NFL Nation: Harrison Smith

Offenses consistently said they had to plan differently when they faced the Detroit Lions this season, and a lot of that had to do with Ndamukong Suh.

Suh doesn’t have the overwhelming statistics of Houston defensive end J.J. Watt, but his influence on a game is unquestioned. When teams tried to single-block him – early against Miami is one example – the fifth-year defensive tackle annihilated opponents and wrecked opposing backfields. Sometimes he was even able to do that when double-teamed as well.

While his reputation as a game-changer helps, he was the overwhelming pick as the NFC North Defensive Player of the Year, garnering four of five first-place votes and 14 overall points. Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews finished second with six points (and one first-place vote), followed by Minnesota Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (5.5 points), Detroit safety Glover Quin (2.5 points), Minnesota safety Harrison Smith (1 point) and Green Bay linebacker Julius Peppers (1 point).

The five voters were asked to rank their top three choices with a first-place vote gaining three points, a second-place vote two points and a third-place vote one point.

Suh had 53 tackles this season, 8.5 sacks and two pass breakups. He consistently faced double-teams and that opened up rush lanes for linebackers Tahir Whitehead and DeAndre Levy along with single blocks for the rest of the Lions’ defensive linemen. Many of those linemen had career seasons.

“He’s a dominant, dominant player who we benefit greatly from having his services,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said last month. “He’s a tremendous asset to our team.”

Suh has been a force for Detroit since being drafted by the Lions with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 draft. He has been named a first-team All-Pro four times and to the Pro Bowl in four of his five seasons in the league.

He’s also remained remarkably durable at a position in the trenches, only missing games because of a suspension in 2011. This season, though, might have been some of his finest work in defensive coordinator Teryl Austin’s new, attacking 4-3 scheme.

Suh led a Lions defense that ranked in the top five in almost every major category, including having the NFL’s top run defense.

“He’s got great strength, which is great for those inside rushers, because they can power offensive guards back,” Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said in December. “He has great quickness as well and if he starts one way and the guard moves, he can really get underneath a guy and power him back into the quarterback. His strength and quickness are to me a huge advantage for an inside defensive player.

“… He's different from a lot of [defensive tackles] that I've had, but he's similar. Geno Atkins was extremely strong and quick like Suh is, but Suh is a bigger player, bigger-body guy, which helps even in the power part of things. He has those rare attributes that are hard to find for an inside guy. I think he's one of the best of all-time."

Whether he remains in Detroit is still a question as Suh is slated to enter free agency next month. Where Suh ends up is one of the most interesting questions of the offseason.
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.

Jerick McKinnon inactive for Vikings

November, 30, 2014
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.
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."

Mike Zimmer rips Soldier Field clocks

November, 16, 2014
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."
Our weekly attempt to expose and explore the gray area involved in officiating NFL games. Sunday suggestions welcome via Twitter (@SeifertESPN). For all Inside Slant posts, including the weekly Officiating Review, follow this link.

Play: San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick fumbles on a goal-line quarterback sneak
Referee: Jerome Boger
Analysis: This play capped an eventful day for Boger and his crew. Attempting to score the winning touchdown, Kaepernick bobbled the snap, regained control of the ball and dove over the goal line. At some point between regaining control and landing on the ground, Kaepernick fumbled again. St. Louis Rams linebacker James Laurinaitis came out of the pile with the ball and was awarded possession.

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez49ers QB Colin Kaepernick fumbles on a goal-line sneak in the final seconds against the Rams.
The question is whether Kaepernick lost the ball before or after crossing the goal line. If it was after, the ruling is a touchdown. Anything that happens afterward is moot. If it happened before, then it is a fumble and a loss of possession.

Kaepernick told reporters he crossed the line first, but you wouldn't expect him to say anything different.

The replay demonstrates the officiating mechanics that led to the decision: Head linesman Tom Staible and line judge Ed Walker are aligned on the goal line to determine if the ball broke the plane before Kaepernick was down. Umpire Tony Michalek was standing about 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage and clearly sees the fumble. Michalek consulted with back judge Tony Steratore, whose responsibility is tracking loose balls, before signaling a touchdown.

There is no evidence that Michalek consulted with Staible or Walker, suggesting he saw Kaepernick lose possession before it was visible to television viewers. In this case, he apparently didn't need to confirm whether Kaepernick was in possession at the goal line. Given the tight formation at the snap, and the resulting crunch of bodies, no replay angle offered a conclusive view of when Kaepernick fumbled for the second time.

