Vikings Snap Counts: Backup safeties show up vs. Denver

Over his six-year tenure in Minnesota, head coach Mike Zimmer’s pride and joy has been his passing defense. One of the biggest strengths of that unit has been the play of safeties Harrison Smith and the rising Anthony Harris.

On Sunday in their comeback win over Denver, the Vikings had to do without both Smith and Harris. Harris endured a groin injury in practice during the week and was ruled out before the game. Smith suffered a hamstring injury in the second half and never returned.

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Andrew Sendejo was released by Philadelphia in early November and brought back to Minnesota — his home from 2011-18 — on Nov. 6. The veteran safety sat out last week against Dallas but was there Sunday to start in Harris’s absence.

Sendejo played 74% of the defensive snaps against Denver. He was temporarily replaced in the first half by Jayron Kearse, only to return to the field and make the Vikings’ only positive play of the opening two quarters, picking off a pass from Denver quarterback Brandon Allen.

Kearse’s name would be called again later. When Smith left the game with injury, it was Kearse who took over for the four-time Pro Bowl safety. Kearse ended up playing 51% of the defensive snaps, but it was the final two of the game that made the biggest difference.

Minnesota was holding on to a four-point lead with 10 seconds left in the game and Denver inside the Vikings’ 5-yard line. In attempt to win the game, Allen targeted Noah Fant, the 6-foot-4, 249-pound tight end and first-round pick out of Iowa, on consecutive downs and both times in single coverage against Kearse.

Both times, Kearse came through.

It was a big day for the two backup safeties.

Other notes from Sunday’ snap counts:

— Due to the big deficit at halftime, the Vikings were forced to stay in mostly the same offensive personnel throughout the final two quarters. That led to 11 players being on the field for over 81% of the snaps.

— Wide receiver Josh Doctson, selected one pick ahead of now teammate Laquon Treadwell at 22nd overall in the 2016 draft, made his Vikings debut. Doctson was on the field for seven snaps and was not targeted.

— Wide receiver Stefon Diggs played a season-high 98% of the snaps. His previous high was 89% against Green Bay and Kansas City.

Jaleel Johnson notched his first career solo sack while playing in 59% of the defensive snaps.

GAME 11: VS. BRONCOS (OFFENSE)

PLAYER PLAYS (63) %
Reiff 63 100%
Elflein 63 100%
Bradbury 63 100%
Cousins 63 100%
O’Neill 63 100%
Dozier 63 100%
Diggs 62 98%
Rudolph 55 87%
Smith 51 81%
Johnson 51 81%
Cook 51 81%
Ham 9 14%
Conklin 9 14%
Abdullah 8 13%
Treadwell 8 13%
Doctson 7 11%
Mattison 4 6%

GAME 11: VS. BRONCOS (DEFENSE)

PLAYER PLAYS (81) %
Barr 81 100%
Kendricks 81 100%
Rhodes 79 98%
Hunter 77 95%
Griffen 70 86%
Smith 61 75%
Sendejo 60 74%
Waynes 58 72%
Stephen 52 64%
J. Johnson 48 59%
Alexander 44 54%
Kearse 41 51%
Wilson 31 38%
Weatherly 27 33%
Odenigbo 23 28%
Hughes 21 26%
Holmes 15 19%
Watts 15 19%
Gedeon 6 7%
Hill 1 1%