Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer has coached a number of Pro Bowl defensive backs over his years in the NFL.
Harrison Smith is among those Zimmer has been guiding with Minnesota since taking the helm in 2014, and he’s using similar coaching tactics with the All-Pro safety that he did with an NFL Legend.
ESPN’s Tory Zawacki Roy wrote about the connections between Smith and three-time Super Bowl champion Darren Woodson, who played under Zimmer in Dallas.
“I’m a pest,” Zimmer told Zawacki Roy. “I pester my players, poke them with a stick, talk to them about how good they can be and what my expectation level is for them. And my expectations are pretty high.”
Zawacki Roy spoke with Woodson, who recalled that Zimmer would use the safety’s weekly matchup to challenge him, saying, ‘You can’t cover him.’ ”
More than two decades later, Zimmer is still pestering players in his secondary, while adding another layer: the Woodson Meter.
What is the Woodson Meter? The actual definition could depend on whom you ask. But in having to face it nearly every day, safety Harrison Smith probably has the best idea, and it is simple: being able to do everything at a very high level.
“Darren used to want to work on his coverage skills, so when the defensive scout team was out, he’d go out there and play corner so he could work on covering [former Cowboys receiver] Michael Irvin,” Zimmer told Zawacki Roy. “So I’d say stuff like that to Harrison, and the next day I’d see him out there covering the wide receivers.”
Neither Smith nor Zimmer can recall exactly when the coach began the “Woody”-themed pestering and prodding of Smith, but both say it has been at least two years. In that time, Smith has led the Vikings in tackles, defensive touchdowns and interceptions. His three sacks this season already have tied for the most in any season in his career.
“It's come up in the goal line a couple times where I may be aligned one way, and he’s like, ‘Well, why don't you align like Woody used to?’ I'm like, ‘I don't know, I kind of like it this way!’ [Zimmer’s] like, ‘Well, you know, Woody could do it,’ ” Smith told Zawacki Roy. “It challenges me to up my game.”
Current standings feature ‘crystalizing’ NFC Wild Card race
There are, of course, five more weeks of football before the 2018 NFL playoffs kick off.
If the postseason would have started today, however, the Vikings would be in the thick of it after their 24-17 defeat of the Packers.
The NFC race is turning out to be a tight one, as NFL.com’s David Ely mentioned in his three takeaways from the Sunday Night Football Border Battle, during which Minnesota likely helped to knock Green Bay from contention. Ely wrote:
As we enter the final month of the regular season, the NFC wild card race is crystalizing. The Vikings hold the No. 5 seed and own a half-game lead on a trio of 6-5 teams (the Redskins, Seahawks and Panthers) with games at New England and Seattle looming in back-to-back weeks. For the Packers, it’s tough to see a road to the postseason. Green Bay currently would have to leap frog three teams just to claim the six spot. While four of their final five games are against teams with winning records, it’s tough to imagine Mike McCarthy and co. climbing out of this hole.
Ely also highlighted the performance of Adam Thielen, who notched his ninth game this season with more than 100 yards receiving, breaking a Vikings record set by Moss in 2000 and 2003. Ely said that Thielen followed a “quiet two weeks to abuse the young Green Bay secondary.”
Thielen’s quick burst and cuts off the line of scrimmage routinely allowed him to find space in the Packers defense. The mind-meld between Thielen and Kirk Cousins (29 of 38 for 342 yards and three scores) was on full display on their third-quarter TD connection when Thielen found a soft spot in the Green Bay zone as Cousins rolled to his right, corralled a dart, turned up field and powered his way into the end zone.
[When] Cousins is on the same page with Thielen and Stefon Diggs (8 catches, 77 yards), good luck stopping them in December and beyond.
View game action images as the Vikings take on the Packers under the lights for Sunday Night Football at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Vikings highlighted among USA TODAY’s 4 Week 12 ‘winners’
Minnesota’s victory Sunday night was a significant one.
USA TODAY’s Lorenzo Reyes highlighted four “winners” and five “losers” from the Week 12 contests, including the Vikings in the first category. Reyes wrote:
They might have effectively ended the season for the Packers, but most important was securing a huge 24-17 victory in the NFC North. The Vikings (6-4-1) now face two massive tests — next week against the Patriots and the following against the Seahawks — and both of them come on the road. The Vikings outgained Green Bay 416-254, and Minnesota’s defense smothered Green Bay to just two of 10 third-down conversions. The Vikings will need to build on that with this crucial stretch coming up.
Reyes also pointed to the Seahawks, who defeated the Panthers to improve to 6-5 on the season; Chargers QB Philip Rivers, who set an NFL record for consecutive completions to start a game with 25; and Patriots QB Tom Brady, whom the Vikings will face this weekend.
[Brady] was solid (20 of 31 for 283 yards and two touchdowns) in a 27-13 victory against the Jets, but it wasn’t necessarily his play that makes him a winner — it’s the positive developments surfacing around him. Right guard Shaq Mason and tight end Rob Gronkowski returned and had big impacts against New York. And, with rookie running back Sony Michel churning explosive plays and James White providing a change of pace, New England’s offense is poised to again operate at peak efficiency.