Three Vikings-related thoughts as we get ready for a week of breathless reporting on whether Aaron Rodgers will start on Sunday at Lambeau Field. (Hint, Rodgers said after Sunday’s incredible comeback against Chicago that he’s going to play, despite a knee injury, and if he says he’s going to play, he’ll be in there.)
Don’t take him for granted
It has gotten to a point where it’s easy to shrug off the fact that Harrison Smith had another great game. The veteran safety is such a dominant player that you just take it for granted that he will do something extraordinary in the clutch.
On Sunday, Smith led the Vikings with eight tackles, had a sack, two tackles for losses, recovered a fumble deep in Minnesota territory and then added an interception of a Jimmy Garoppolo pass that enabled the Vikings to run out the clock in a 24-16 victory over the 49ers.
Smith is part of a secondary that has become one of the best in the NFL and his ability to cause havoc all over the field makes him a nightmare. How he is used when the Vikings employ three safeties on the field is especially interesting.
Just don’t overlook the fact that getting to watch him on a weekly basis is something special.
The return of Dalvin Cook from an ACL tear gives the Vikings a dynamic running back who also can catch and block. Cook will line up in the backfield on one play and split out wide the next. He had 40 rushing yards on 16 carries and 55 yards on six receptions Sunday.
But Cook’s presence doesn’t mean that veteran Latavius Murray isn’t an important part of what the Vikings are doing, even if Murray’s role is far less sexy.
The perfect example of what Murray can bring came late in the fourth quarter against the 49ers after the Vikings had done a terrible job of trying to run clock on their previous two possessions. The Vikings got the ball with 14 minutes, 37 seconds left and had Cook run on first down followed by two incompletions from Kirk Cousins that stopped the clock. The 49ers got the ball back with 13:43 left and put together a drive that ended with a field goal.
The Vikings got the ball back with 8:09 left and again went three-and-out after a Cook run and two more Cousins incompletions that gave San Francisco the ball a minute later.
The 49ers went three-and-out on their ensuing drive and when Minnesota took over with 5:46 left things were different. Murray was in the game and new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo called for him to get the ball
Murray’s first carry went for 9 yards and took 34 seconds off the clock. His next carry gained 5 yards and while the clock stopped because of an injury it still took up 43 seconds. Murray then went for 4 yards and the clocked ticked down from 4:29 to 3:45 before Cook came in and gained 1 yard. The Vikings were able to put together an 8-play drive that included only one pass and kept the ball from San Francisco until 1:49 remained.
Cook finished it off at running back but Murray set the tone.
Trust in Treadwell?
Wide receiver Laquon Treadwell had two receptions for 18 yards and was the target of four Kirk Cousins passes on Sunday. But the Vikings’ first-round pick in 2016 also dropped the first pass Cousins threw to him in the opening quarter.
Treadwell’s four targets on Sunday were fourth on the Vikings behind Adam Thielen (12), Cook (seven) and Stefon Diggs (six).
Treadwell, entering his fourth season, is coming off a year in which he caught 20 passes for 200 yards. He likely will get a chance to increase those statistics only if Diggs or Thielen misses time. What Treadwell needs to do is show as much consistency as possible when given an opportunity. Any opportunity.
He didn’t do that Sunday.