Pro-Bowl Caliber Plays From Smith A Key to Vikings' Win: 1500ESPN Vikings Blog

December 24, 2017 10:52 AM

Follow Matthew Coller's Vikings coverage at 1500ESPN.com ...

The minute the Pro Bowl rosters were released on Tuesday night, nearly every Minnesota Vikings fan had the same expectation for Saturday night's game against the Packers:

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That Harrison Smith would have a huge game.

Smith was left off the NFC Pro Bowl roster, which came as stunning since he made the Pro Bowl in 2015 and 2016 and is having a season so dominant that he ranks No. 1 among safeties by Pro Football Focus ratings.

Not so stunning: When it came to the key moment in the Vikings' 16-0 win at Lambeau Field, their star safety proved his supporters to be correct.

Just after the two minute warning in the first half, Packers backup quarterback Brett Hundley dropped back to throw from the Minnesota 15 with his team trailing by 10 points.

Prior to his throw into Smith's hands near the goal line, it had been Hundley's best drive. The Packers had moved the ball from their own 27 into Minnesota territory and appeared to have the Vikings defense a tad winded for the first time.

But Smith did what Smith does so often: He baited the quarterback into the wrong read with his pre-snap alignment.

Smith lined up a few yards off the line of scrimmage on the tight end's outside shoulder, which normally indicates a zone coverage. At the last minute, he stepped up to the line for man coverage. Smith gave a slight cushion to Kendricks, then broke quickly and took the ball for 17 yards the other way.

At that point, the Packers had a chance to make things interesting. Instead they never had a shot in the game, only making their way into the red zone one other time and failed on fourth down.

For good measure, Smith picked off another pass as with Hundley chucking the ball around in garbage time, making his fifth on the year, moving him into fifth place in INTs in the NFL.

 On the offensive side, the Vikings played an underwhelming game. Quarterback Case Keenum struggled at times, missing Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen on deep throws. Minnesota punted on four straight drives at one point between the second and third quarters. They also came up short in the red zone early in the third – an unusual sight for this year's club.

It's hard not to think that weather played a role in some of the issues on offense with temperatures dropping as low as zero with the windchill.

Saturday night's grind fest – which included multiple injuries on both sides – required a big play from a Vikings defender. And Smith has been that player over and over again this year.

At Soldier Field in Week 5, he picked off Mitch Trubisky to set up a game-winning field goal. Then the following week, Smith picked off Hundley and sacked him twice. He baffled Rams quarterback Jared Goff with pre-snap deception and blew up screen plays against the Falcons.

There are times in which Smith's value is harder to spot than some other positions shown more prominently on TV, but on Saturday night, he reminded the national Pro Bowl voting audience on NBC that they made a pretty bad mistake.
 

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Matthew Coller

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