This call was one where either ruling was defensible, because in the end there is no visual evidence of what happened at the key moment.

Play: Unnecessary roughness on Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith
Referee: Gene Steratore
Analysis: Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III attempted to gain a first down by running around right end on what appeared to be a read-option play. Seeing Smith approaching him from the front, and defensive end Corey Wootton from the side, Griffin began sliding 2 yards behind the line of scrimmage near the right sideline.

Smith lowered his right shoulder to initiate contact, and Steratore penalized him for "a blow to a sliding quarterback's head," according to the post-play announcement.

There are several factors to unpack here; most obviously, a second look at the play revealed Smith at worst grazed Griffin's left shoulder. He did not appear to contact his head or neck. Steratore made a mistake of anticipation, one that isn't entirely surprising when you note that his crew entered Week 9 having called 17 unnecessary roughness or personal foul penalties, by far the highest among the NFL's 17 crews, according to ESPN Stats & Information's penalty database. (The average was 6.7 per crew.)

But what interests me are two other questions: Was Griffin still considered a quarterback by rule at the end of the play? And what, if any, protection did the slide afford him?

First, the NFL confirmed last season that a quarterback running the read-option loses his "quarterback protection" and can be hit as if he were a running back. So it is difficult to understand why Steratore referred to a "sliding quarterback" when the league doesn't consider him one on that play.

Second, what you might not realize is that Griffin is still classified as a defenseless player -- whether or not he is a quarterback -- who had declared himself down and prompted an immediate dead ball.

"A player on the ground" is one of 10 definitions of a defenseless player, as listed in Rule 12, Section 2, Article 7(a). And any player, not just a receiver, can declare himself down by sliding feet first. According to Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1(d), "the ball is dead the instant he touches the ground with anything other than his hands or feet." The rule requires the player to start his slide "before contact by a defensive player is imminent," requiring officials to judge whether the defender had a reasonable chance to pull up.

Regardless, in this case the discussion is moot because Smith appeared to sail over Griffin with little to no contact. But had there been contact, to the helmet or anywhere else, Steratore's crew would have been justified in calling the penalty even though Griffin was by rule a runner and not a quarterback at the end of the play.

Play: Rams' Tavon Austin is ruled down in the field of play rather than in the end zone
Referee: Boger
Analysis: In addition to the Kaepernick fumble, Boger's ruling on a complicated play before halftime merits further inspection. Should the 49ers have been credited for a safety after Austin's poor return of a missed field goal attempt?

Austin had advanced the ball out of the end zone, just short of the 2-yard line, before making a hard cut to the right to avoid the 49ers' Derek Carrier. In an unsuccessful attempt to get around Carrier, Austin began moving back toward his goal line. Carrier's tackle brought him down in the end zone. Boger had to decide whether to call a safety or if Austin would be credited with forward progress at the 1- or 2-yard line. Boger chose the latter, a ruling upheld after an inconclusive replay review.

The NFL rule book defines forward progress as "the point at which [a runner's] advance toward his opponent's goal ends and is the spot at which the ball is declared dead by rule, irrespective of the runner or receiver being pushed or carried backward by an opponent."

Did Carrier push or carry Austin into the end zone? Or did Austin get there himself?

The key bit of information, as former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira said on the Fox broadcast, was the location of the ball when Carrier first contacted Austin and thus stopped the advance. That is the spot of forward progress; if the ball had already broken back over the goal-line plane, it should be a safety.

In the end, Fox did not supply a replay that provided a direct goal-line angle to determine where the ball was on contact. Because Austin had the ball in his left arm as he turned right, meaning the ball was away from the end zone at the line of forward progress, my guess is that it had not broken the plane when Carrier first grabbed Austin's right knee.

Boger had no choice but to uphold the replay, but it was a reminder of how tricky a forward progress ruling can be.

Play: Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco is ruled to be down before releasing a pass, resulting in a sack
Referee: Bill Vinovich
Analysis: In the third quarter Sunday night at Heinz Field, Flacco scrambled away from Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison and threw an incomplete pass while falling to the ground. The Steelers challenged the ruling, claiming Flacco was down before he threw the ball, and replay official Dale Hamer agreed. The call was changed to a sack.

