Free Head Exam: Minnesota Vikings

After the Minnesota Vikings' 21-14 victory over the Arizona Cardinals, here are three issues that merit further examination:

  1. Rookie safety Harrison Smith got plenty of post-game attention for his game-changing 31-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter. The Vikings put Smith in a position to track quarterback John Skelton from the middle of the field, and he smartly anticipated the throw to receiver Early Doucet. As we've said several times already this season, Smith makes the plays you would hope an NFL-caliber safety would make. I guess it just reinforces how long it has been since the Vikings got good safety play. "It's a breath of fresh air," coach Leslie Frazier said, "some of the things he's doing and has been doing throughout the season."

  2. This fact bears repeating: The Vikings sacked Skelton seven times without blitzing once. Not a single time. Never in 69 snaps, according to ESPN Stats & Information. (Some of you thought the Vikings blitzed on a fourth-quarter play that ended with Kevin Williams' sack, but replays show the Vikings jumped out of a blitz just before the snap and sent only four rushers.) Five of the seven sacks came in the second half after the Vikings established a 21-7 lead, just as defensive end Jared Allen predicted they would if and when they grabbed a lead. But it's quite an accomplishment nonetheless for defensive coordinator Alan Williams, and one that future opponents will no doubt take note of. If the defense had a weak spot Sunday, it was its inability to tackle tailback LaRod Stephens Howling, who rushed for 104 yards on 20 carries. "The little guy ran well," Williams said.

  3. The Vikings felt good about their matchup with the Cardinals' run defense, but tailback Adrian Peterson nevertheless looked spry and rejuvenated after taking two days off from practice to rest his sprained ankle. He ripped off 153 yards on 23 carries, his highest yardage total since Week 7 of last season (175 yards against the Green Bay Packers). It's amazing to realize Peterson's season total of 652 yards is just seven yards behind Arian Foster's league lead given his ankle injury and ongoing recovery from knee surgery in December. Now the question is how Peterson will handle the quick physical turnaround that he and the rest of his teammates must make this week. Thursday's game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is fast approaching. The Vikings will essentially have one practice, on Tuesday, to prepare for the game.

And here is one issue I still don't get:

Where has this Antoine Winfield come from? I realize Winfield has struggled with injuries in recent years, missing six games in 2009 and 11 in 2011. But even after he reported to training camp healthy, it was hard to have high expectations for him. He had just turned 35, after all, and the Vikings seemed to be developing a part-time role for him as a nickel cornerback. But in terms of tackling and run support, at least, Winfield is playing as well as he ever has in a Vikings uniform. He entered Sunday's game leading the Vikings with seven tackles behind the line of scrimmage, a huge number for a cornerback, and Sunday he made a key tackle of Skelton on a fourth-down bootleg -- technically it counted as a sack -- in the third quarter. "Just came up and made a play," Winfield said. He's been doing that a lot this year. I can't say I expected it, and I wonder if the Vikings did, either.