Xavier Rhodes might not be able to play Sunday against the Chicago Bears and that could alter the Minnesota Vikings' defensive strategy.
Rhodes had what many, including head coach Leslie Frazier, consider the best game of his young career Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, knocking away four passes and adding four tackles. His ability to match up in man defense allowed the Vikings to be more aggressive.
"We wanted to be able to bring more pressure, and that required us being able to play more man and make those quarterbacks have to be accurate passers," head coach Leslie Frazier said. "It was effective for the most part. We had some (pass interference) because we were playing some man and that kind of inhibits what you do, but it was the right strategy."
Against a more experienced quarterback like Aaron Rodgers, the Vikings might not have been so inclined to bring their cornerbacks up to the line of scrimmage and be physical with the receivers. But with Scott Tolzien starting in place of the injured Rodgers and eventually being replaced by Matt Flynn in the second half after being unable to move the ball consistently enough against the Vikings, the defense proved effective.
In fact, the Vikings were aggressive from the outset. On Green Bay's first play, replacement middle linebacker Audie Cole, making his first start for Erin Henderson, came on a blitz and sacked Tolzien for a 7-yard loss. The Packers started the game going three-and-out.
On their next series, the Vikings weren't so aggressive, sending a blitz only one in five dropbacks, which may have contributed to the Packers driving 87 yards in 11 plays for their only touchdown of the first three quarters.
According to ESPN, the Vikings rushed five or more defenders on 22.3 percent of the Packers' 94 offensive snaps, the fourth-highest percentage of the season. Rhodes is big factor in them being able to do that.
"That's one of the reasons we drafted him when we did. We saw him playing a lot of man in college and was pretty good at it at the line of scrimmage. That was one of the things that really got us excited," Frazier said.
The first-round draft pick ended up giving up four catches for only 21 yards, but he also ended up knocking away four passes and nearly had an interception. Three of the four receptions when to James Jones, and three of the four passes defensed came on passes to Jones.
Frazier said it was probably Rhodes' best game.
"He got his hands on a number of balls, really competed well. We put him in a lot of man coverage. We felt like that was the best approach against their offense, and he stood up," Frazier said. "I think we held them to 19 percent on third down – he had a lot to do with that. We put him in man. They tried to attack him, with him being a rookie, which other people do, as well. But he played with a lot of confidence and played well."
The Vikings did hold the Packers to only 3 of 16 third-down conversions (19 percent) after entering the game giving up a whopping 49 percent of third-down attempts to opponents.
But they might not be so fortunate this Sunday. Facing another backup, this time Josh McCown for the Bears, they might want to blitz him more, but Rhodes might not be able to play. He suffered a concussion late in Sunday's game and would have to pass the NFL-mandated post-concussion impact testing.
That would likely leave Marcus Sherels starting at left cornerback with safety Robert Blanton being asked to play more cornerback in the nickel defense if Rhodes isn't cleared by Saturday. Blanton has practiced mostly at safety since being a fifth-round draft choice in 2012, but desperate times call for, well, position flexibility.
"He played some corner at Notre Dame, and we drafted him at safety to make that transition. I think he's done a good job of making that transition, especially in his second season there," Frazier said. "Now with the situation that we have in the secondary, we've had to make him utilize those corner skills and play slot corner, which is a challenging, challenging position. But he did a good job (Sunday) and because we are where we are, we'll probably have to get him a few more snaps there in practice and in the games. That wasn't the original goal to make him a slot corner. This is where we are."
Tim Yotter is the publisher of Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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