Key matchup: Rhodes vs. Wallace

Xavier Rhodes did a solid job of limited Calvin Johnson this week, but Mike Wallace is a different type of receiver. Will Rhodes shadow him?

Last week, the Minnesota Vikings asked cornerback Xavier Rhodes to shadow Calvin Johnson throughout their game with the Detroit Lions – a battle almost any unbiased observer would say was won by Rhodes. This week, as the Vikings head to Miami for their game Sunday with the Dolphins, Rhodes will be facing a much different challenge – taking on wide receiver Mike Wallace in this week’s key matchup.

Rhodes has been raising eyebrows all season, making big plays and turning into the shutdown corner the Vikings envisioned when they drafted him last year. He has showed he can stand up against big, physical receivers like Megatron and Brandon Marshall, as well as taking on speed players like Jordy Nelson. Rhodes has become the topic of potential Pro Bowl discussion because he brings a lot to the table and is nearing the point where offensive coordinators are going to avoid throwing his way because of the success he has in closing off a team’s best receiver.

While Rhodes’ stock is on the rise, the challenges he faces are going to become more pronounced as receivers set their sights on making him look bad, just as they get a little extra fired up to face much-hyped corners like Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman. Wallace may not be on par with the receivers Rhodes routinely faces in the NFC North, but he is a spectacular receiver with a flair for the big play – just ask the other teams from the NFC North about that.

In his four years in Pittsburgh, Wallace had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons, and in the three as a full-time starter, he caught 196 passes for 3,286 yards (an average of almost 17 yards a catch) and 26 touchdowns. He became the primary big-play threat for Ben Roethlisberger. But when it came time for Pittsburgh to commit to a wide receiver with a long-term contract, it was Antonio Brown who they showed the money to, not Wallace.

Since signing with Miami in 2013, Wallace has been the main target of young QB Ryan Tannehill. In his first year as a Dolphin, he caught 73 passes for 930 yards and five touchdowns. Through 14 games this season, he has caught 62 passes for 804 yards and eight TDs. Although his numbers aren’t of the big-play ilk he has shown in the past, it doesn’t mean the speedster doesn’t make big plays. He does. A lot of them.

Through 14 games, Wallace has had at least one catch of 50 or more yards in two games, 30 or more yards in four games and a catch of 20 or more yards in eight. To put that in perspective, Jarvis Landy, Miami’s reception leader, hasn’t had one catch of more than 25 yards. Veteran Brian Hartline has had a catch of 20 or more yards in just three games. When it comes to making plays deep down the field, Wallace is not only the best option, he’s often the only option.

Mike Zimmer and his coaching staff have consistently praised Rhodes for his ability to prevent big-time receivers from making big gains in his portion of the field. He has proved he can run with the speedsters and get physical with the imposing tough guys. Wallace will be a unique challenge because he has sprinter’s speed and a second gear when the ball is in the air that makes him special. Having never played the Vikings, the Miami coaching staff, Tannehill and Wallace will all be getting their first look up close and personal look at Rhodes. Whether or not they respect his game is yet to be seen, but you can bet that they’re going to take their share of deep shots Wallace’s way in hopes of cashing in on the big play that can change the complexion of a game.

The Vikings haven’t said whether they’re going to have Rhodes shadow Wallace like he did with Megatron, but if he does it will be a sight to behold, as the track meet between Rhodes and Wallace will be a must-see matchup.

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