EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. — After close games, certain plays can be magnified and Minnesota Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson was having a hard time letting go of one pivotal play in Sunday’s 23-20 loss against the Indianapolis Colts.
Henderson was responsible for covering Indianapolis receiver Reggie Wayne down the middle of the field when Wayne got behind the linebacker for a 30-yard touchdown at the end of the first half Sunday. It caused a restless night for Henderson.
“I told coach (Fred Pagac) coming in this morning, I told him I had nightmares about that play,” Henderson said Monday. “He told me, ‘Good, I should.’ It’s one of those things that eats you up, you hate to have it happen, but you’re glad it happens at this point in the season, where you can bounce back from it and grow from it, and maybe come back and be put in that situation this season, and make that play that gets us into the playoffs or something like that. I’m glad it happened when it did, and I move forward from it.”
Henderson was playing the Vikings’ scheme as part of the Cover-2 defense. Safeties Harrison Smith and Mistral Raymond were playing the deep field, covering their respective sides. Henderson’s responsibility was filling the middle.
“What should happen is, our ‘Mike’ linebacker should be in the middle of the field, contesting that play, and making it a difficult completion, if it’s going to be a completion, for that wide receiver or tight end or whoever it is the quarterback is throwing to,” coach Leslie Frazier said. “But that’s the way it’s designed, for the middle linebacker and our safeties to converge and be factors as well.”
Having a linebacker covering a receiver is a tough matchup for Minnesota’s defense, but Henderson wasn’t concerned about the individual matchup. He said he’s been asked to do the same thing in the past and been able to respond.
“It’s my job,” Henderson said about having to cover a receiver. “It’s what they ask me to do. It’s what they ask of me and I’ve got to figure out how to get it done. I don’t know if you guys noticed or not, I had some time last year playing the same position and doing the same things, and I didn’t give up anything across the middle.”
Frazier also believes Henderson and the linebackers can handle the scheme, noting the success in the past.
“He should get some safety help depending on the rest of the routes,” Frazier said. “But you do it because you’ve done it enough to where you know the linebacker can make the play, along with safety help. We got neither in that instance. And it’s designed where the linebacker will get late help from the safeties.”
The safety help was late on the play and Wayne was open as soon as he got behind Henderson on the play. Henderson jumped but quarterback Andrew Luck put the ball over Henderson’s hands and into Wayne to enter halftime leading 17-6.
Henderson said he was in position but misread the ball after he said he got “nosy” by looking back at the quarterback while Wayne kept running. Henderson believes he’s learned from his mistake and is ready for the next time it will happen, which it will in the Vikings’ system.
“I misplayed the ball,” Henderson said. “I misjudged it a little bit. So hopefully there are quarterbacks out there, watching it, and they think that they can come in and try to get some on me, too, and I got a little surprise for them if they want to present that to me.