Minnesota Vikings safety Harrison Smith read the play perfectly. He saw Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver CeeDee Lamb cross over the middle, and the moment the ball got there, Smith laid the boom on him for the pass breakup.
As he celebrated the play with his teammates, Smith’s joy turned to frustration when he noticed a flag on the field. He has been penalized enough over the years to know that meant he had just picked up his latest 15-yard personal foul.
Asked about the penalty after the game, coach Mike Zimmer was adamant that he thought it was a clean hit. Anyone watching the replay would have a hard time denying that. It was a textbook tackle as Smith leads with his shoulder, not his head, and hits Lamb square in the chest.
Be that as it may, it will go into the record books a a penalty on Smith, and could be followed by a fine in the coming days.
“Just have to keep trying to lower my target, because getting a penalty every other week or whatever is not helping us win,” Smith said. “It’s a hard game, and that’s what we’re tasked with as a defender. Just try to get better at it. There’s nothing else to do, I guess, than just continue to try to lower the target.”
It remains unclear whether Smith will be fined. He was fined $15,000 earlier this season for a personal foul on Texans tight end Jordan Akins. He also was ejected from that game.
Asked if he thinks him being a repeat offender plays a role in how referees make calls against him, Smith speculated a bit before turning the focus back on himself.
“I’m on the taller end of safety types, so being a little taller guy, I don’t know, that might factor into it,” he said. “Just really have to force myself to get lower and lower.”
As for the loss to the Cowboys last Sunday, Smith used the term “reality check” to describe the Vikings giving up 31 points to a struggling offense led by backup quarterback Andy Dalton.
“We have a lot of hungry guys and guys that want to get things right,” Smith said. “There’s no doubt that’s where we’re going.”
Consider quarterback Kirk Cousins impressed by backup guard Brett Jones. The former CFL standout played against the Cowboys in place of injured rookie Ezra Cleveland, and there’s a chance he could be asked to play this Sunday against the Carolina Panthers.
Not bad for a player who has bounced around between the practice squad and active roster for the past few seasons.
“He’s quietly in the background been doing a great job for us,” Cousins said. “Every single day on the scout team and as a reserve on the offensive line No surprise there. Just proud of the way he played, and we’re going to need him to keep it up.”
While the Vikings certainly miss star defensive end Danielle Hunter, who is out for the season with a neck injury, defensive end Jalyn Holmes has slowly started to find his way as the replacement.
Since the Vikings traded fellow defensive end Yannick Ngakoue a month ago, Holmes has emerged as a starter, and is fresh off arguably the most impactful game of his career against the Cowboys. He played 76 percent of the defensive snaps on Sunday and recorded a half-dozen combined tackles.
“I just feel like just experience sometimes can be the best teacher,” Holmes said. “I get a lot of those game reps, and I’m adjusting to the game, and I’m just having fun and just trying to do my best to put this team in a good position to win a football game.”