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EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — Harrison Smith has recorded interceptions in back-to-back weeks three times already in his three-year career.
The Vikings free safety has an opportunity to do it a fourth time this week when Minnesota (4-6) hosts Green Bay (7-3) in the renewal of the Border Battle.
Since Smith's rookie 2012 season, he has the third-most interceptions against division opponents and is the only safety to record five interceptions against division foes.
Given that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is only throwing an interception every hundred passes this season, it will be a challenge, but Green Bay has been the opponent in two of Smith's combos.
Smith grabbed INTs at Green Bay (the last time Rodgers threw a pick at Lambeau Field) and against Chicago in 2012; at Chicago and against Cleveland in 2013; and against Atlanta and at Green Bay (thrown by Matt Flynn) earlier this season. Smith returned his fourth interception of the season 52 yards last week at Chicago (**click here to vote for Smith in the 2015 Pro Bowl**).
Rodgers is 209-of-313 passing for 2,748 yards this season with 28 touchdowns and three interceptions for a league-leading passer rating of 120.1, and the Packers have outscored their past two opponents 108-34.
"He's very efficient in everything that he does, from game management to being able to recognize schematically what you're trying to do coverage-wise to getting people lined up, to being able to adjust things," Vikings Defensive Coordinator George Edwards said. "He does a terrific job in pretty much all aspects of the game."
Edwards said reasons for Rodgers' efficiency and lack of interceptions is a "collage of everything" that includes how quickly he gets the ball out to receivers, the Packers' offensive scheme and the ability of recognizing what a defense is trying to do.
Smith said Rodgers is "running the show."
"His receivers have played together and they play together very well," Smith said. "They're all on the same page, they're running the ball well, so they're making plays. It's not like other people are just giving up plays when they play the Packers."
Smith frequently extends his practice days by working on his hand-eye coordination with a machine that zooms footballs toward him. There's a lot more that goes into recording an interception than hand-eye coordination, and there's even more to playing the position than being opportunistic when the ball is in-flight.
Smith knows that, and Vikings coaches have faith in him to handle all aspects of the position in first-year Head Coach Mike Zimmer's system. The picks can be one of the game's most impactful plays, but Smith said one must first be solid on impacts with running backs or receivers with the ball.
"I think in today's NFL you need to be able to do both, but if you're just a horrible tackler that's no good, because that's more of the plays," Smith said. "You'll have a hundred tackles and however many interceptions, which you need to get because that changes ball games, but if you can't tackle, there's no chance to get the interceptions."
Secondary coach Jerry Gray said Smith's dependability against the run, his dynamic potential against the pass and his decision-making are helpful to the Vikings defense.
"He's a good open-field tackler, he can make plays when the ball is in the air, he can read quarterbacks, he understands the whole scheme," Gray said. "He's a good football player and he's only going to get better because he's only been in the league three years."
Interceptions are the most impressionable play a defensive back can make, and hits can be quite conspicuous, but there's a whole game within the game that occurs before the ball is snapped.
Smith is tasked with making sure the secondary is on the same page. Sometimes the defensive call is advantageous based on the look given by the offense, and sometimes the opponent will put a man in motion, prompting a yin-yang style counter move by defenders.
"He can think and move at the same time, which gives you a better chance of making the calls and doing all the things he has to do," Gray said. "Especially with playing free safety in this system, you've got to be able to do a lot of calls and move at the same time and understand what the offense is doing. I think that's the best thing he has going for him, and he can make football plays.
Smith said this week that defenses must contend with receivers like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb and be effective tacklers against Green Bay's Eddie Lacy and James Starks.
"It always starts with the quarterback, but there's a lot of guys on that team playing at a high level and doing big things you don't see every week," Smith said.
SITUATION AND SURPRISE: Special Teams Coordinator Mike Priefer was asked this week about the 48-yard run by Andrew Sendejo on a fake punt in Chicago.
Zimmer had Priefer dial up the call on Minnesota's second possession of the game with the Vikings facing fourth-and-2 from their own 45-yard line. The huge gain, which set a franchise record for longest rush on a fake punt and longest rush by a defensive back, led to a 7-yard touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater to Rhett Ellison.
Priefer said Zimmer is a little more aggressive than other coaches he has worked for, and that the Vikings have been working on fake attempts since spring. He said the Vikings try to identify a couple of items against each opponent, and if facing the right situation, will try to spring the surprise.
"It's a good opportunity for me to get our guys excited about a big play like that, and obviously they were very excited to run it and succeed with it," Priefer said.
Adam Thielen took the snap, ran to his right and handed the ball off to Sendejo, who raced to his left and down the sideline.
Running on special teams plays isn't uncommon for Sendejo, who leads the Vikings with nine special teams tackles, but carrying the ball instead of chasing it is.
"He's a good athlete, he's smart, he's tough and he can run," Priefer said. "He's fast, he's a lot faster than people thought he was or gave him credit for. If you watch him run down on kickoff every week you'd know how fast he is."
ASIATA OUT: Running back Matt Asiata has not cleared the NFL's concussion protocol and has been ruled out for Sunday's game. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said an MRI on his knee didn't reveal any problems. Floyd, who said he knocked knees with a teammate in practice Wednesday, is listed as questionable. **Click here for this week’s full injury report on the Vikings and Packers**.