1. Sam Bradford has been solid this season, but he has come up small in big spots. Even if the Vikings don’t make the playoffs, their trade for Bradford was the right move because he buoyed their Super Bowl hopes this season and gives them insurance in the event that Teddy Bridgewater is not ready by Week 1 next season. And for the most part, Bradford has played well, especially when you consider the issues in pass protection. But his play in critical moments has been spotty. He threw costly interceptions late in close losses in D.C. and Detroit. And in Sunday’s must-win game, he was inconsistent early, threw a bad interception that led to that field goal before halftime and fumbled to halt a promising drive early in the third quarter. He also had another interception wiped out by a penalty. Bradford has been good overall, but not good enough when it counts.
2. The Vikings missed Harrison Smith, their star safety, against the Colts. Second-year defensive back Anthony Harris got another start in his absence and had a rough outing. While it can be dangerous to pin blame on a player without knowing the play calls, I’m certain it’s not a good thing when a safety charges forward, watches a guy run right past him and then does a U-turn. That happened to Harris a few times against the Colts. He also got lost on Andrew Luck’s 50-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Phillip Dorsett on the first play of the fourth quarter, the last indignity against Mike Zimmer’s listless defense. In a blowout loss, Smith obviously wouldn’t have turned the tide. But it was reminder that even though Smith is having a down year by the standard he established last season, the tough, versatile safety is an irreplaceable member of this defense.
3. The Colts exploited the Vikings’ base defense with their multiple-tight end sets. Three Colts tight ends played at least 26 snaps as they often had two and sometimes three tight ends on the field. That meant the Vikings on those plays had to pull Captain Munnerlyn, their slot specialist, and trot out Chad Greenway, who at the end of his career is a liability in coverage. The Colts took advantage of Greenway in the second quarter, when they ran four verticals out of a three-TE look and got tight end Erik Swoope isolated on Greenway on a go route. Greenway could not keep up with Swoope, who is 9 years younger than him, and Luck lofted a 27-yard touchdown pass over his head to blow the game wide open. The Packers love going three-wide, as do many other NFL teams, but perhaps they will use more multiple tight end formations to try to attack the Vikings’ base defense, too.