out last Sunday with a knee injury. Coach Mike Zimmer said on Wednesday that Floyd would play Sunday against the Panthers; if that's still the Vikings' plan, they will likely try to get Floyd on the practice field on Friday.

Running back Jerick McKinnon sat out for a second consecutive day with a low back strain, and tight end Chase Ford was also out with hamstring and foot injuries. Both McKinnon and Ford have been playing with back and foot injuries, respectively, and both figure to be available Sunday, but we'll again have to see how the Vikings handle things on Friday.

Safety Harrison Smith returned to limited participation after missing Wednesday's practice with shoulder and ankle injuries, and three players who were limited on Wednesday -- Matt Asiata (concussion), Matt Kalil (knee) and Anthony Barr (knee) -- were full participants on Thursday.

With that, we'll return you to more substantive happenings in the NFC North today. Hope you all enjoy a safe and happy holiday, and we'll talk to you tomorrow morning.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Stopping Aaron Rodgers is one of the great challenges in football. And in the view of Minnesota Vikings secondary coach Jerry Gray, it falls on so many more than just the defensive backs.

"Your offense has got to play just as well as their offense. Your defense has to play as well as their defense," Gray said. "And then, you can't turn the ball over. And hopefully you get some turnovers, and then you get the upper hand. You can't give them the upper hand, because they've got a good quarterback."

The Minnesota Vikings' best defense against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday might be an offense that can hold the ball and take a lead, keeping Rodgers on the sideline, minimizing the role of running back Eddie Lacy and allowing pass rushers to come after Rodgers when he is on the field. But that's a tall task for an offense that's 22nd in the league in time of possession, and even the most recent team to beat the Packers -- the New Orleans Saints -- did so with the help of two deflected interceptions, as Gray admits.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Bill HaberGreen Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers likes to take shots on deep passes, and he's been cashing in all season.
In reality, Rodgers will put a unique degree of stress on the Vikings' defense on Sunday at TCF Bank Stadium, and as the Vikings try to recover from giving up 468 yards against the Chicago Bears last week, Gray has a simple directive for his young secondary as they face the top-rated quarterback in the league: Don't give up anything cheap.

That, too, is easier said than done. Rodgers has been the league's best deep passer this season, completing 14 of his 27 throws that traveled at least 20 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, those throws have covered 652 yards. Eight have gone for touchdowns, none have been intercepted and Rodgers' 24.15-yard average on such throws is the best in the league by nearly six yards.

The 66-yard shot he hit to Jordy Nelson on Oct. 2 put the Packers ahead 14-0, and while Rodgers only attempted two more deep balls the rest of the night, "one is too many," safety Harrison Smith said.

On the deep ball to Nelson, Rodgers faked a handoff to Lacy while Nelson cleared Captain Munnerlyn in zone coverage, stemming to a corner route before breaking back inside on Smith, catching a 55-yard throw from Rodgers and jogging into the end zone.

"That's the thing that any safety has to understand: You've got to respect him, especially when they put guys close to the core, and they're trying to protect all the edges," Gray said. "It's a two-man route, and they run it every week. If you bite on a '7' [corner] route, he runs a post. You stem on the post, he runs a '7.' He's got the option of both worlds."

Rodgers has only tried six passes of 20 yards or more when the Packers have trailed by at least seven points this season; he's taken 17 when Green Bay is ahead. It goes back to Gray's belief that beating Rodgers is a total team effort, but if Green Bay gets ahead on Sunday, the Vikings have to be ready for Rodgers to let it fly.

"If he can go down and beat you with a 15-play drive going 80 yards, that's one thing," Gray said. "But 80 yards on one play, that's no good in the NFL."
CHICAGO -- There's no doubt Josh Robinson is more comfortable now as a third-year cornerback playing on the outside than he was during the Minnesota Vikings' failed experiment with him as the slot cornerback last season. But there is one reality of Robinson's move back outside that always seemed hard for him to escape: He is 5-foot-10. The receivers he'd cover on the outside would often be four or five inches taller -- or more.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastThe Bears targeted Josh Robinson on Sunday and 6-foot-4 Brandon Marshall gave Vikings cornerback trouble.
The Vikings knew the Bears would be coming after Robinson in nickel situations on Sunday. Coach Mike Zimmer knew the Vikings would have their hands full dealing with 6-foot-3 Alshon Jeffery and 6-foot-4 Brandon Marshall.

