Three takeaways from Sunday’s Vikings-Arizona game
1. Negotiations between Xavier Rhodes and the Vikings will be interesting this offseason. Rhodes, who picked off a pair of passes in the 30-24 win against the Arizona Cardinals and now has a career-high four this season, is under team control through 2017. But the Vikings typically give deserving players their second contract a year before they hit the open market. He no doubt will be a priority after this offseason. Finding a price that makes both sides happy could be tricky. Rhodes, who was drafted to play in a Cover-2 scheme and has developed into a sticky cornerback in man coverage, again flashed top-flight cover skills Sunday and is a willing and capable tackler, too. But inconsistency has kept him from getting in the top-corner conversation, making his value tough to gauge. If Rhodes keeps playing like he did against Carson Palmer and Co., the Vikings will have no choice but to pony up big bucks.
2. The Vikings are actually finding a way to make the Wildcat formation work for them. I was intrigued but mostly skeptical in August when seeing the Vikings install plays in the Wildcat, which puts Sam Bradford out wide and has a running back, usually Jerick McKinnon, take a direct snap. Offensive line coach Tony Sparano was the head coach in Miami in 2008 when the Dolphins stunned the Patriots by breaking out a package of Wildcat runs. In recent years, NFL teams haven’t had much success with those plays because they were no longer unpredictable. The Wildcat has been an asset, though, for the Vikings this season, providing rare sparks in the running game and producing a key Cardinals pass interference penalty with a clever wrinkle that had McKinnon hand off to Cordarrelle Patterson, who flipped it to Bradford, who caught the Cardinals sleeping.
3. Uncharacteristic missed tackles by Harrison Smith continue to cost the Vikings. Smith is one of the NFL’s top safeties and arguably the team’s most fun player to watch, whether he is blitzing, covering man-to-man or lurking in a deep zone. He has also been one of the team’s best tacklers over the course of his five years in Minnesota. But his baffling lapses in tackling over the past month have led to some big plays for opponents. He had a shot at Bears running back Jordan Howard in the hole on Howard’s 69-yard run a few weeks ago and flat out whiffed on Golden Tate’s walk-off winner in the loss to the Lions. Sunday, on the 29-yard touchdown catch by Cardinals tight end Jermaine Gresham, Smith should have tackled him inside the 10-yard line but couldn’t get Gresham down. The star safety needs to get back to flattening anyone who dares to touch the football.