MINNEAPOLIS — Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has mentioned he likes the way safety Harrison Smith works "really hard on any deficiencies that he has."
Smith, who led the Vikings with 120 tackles (coaches' tally) and five interceptions in 2014, opened training camp by mentioning he "probably hit under half" of the goals he set for last season.
An area the safety targeted this offseason became important in the fourth quarter Sunday when Smith knifed past a block and tackled Joique Bell in the backfield to end a two-point conversion attempt. Bell had taken the handoff from Matthew Stafford, who started the play in the shotgun.
"The two-point conversion, I just read my keys," Smith said, "and one thing Coach Zimmer was kind of on me this offseason for was my red zone play, not really firing when I need to. I read it and shot through."
The tackle preserved a 26-16 lead, important in keeping it a two-score game with 1:48 remaining.
Rhett Ellison recovered the ensuing failed onside kick attempt to allow the Vikings to run out the clock, but securing an onside kick isn't always guaranteed (an ironic sentence to write during a rematch of the NFC Championship).
"The play that Harrison Smith made on the two-point play, that was a huge play because basically at that point the game is over with," Head Coach Mike Zimmer said.
It was one of the few times the Vikings didn't have multiple players tackling a runner—because Smith got there so quickly.
Red zone defense is obviously an important part of situational football, and a play like that could become more important with the rule change to points after touchdowns that gives offenses the option of kicking a 33-yard extra point or taking the ball at the 2 for a pass or rush attempt.
Smith said he liked the way teammates worked together to defend the run throughout the game.
"The guys up front made a lot of plays on their side of the line-of-scrimmage, getting penetration," Smith said. "The backers played great and just tackled better and played good defense."
Zimmer said the difference between defending the run in Week 1 and Sunday was "night and day."
"It was more like we expect," Zimmer said. "It was different schemes and different plays they ran, but we were in the right place, we were physical, we swarmed the ball."