He based his approach to covering the two Chicago Bears receivers on the reality that the Vikings often wouldn't be able to outjump them; "We've got to be great at pulling their hands apart," he said Thursday. "We've got to be great with putting our hands in what I call 'the hole' [between their hands]. Being in the right position, too, that helps."

Robinson often appeared to be in the right position on Sunday. But against a team that had singled him out for special treatment on Sunday, he got burned.

The Bears went after Robinson more than a dozen times on Sunday, with Jay Cutler throwing all three of his touchdown passes to Jeffery and Marshall on balls where it seemed Robinson could do little to make up for the receivers' stature. He was flagged for defensive pass interference on Jeffery's touchdown after the receiver worked through Robinson's arms on his way back to Cutler, shielding the ball with his body.

Marshall snatched a deep ball away from Robinson on the second touchdown, with safety Robert Blanton trailing in coverage. And on Marshall's final TD, he simply made like a power forward, calling for the ball before the play, posting up in the end zone and reaching for the ball after boxing out Robinson.

Between the TDs, there was a 34-yard pass that Jeffery took away from Robinson after it looked like the cornerback was in position for an interception. And at the end of the day, both the cornerback and the head coach seemed at a loss for what to do about it.

"I would have changed up some coverages," Zimmer said when asked what he could have done differently, before adding, "I can't make these guys taller."

Cutler's struggles this season have come largely against zone coverage, when he is frustrated by an inability to go down the field, and his worst throw of the day came on a blitz when the Vikings dropped defensive end Brian Robison back into coverage and safety Harrison Smith sat over the top of Martellus Bennett, waiting to make an interception.

But the Vikings rely primarily on man coverage, and as much as they like to move Smith around, keeping him back in a two-deep shell would have taken away part of the blitz package that's worked so well for them, in addition to exposing them to more damage from Matt Forte, who caught six passes for 58 yards.

Instead, they often relied on man coverage with a single safety deep and counted on their corners to play as well as they have in recent weeks. Against the Bears' taller receivers, Robinson, in particular, could only do so much.

"We played our normal defense," Robinson said. "Our defense relies on our corners to cover. We knew what they were going to do, and they came out doing exactly what we thought. In the end, I need to play better. That's the biggest thing I take from this game. You can't be in position and not make plays."
CHICAGO -- Observed and heard in the locker room following the Minnesota Vikings' 21-13 loss Sunday to the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field:

Zimmer rips clock malfunction: The game clocks at Soldier Field stopped working for a good portion of the second half Sunday, leaving officials to communicate how much time was left in the game to both teams on the field. Afterward, coach Mike Zimmer didn't mince words when talking about the situation. "The clocks here are bulls---," Zimmer said, before apologizing to PR man Bob Hagan and adding, "Excuse my language." At one point in the second half, center John Sullivan recalled saying to himself, "You've got to be kidding me." But after that, Sullivan said he told himself, "Get over it, because it doesn't matter. Ultimately, if we win the game, we won't care about the clock."

Sendejo is Vikings' leading rusher: Safety Andrew Sendejo said he hadn't played running back since fifth grade, but he finished the day as the Vikings' leading rusher after taking a handoff from Adam Thielen and racing 48 yards on a fake punt. "We actually just drew it up on the sidelines," Sendejo joked. "[Special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer], he's got this mind. He saw what they were doing, and we drew it up in the dirt."

Smith on pick: 'I've got to score': The Vikings had a chance to regain the lead after Harrison Smith's 52-yard interception return in the third quarter, but they went three-and-out and missed a field goal. Afterward, Smith said he needed to take care of things himself. "I've got to score," he said. "If I score there, it changes the whole game. There's always a path; you've got to find it. If you get in the end zone, it changes momentum. You start putting some doubt in people's minds. You've got to take advantage."
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Of all the opponents to expose the holes in the Minnesota Vikings' secondary last season, perhaps none did it more effectively than the Chicago Bears. The Vikings 31-30 loss to the Bears in Week 2 at Soldier Field was capped by Jay Cutler's touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett with 10 seconds left, when confusion reigned in the Vikings' secondary. Last December, wideout Alshon Jeffery torched the Vikings for 249 yards at the Metrodome, frustrating Chris Cook so thoroughly that he was ejected from the game for bumping an official while arguing a call.