This play highlighted common confusion about the definition of "down by contact." In this case, both of Flacco's knees and elbows were off the ground when he threw -- and Hamer was still correct when he made his ruling.

Why? According to Rule 7, Section 2, Article 1(a) of the rule book, an official should declare the ball dead and the down ended when "a runner is contacted by an opponent and touches the ground with any part of his body other than his hands or feet." The definition is further explained as "any part of a runner's leg above the ankle or any part of his arm above the wrist."

While it's more common for a joint -- elbows and knees -- to touch the ground first, a shin or forearm is considered the same. So, to paraphrase John Madden, one knee equals one shin and one elbow equals one forearm.
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."
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.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- It appears Teddy Bridgewater is still on track to return as the Minnesota Vikings' starting quarterback this week.

 Bridgewater was back at practice on Tuesday, as the Vikings came back from a long weekend following their 42-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night. The rookie missed that game with a sprained ankle, but coach Mike Zimmer said after the game the Vikings planned to start Bridgewater on Oct. 12 against the Detroit Lions.

The Vikings were, however, without safety Harrison Smith, who sprained his left ankle on Thursday night against the Packers and left the practice facility on crutches on Friday. We'll hear more about Smith's status from coach Mike Zimmer this afternoon. Linebacker Chad Greenway and tight end Kyle Rudolph were out with broken ribs and a sports hernia, respectively.
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- The Minnesota Vikings were without three prominent defensive players -- linebacker Chad Greenway, defensive back Josh Robinson and defensive tackle Linval Joseph -- on Wednesday, and a fourth (safety Harrison Smith) was limited with a knee injury.

Greenway, who played this past Sunday's game with a broken hand and left it with a broken rib, wasn't scheduled to practice on Wednesday, anyway, after his wife, Jennifer Capista, gave birth to the couple's third child on Tuesday. Coach Mike Zimmer said Greenway likely wouldn't be able to play if he was in the same state he was at the end of Sunday's game, and Gerald Hodges will likely get most of the work at weakside linebacker in practice this week, as he did last week. Once Greenway left the game, rookie linebacker Anthony Barr said he took over the responsibility of relaying the Vikings' defensive play calls in the huddle.

Joseph, who missed practice with a shoulder injury, had shoulder surgery in the offseason, though it's not known if his current injury is related to his previous ailment. Robinson left Sunday's game when his recurring hamstring issues came back, and he missed practice again on Wednesday with the same problem.

In addition to Smith, linebacker Brandon Watts was limited with a knee injury. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder), linebacker Michael Mauti (foot) and wide receiver Rodney Smith (hamstring) were listed on the injury report, but practiced in full.

Patriots vs. Vikings preview

September, 11, 2014
Update: The Vikings have deactivated Adrian Peterson for Sunday’s game following Friday's indictment by a Montgomery County, Texas, grand jury on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child.

The Minnesota Vikings are coming off their biggest road win in five seasons, while the New England Patriots are trying to avoid an 0-2 start after a 13-point defeat on the road last week. Just like everyone predicted, right?

In a matchup that pits Patriots coach Bill Belichick against a couple of his old foes from the AFC -- Vikings coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner -- the Vikings will try to build on their surprising start in their home opener at TCF Bank Stadium on Sunday. Zimmer's game plan in Cincinnati last year forced Patriots quarterback Tom Brady into his worst game of the season, and Zimmer will hope to recreate the performance with a Vikings defense that isn't as experienced as what he had with the Bengals.

ESPN Vikings reporter Ben Goessling and ESPN Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss this week's matchup.

Ben Goessling: Mike, the Vikings sacked Rams quarterbacks five times Sunday. After a pretty poor week for the Patriots' offensive line against the Dolphins -- a team whose defensive coordinator is a disciple of Vikings coach Mike Zimmer -- do you think protecting Brady is going to be a lingering issue this week?

Mike Reiss: Yes, Ben, there is no doubt about that. One thing I believe should help the Patriots is that while the Vikings' defensive line is solid, I don't believe it is at the same level as Miami's. Specifically, the Patriots won't be seeing the same type of speed rush from Cameron Wake off the defensive left side, which they just couldn't handle. There's only a few like Wake in the NFL. The Patriots are still figuring out their best combination up front, and that will be one of the most closely watched storylines from a New England perspective. One thing I'm sure Patriots followers would be interested to hear is how Matt Cassel, the New England backup from 2005-08, is performing.

