Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes is coming off the best game of his brief career.
Good timing. Aaron Rodgers is next.
Rhodes had five tackles and a career-high four pass breakups against Atlanta’s dangerous offense on Sunday, showing why he was selected in the first round of last year’s draft. Rhodes spent much of the afternoon covering Roddy White, who was targeted 14 times by Matt Ryan but had only four catches.
On the second-to-last play of the third quarter with the Falcons leading 28-27, Ryan threw deep for Julio Jones on first-and-10 from their own 30-yard line. But Rhodes was right there to knock the ball away, and the Vikings forced a punt soon after.
“I would consider it one of my best games, but there’s even more to come. I’m looking forward to getting better,” Rhodes said.
This would be a good week for that. The Vikings play at Green Bay on Thursday, and Rodgers is more than just one of the NFL’s elite. He has tormented the rival Vikings like no other opposing quarterback.
The statistics are remarkable and impossible to downplay.
In 12 career starts against the Vikings, Rodgers has completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 3,382 yards, an average of almost 282 per game. His 116.8 cumulative passer rating is the highest by any opponent in their 54-year history. He has thrown for 27 touchdowns with just four interceptions. The Vikings have picked him off only once in the last seven games, by Harrison Smith on Dec. 2, 2012.
Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn is the leader of this Vikings secondary, but he has only faced Rodgers once, at home in 2011 for Carolina. So he has been the one seeking advice from his younger teammates like Rhodes and fellow cornerback Josh Robinson.
“I’ve been like, ‘Man, what do they like to do? And what kind of quarterback is he?’ And they’re like, ‘Man, he’s one of the best, and you’re going to see when you play him,’” Munnerlyn said, adding: “I’m just going to these guys trying to get all the help I can.”
One of this franchise’s biggest problems for years has been drafting and developing cornerbacks. The best player for the Vikings at that position in the last decade was Antoine Winfield, who signed as a free agent, like Munnerlyn did. But Rhodes and Robinson, who has two of Minnesota’s four interceptions this season, have made recent strides.
“Xavier probably played his best game last week. Josh has been consistent,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “I just want Josh to be a little bit more confident in his abilities. He’s got a chance to be a very good corner if he continues working on the techniques, refining the techniques, understanding the concepts more.”
Such progress is not a secret.
“Their younger players, like you always like to see your younger players, they’re taking a big step in their second and third year,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “So I think it’s a better defense than in the past.”
Munnerlyn’s arrival meant Robinson could move out of the slot and back to the outside after playing out of position last season.
“I had a lot of growing pains as a player last year, a lot of things I had to deal with, but I definitely see the growth and am just going to try to continue,” Robinson said.
Rodgers, on a conference call Tuesday with Minnesota reporters, expressed respect for Zimmer and the defenses he’s supervised over the years.
“He’s always well-prepared and very confusing at times with their schemes,” Rodgers said, “and I think it’s a defense that’s proven that’ll be one of the top defenses when it’s said and done.”
The Vikings would take a significant step toward that with an effective game against Rodgers.
“We have to do a great job of keeping an eye on our luggage – that means your man – and play football,” Munnerlyn said.
Indeed, a strong pass rush is only the start. When Rodgers runs out of the pocket, he’s one of the best at that, too.
“Don’t look at Medusa, because he’s going to turn you to stone,” Robinson said, repeating the Greek mythology-inspired mantra for the secondary this week. “So we’re always trying to keep our eyes on the receiver as long as we can, especially with this quarterback.”
Vikings secondary improving; Rodgers awaits
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