 The Vikings will face the Bears for the first time this year on Sunday, and if anything, the matchup is a chance for Minnesota to show just how drastically its secondary has changed since last year. Cornerback Josh Robinson is finding his comfort zone as an outside cornerback in nickel situations after flailing in the slot last year. Second-year man Xavier Rhodes continues to develop as a cover corner, and third-year safety Harrison Smith is playing at a Pro Bowl level. Captain Munnerlyn has a pair of interceptions in his past two games, and the Vikings have eight as a team this year, after picking off just 12 passes all of last year.

"Everybody's starting to work together," Robinson said. "That's what's really helping everyone look great, as a secondary, as a front, as a linebacker corps."

Robinson, in particular, is in a different spot than he was a year ago, when quarterbacks often targeted him half a dozen times a game early in the 2013 season. He's been thrown at just 13 times in the Vikings' past four games, according to Pro Football Focus, allowing seven completions for a total of 95 yards, and the 40-yard pass he allowed to Mike Evans against Tampa Bay is one of just two he's given up over 20 yards this season.

"[The outside] is where I'm comfortable. I made that known last year, and I said the same thing this year," Robinson said. "It's really simple to just cover the guy in front of you. That's something I did a lot at [Central Florida]. I'm trying to do it more here, and do it well."

Robinson credited coach Mike Zimmer with helping him improve his technique in press coverage, and against the Bears' two big receivers (Jeffery and Brandon Marshall), the Vikings will have to be ready for a physical matchup. Their confidence in their own ability to match up with a passing attack like Chicago's, however, is in a different place than it was last year.

"[Facing them last year] just helped me realized I can go against great players," said Rhodes, who broke up three passes while covering Marshall at the Metrodome last year. "I can go out there and compete against anyone. I played great against those guys, and it let me know to never doubt myself."
MINNEAPOLIS -- The phrase "team rush" first made its way into coach Mike Zimmer's lexicon on Sept. 30, two days after the Minnesota Vikings sacked quarterback Matt Ryan just once and allowed him to escape the pocket numerous times in a 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons. Zimmer could see a problem festering with how the Vikings executed his pass rushing concepts, often over pursuing quarterbacks while trying to win one-on-one battles. Four days later in Green Bay, the problem spread to the rush defense, when Eddie Lacy ran for 105 yards in 13 carries in a game where defensive end Brian Robison said some players "checked out" of sticking to the Vikings' defensive plan.

Since then, those issues haven't merited much discussion. The Vikings have sacked quarterbacks 20 times since then -- six more than any team in the league -- disrupting 20 percent of opposing passer's dropbacks. On Sunday, they pressured Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III on 32.4 percent of his dropbacks, taking him down five times and registering two sacks on the Redskins' final drive.

"We're playing as a great defensive line," said defensive end Everson Griffen, who got his ninth sack in as many games on Sunday. "With my defensive line, we can be the best, and we're going to be the best each and every week, because we've got the best coaches. I love this team, I love the coaches and we're here to stay."

A significant part of the Vikings' success has come from the double-A gap blitz look the Vikings use regularly on third downs. They sent linebacker Chad Greenway on a blitz from that look on Sunday, and Greenway got his first sack of the season. But the Vikings can bring pressure from a number of different angles out of that set, in which Greenway and Anthony Barr line up on either side of the center and the Vikings' defensive tackles set up over the guards. The Vikings can drop Barr, Greenway, Griffen or Brian Robison into coverage from the double-A gap blitz look, and they can involve safety Harrison Smith in the package, as well, making it difficult for offenses to predict where pressure might be coming from.

"It's not us. It's Coach Zimmer and his plan," Greenway said. "We're just trying to create different situations. We do a lot of film study on what they do when put in that situation and we try to break it down off of that. I don't want to give you too much info on it. We like it."

No matter the details of the Vikings' approach, it seems to be working right now. They're headed into the bye on a two-game win streak, with flickering playoff hopes and a defense that feels like it's heating up.