Goessling: So far, Cassel has been solid, though he didn't have to take many chances in the Vikings' win against the Rams last week. He only attempted three passes of more than 10 yards, and he was able to hit a number of screen passes to running backs, receivers and even tight end Rhett Ellison. But Cassel hit Greg Jennings on a nice post play and threw a couple of touchdown passes off play-action. The hope is Cassel can be solid enough to keep the Vikings relevant and give them more time to develop Teddy Bridgewater; ultimately, he is the future of this team, but for now, Cassel is buying the Vikings time before they turn things over to Bridgewater. And if they're able to win enough games with Cassel, who knows? He could turn out to be the starter all season.

Belichick will get to face one of his old foes from the AFC in Turner on Sunday; how have the Patriots typically matched up against Turner teams, and how do you expect their defense will handle the Vikings on Sunday, after the Vikings showed off a number of weapons last week against the Rams?

Reiss: When the Patriots have faced a Turner-coordinated offense, Belichick has touched on the vertical nature of the passing game. He also said earlier this week that, "You have to be able to stop the running game and stop '12 personnel' [1 back, 2 tight ends]." The Patriots' biggest issues in the opener were poor fits in the run game (191 yards allowed). I wouldn't be surprised if we see Darrelle Revis shadow Cordarrelle Patterson after Revis almost exclusively played the left side in the opener.

In last year's draft, the Patriots traded the No. 29 pick to Minnesota for Patterson and received second-, third-, fourth- and seventh-round picks in return. The Patriots turned those picks into linebacker Jamie Collins, cornerback Logan Ryan, receiver Josh Boyce and used the seventh to trade for running back LeGarrette Blount (now in Pittsburgh). One year later, how do you assess that deal from a Minnesota perspective?

Goessling: I can't imagine the Vikings have any regrets about it. As much as they could have used some of those picks to address their defensive depth issues, they've got a budding star in Patterson. He's not only filled the role vacated by Percy Harvin in the Vikings' offense, he's done it without any of the questions surrounding Harvin's durability and temperament. Patterson isn't quite as strong or shifty, but he's taller, a more natural outside receiver and his ability to hit holes is as good as you'll find anywhere. He's already become a focal point in the Vikings' offense, and I imagine that will only continue. The Vikings use him in enough different ways that I think it would be hard to completely shut him down with Revis, though I'm sure Belichick will come up with something to try and fence him in.

Speaking of defensive game plans, the Bengals' defense under Zimmer had a good one to frustrate Brady last season, and Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyne (a Zimmer disciple) had success against the Patriots last week, of course. We've talked a little bit about the pass rush already, but what else did Zimmer dial up in that game to force Brady into one of his worst days of the season, and do you think he can do it again this weekend?

Reiss: The main things I remember about Zimmer's plan last season was the ability to hurry Brady with the standard four rushers early (Geno Atkins was a beast inside), and then bringing out the different blitz packages on third down and more obvious passing situations. One thing, in particular, is the double A-gap blitz right up the middle. Even if you don't bring those extra two rushers on a blitz, by showing the look, it forces the offensive line to communicate and make sure they are all seeing the same thing in terms of who is coming, who isn't and who to block. The Patriots' offensive line crumbled in the third quarter against the Dolphins last week, and I'd imagine the Vikings watched that tape and are salivating at the possibilities of frustrating Brady. At the same time, I think the Patriots are better than they showed, and we could see some personnel changes in the middle with rookie center Bryan Stork in the mix.

Defensively for the Vikings, tell us more about where and how they put stress on the opposition.

Goessling: You touched on it a little bit: The big key to it is still the creativity Zimmer shows in his blitz packages. He doesn't bring extra pressure all that often, in the grand scheme of things (he only blitzed eight times last week), but he'll show enough blitz looks, and send pass-rushers from enough different spots, that he keeps you on your toes. You'll often see him show a seven- or eight-man front, only to have several players drop back into coverage. The problem is guessing which players it will be; the Vikings have some flexibility with their personnel, like linebacker Anthony Barr, defensive end Everson Griffen and safety Harrison Smith. The Vikings' secondary depth still concerns me, and we'll see whether Brady can exploit it this week, but this Vikings' defense won't be as big of a pushover as last season's unit was.