EAGAN, Minn. — Harrison Smith had an All-Pro performance in the season opener with eight tackles (according to coaches’ tally), two tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery.
That was good enough to earn No. 22 the honor for NFC Defensive Player of the Week, the second time Smith has earned the accolade.
The three-time Pro Bowl safety also won the award in Week 16 of the 2017 season for his two-interception performance at Green Bay.
Smith, as usual, downplayed the honor on Wednesday.
“It’s cool,” Smith said. “Still a lot of things to correct, so just focusing on what the coaches are getting corrected and what they want us to execute.”
And as usual, Smith’s teammates and Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer had plenty of praise for one of the league’s best safeties.
“He’s really smart. He’s got great vision,” Zimmer said. “I think that’s a big part of it; he sees things, he anticipates. He’s a tough guy. He’s versatile. He can do a lot of things.”
Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes expanded on what Zimmer said after Wednesday’s practice.
“Man, he just knows plays and can read the offense pretty fast. He’s just like a coach within the lines,” Rhodes said. “He sees a motion or a formation, and he gets a good read on the play.
“He sees the tendencies of the running back, quarterback … he sees it and reacts to it what he sees on film and he’s probably 90 percent right,” Rhodes added.
Rhodes, an All-Pro himself, recalled a story when Smith adapted on the fly to snuff out an opponent’s play.
“There was a game where he just blitzed one time and he wasn’t supposed to,” Rhodes said. “I came in [and asked] and he said, ‘I knew it was going to be a run.’ [I was like,] ‘Oh, OK. First play of the game … what if it was a play action?’ [Smith responded,] ‘Nah, I’ve seen what I’ve seen on film and it happened on the field, so I just reacted to it.’”
Smith, who met with the media after Wednesday’s walk-through session, said he was just happy the Vikings defense was able to rack up four turnovers, three sacks and a win in the season opener against the 49ers.
“You can’t go out and just play as an individual. We play well as a team,” Smith said. “If I make a play, it’s normally because a lot of other guys did their job and vice versa.
“That’s how we approach things,” Smith added. “Individual honors are great, but they’re more the result of the collective unit.”
1 for 1
Rhodes also hand a standout game against San Francisco, recording a fourth-quarter interception that helped the Vikings earn a 24-16 win.
It turns out that was the only pass thrown in the direction of Rhodes, who was a two-time All-Pro in 2017.
“I didn’t really think about it. I was just out there playing my game. Once I figured it out towards the end of the game, that’s what it was,” said Rhodes, who was a First-Team All-Pro as a cornerback and a Second-Team All-Pro as a defensive back this past season.”
Rhodes said he has had games like this before.
“I believe I had a game with no targets against Chicago. And the only reason I knew that was because y’all told me,” Rhodes said with a laugh toward the media.
Rhodes now has 10 career interceptions.
Griffen on Bakhtiari; Kendricks on Graham
A pair of the Vikings most important defensive players will have their hands full Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen will likely be matched up against Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari at times, a matchup of two of the best players at their position in the NFL.
“Been doing a lot of film study, and he finds a way to stay in front of the guys,” Griffen said. “He has good hand placement, and he’s good with his outside hand.
“I feel like the number one thing that we can do is just go out there and give him what we know and watch a lot of tape on him,” Griffen said. “It’s going to be a fun game.”
Griffen has 10 sacks in 16 career games against the Packers.
Vikings linebacker Eric Kendricks will have a challenge of his own, especially in the passing game.
Green Bay added Jimmy Graham as a free agent in the offseason, bringing in 556 career catches for 6,800 yards with 69 touchdowns to the Packers offense. Graham had two catches for eight yards against the Bears on Sunday.
Kendricks, linebacker Anthony Barr, Smith and safety Andrew Sendejo could be called upon to go against the 6-foot-7 tight end in the passing game.
“He’s a big target, that’s first and foremost,” Kendricks said. “A seasoned veteran as well. He has experience and is a safety blanket for quarterbacks.”
Kendricks has 2.5 sacks in six career games against the Packers.
For the Vikings: Pat Elflein (ankle/shoulder) was limited. Trae Waynes (knee), Mackensie Alexander (ankle) and Roc Thomas (ankle) were full participants.
For the Packers: Aaron Rodgers (knee), Davante Adams (shoulder) and Josh Jones (ankle) did not participate. Oren Burks (shoulder) was limited.