"We're starting to get it and bring it together as a whole team," safety Harrison Smith said. "Now we have a little time to rest up, heal up and come back ready to go."

TAMPA, Fla. -- The play began, as Mike Zimmer reminded Anthony Barr, with a mistake.

The Minnesota Vikings' rookie linebacker was in man coverage on Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins on Tampa Bay's first play in overtime, and when the tight end leaked out toward the sideline, Barr was too far inside to prevent him from making the catch. It was a similar route to what the Buccaneers had run on Mike Glennon's go-ahead touchdown pass to Seferian-Jenkins with two minutes left in the fourth quarter, and after the Vikings rallied to tie the game at 13, the Buccaneers had gone right back at Barr.

"Initially, I was a little upset with him," Zimmer said. "He wasn't being [wide in coverage] with the tight end enough, and he let him catch the ball. But now that it's over, I'm glad he did."

The game ended on that play because of what Barr did after he got beat. He put his right hand on Seferian-Jenkins' back, used his left hand to rip the ball out of the tight end's grasp, retrieved it from the turf and raced 27 yards for a game-winning touchdown that ended a three-game skid for the Vikings and served as another reminder of what a force the ninth overall pick in the draft already is, even if he doesn't have all the rough edges of his game smoothed out yet.

When he does? Barr stands a chance to be an absolute terror. He has recovered three fumbles in the last two weeks, and he recorded his third sack of the season to go along with eight tackles. He's just three years removed from playing running back at UCLA and is learning his responsibilities in a 4-3 defense after mostly rushing the passer as an outside linebacker in a 3-4 scheme with the Bruins. He wasn't able to start his career in Minnesota until a month after the draft, thanks to UCLA's quarters system that had Barr reviewing practice film with linebackers coach Adam Zimmer over Skype from thousands of miles away. But veterans in the Vikings' locker room raved about how quickly Barr has come to understand his assignments, and the play he made on Sunday showed the instincts of a player several years his senior.

"He knew he had help coming [in safety Harrison Smith]. You could see him," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "He knew the carrier was going to go down. I don't think he was concerned about that. He just made the play; it was exactly how you'd draw it up. Sometimes it's hard to get in there, but sometimes your hand just falls right."

Barr said he's getting more comfortable understanding concepts and routes as he drops back into coverage, though he might have more work to do there than he does against the run or rushing the passer. The Vikings are able to play with him learning on the fly, though, because of how much he already understands and how ferocious he already can be.

"His first time he came into practice, he knew all his assignments," Smith said. "He wasn't looking around all over the place, which is hard as a rookie. It's hard to come in and know what to do, and line up in the right spot, even. But the day he got here, he was doing things right. He's just getting better and better. ... His upside is as high as you can go."
MINNEAPOLIS -- For 57 minutes, the Minnesota Vikings put together what would have stood up as their best defensive performance of the season, if not for what happened in the game's final three minutes. The Vikings had forced four turnovers, sacked Kyle Orton four times and held the Bills to 10 points, in a game that was one defensive stand away from a Vikings victory.

But it's what happened on that final drive that commanded most of the attention after the game, and deservedly so. The Vikings put the Bills on the brink of defeat several times on a 15-play, 80-yard march, only to give Buffalo new life on a series of coverage breakdowns.

Though the result was the same as the four games the Vikings lost on last-minute touchdowns last season, the approach wasn't. Nearly a year after defensive end Brian Robison and defensive tackle Kevin Williams criticized former defensive coordinator Alan Williams for being too timid in a final-drive loss to Dallas, the Vikings blitzed Orton four times on the final drive, sacking him twice on blitzes and using a number of creative fronts that bumped tackles Sharrif Floyd, Linval Joseph and Tom Johnson out to wide alignments.

The breakdowns at the end of the game, though, are what will stick out about an otherwise impressive performance.

"This is a 'now' business," safety Harrison Smith said. "Everything is right now; you want to win right now. That's just the world we live in. We have to (develop) as fast as possible."

