The Vikings entered their contest versus Detroit last week with a rookie (Harrison Smith) and a backup (Jamarca Sanford) starting at safety. The Lions entered the game with the NFL’s top-ranked passing offense, a 5,000-yard passer from a season ago (Matthew Stafford) and the most dominant receiver in the game (Calvin Johnson).
On paper, the advantage was clearly in favor of Detroit. On the field throughout the game, though, the advantage shifted quickly to Smith and Sanford. The Vikings safety duo was active all game, combining for 4 passes defensed. And even when they couldn’t make a play on the ball, they made Lions receivers pay for making the catch. Smith and Sanford combined for 9 tackles on the day, and on at least two occasions they combined to make hits that forced a Lions offensive player to drop the ball.
The first instance came on 2nd and goal from the Minnesota 13 late in the 2nd quarter. Stafford dropped back to pass and had a clean pocket. He delivered a strike to Johnson in the back of the end zone. Johnson had the ball in his hands, but then was hit by both Smith and Sanford simultaneously, causing him to drop the ball and remain on the ground for a few moments after the play. The Lions were forced to kick a FG two plays later.
The second instance came in the 3rd quarter, with the Lions driving into Vikings territory. RB Mikel Leshoure caught a pass from Stafford and turned upfield. He was met by Smith, who stopped his progress, and then Sanford came in with a hit that caused Leshoure to fumble. Sanford emerged from the pile with the ball, tallying a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on the same play.
Those are the types of plays that Vikings fans have long desired to see from the team’s safeties. And those are the types of plays that can make opponents think twice about attacking the middle of the field.
“I think it definitely sends a message,” Vikings Head Coach Leslie Frazier said on Monday. “I mean, the hits that Jamarca (Sanford) delivered yesterday along with what Harrison did, both of those safeties did a real good job of putting some stuff on tape that opposing offenses will look at and hopefully, think twice about going in those areas. I think it does send a message.”
To develop the kind of reputation that will truly make opposing offenses adjust their plans when facing the Vikings, Smith and Sanford will need to string together impressive performances. They’re off to a good start right now. Over the last two games, they’ve combined for 24 tackles, 5 passes defensed, 1 forced fumble and 1 fumble recovery.
Tags: Harrison Smith, Jamarca Sanford, Leslie Frazier
Posted in All, Mike Wobschall | 25 Comments »