Here are some other observations about the Vikings' defensive performance after a film review of the 17-16 loss to the Bills:
  • Vikings coach Mike Zimmer alluded to the Vikings getting burned by their aggressiveness on the final drive, and while his blitzes worked, Josh Robinson's press coverage of Sammy Watkins on a third-and-12 didn't. Watkins, who has two inches and 12 pounds on Robinson, quickly fought off his jam and got inside for a 20-yard gain on a slant. "Poor technique," Zimmer said of the play. Robinson had inside leverage on the play but is still learning to press effectively and needed to throw off Watkins' timing on the route.
  • Floyd had what might have been his best game of the season, thanks to a game plan that moved him around the Vikings' defensive front. Floyd had a sack and two hurries, one of which came after he lined up over the left tackle and chased Orton outside the pocket. Joseph's sack on the final drive also came from a three-technique spot, and Everson Griffen's third sack came when he worked a stunt with Floyd after the Vikings showed a seven-man blitz and rushed four.
  • Linebacker Anthony Barr was targeted early and often on shallow crossing routes, but the rookie had a monster day, registering 10 tackles, ranging back to break up a pass, recovering two fumbles and rushing Orton on 11 of Zimmer's 13 blitzes. He missed several tackles and also blew up another screen pass, showing great reaction time to take down fullback Frank Summers for a 1-yard loss in the first quarter. It wasn't a complete performance for Barr, but it was an impressive one, which once again hinted at the rookie's potential to be a dominant player once he figures everything out.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- On Thursday, the Minnesota Vikings moved closer to getting Chad Greenway back on the field, as the linebacker was a full participant in practice for the second straight day. Greenway, who hasn't played since fracturing three ribs Sept. 21 against New Orleans, seems on track to return Sunday against Buffalo, and coach Mike Zimmer sounded optimistic about that possibility Thursday.

"Yesterday, we were in pads and he felt pretty good," Zimmer said. "We've done another test on this, to see where he's at healing-wise, and he looks pretty good. I'm going to have to trust him and what he says."

The Vikings were without Gerald Hodges again Thursday because of a hamstring injury, but Zimmer didn't sound apprehensive about the possibility of putting Greenway back in a full-time role if he's healthy enough to go Sunday.

"My thought is, if he can play, he can play," Zimmer said.

Linebacker Michael Mauti missed Thursday's practice with an illness, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd sat out with a lingering ankle injury after being limited Wednesday, and defensive end Corey Wootton missed his second consecutive day of practice with a low-back injury. But Zimmer wasn't concerned about any of the three being unavailable for Sunday's game.

Defensive tackle Linval Joseph was limited with an ankle injury, and cornerback Jabari Price was limited with a hamstring injury after missing Wednesday's practice altogether. Safety Harrison Smith (ankle), tight end Chase Ford (foot) and wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (hip) were again full participants.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Minnesota Vikings linebacker Chad Greenway returned to the practice field for the first time since he broke three ribs in the team's Sept. 21 game against the New Orleans Saints, and coach Mike Zimmer said the Vikings would make a decision on Saturday about whether Greenway could play on Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

The Vikings officially listed Greenway as doubtful for Sunday's game. If Greenway did return from a two-game absence on Sunday, it would be in a situational role, not as an every-down player, Zimmer said.

That would likely put Gerald Hodges in line to start a third consecutive game at weakside linebacker. Greenway said his ribs are continuing to feel better, and Zimmer said this week that Greenway's broken hand isn't a major concern at this point, but for a player who rarely, if ever, comes off the field when he's healthy, it will probably take a little more time to return to such a major role.

"The pain is in the breathing," Greenway said. "I just haven't done anything to push myself for a couple weeks, so that was the worst (part). I've been feeling really good, and better and better every day."

Safety Harrison Smith was able to do more in practice on Friday than he was Thursday, and still is in line to play on Sunday after spraining his ankle on Oct. 2 against Green Bay. The Vikings officially listed Smith as questionable.

"I'm a little bit surprised (at how quick I've recovered)," Smith said. "You always think you're going to heal fast as an athlete -- you think you're going to wake up tomorrow, and it's going to be fine. That's kind of what you expect, even though it's kind of insane. That's just how we think. Right now, it's stable. As long as it's stable and I can play, that's the goal."

Receiver Cordarrelle Patterson (hip) and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (elbow) participated in full on Friday. Both are probable for Sunday's game. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater (ankle), linebacker Michael Mauti (foot), running back Jerick McKinnon (ankle) and running back Matt Asiata (groin) are also probable.