Film study: Munnerlyn’s first season

Captain Munnerlyn struggled at times in his first season in Mike Zimmer’s defense, but his skills also showed. We look at the good and the bad of his 2014 season.

The Minnesota Vikings signed cornerback Captain Munnerlyn in free agency before the start of the 2014 season with the intention to have him play almost exclusively in the slot as the nickel cornerback. That was not the case during the regular season because he beat out Josh Robinson for the starting role.

That meant that Munnerlyn was on the field for 98.15 percent of the defensive snaps, which was more than any other cornerback. He would still play in the slot, but when the team was in their base defense he had to play on the outside, too.

He was forced to cover the opponent’s No. 1 and No. 2 receivers on a regular basis, and at 5-foot-9, 195 pounds that could be difficult, especially in the NFC North when he would have to go against the likes of Calvin Johnson, Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.

Yes, later in the year head coach Mike Zimmer had Xavier Rhodes shadow the other team’s No. 1 wide receiver, leaving Munnerlyn or Robinson when the team was in the nickel to cover the No. 2 receiver full-time, but that was not the case earlier in the year. That strategy really did not start until Week 15 of the regular season when the Vikings played the Detroit Lions for the second time.

Munnerlyn was never one to think his height was a disadvantage for him and he would always talk about different ways he could defend the taller receivers. But in reality it is more difficult for him to do so than it would be a cornerback who is 6 feet or taller.

However, he was not lining up against taller receivers on every play – he would line up against smaller receivers while playing in the slot, or would play teams who just did not have really tall receivers. Teams like the Green Bay Packers, whose No. 1 and No. 2 were Jordy Nelson (6-3) and Randall Cobb (5-10).

By his own admission, 2014 was one of the worst seasons that Munnerlyn has had in a long time. Some of that could have been because he was playing full-time on the outside, some of it could have been learning a new system, but most of it likely came from poor execution.

This offseason the Vikings brought in veteran cornerback Terence Newman and drafted cornerback Trae Waynes No. 11 overall in hopes to have them compete with Robinson for the cornerback spot opposite Rhodes. That way they can strictly use Munnerlyn in the slot like they originally intended.

One thing hurting him, though, is he missed a lot of time this offseason with a foot injury, so Jabari Price and Waynes have been getting a lot of work in the slot. This means there will be added competition for Munnerlyn when he comes back, but that should not affect him too much.

Viking Update takes a look at Munnerlyn’s performance in 2014 to see what the Vikings have moving forward.

Play No. 1
In this first play, the Vikings defense is lined up in its base formation with Munnerlyn (24) lined up on the left side. He is lined up against Mike Evans, who comes in at 6-foot-5, 231 so he clearly has the size advantage over Munnerlyn. But Munnerlyn is able to play him well and make a good play on the ball.

When the ball is snapped, Evans makes a move to the outside. Munnerlyn is able to stay with him and use the sideline to his advantage. The cornerback is able to use his body as a shield and gradually move the receiver closer and closer to the sideline – decreasing the amount of room he has to work with – without drawing a penalty.

So once the quarterback throws the ball, Munnerlyn has Evans blocked off to the sideline and is in perfect position to make a play on the ball. The quarterback helps him out a little by underthrowing the ball, but by having the body position he has Munnerlyn makes it so Evans cannot come back to the ball. That then allowed Munnerlyn to come down with the interception.

Even though Munnelryn was at a disadvantage height wise at the start of this play he was able to beat Evans because of good technique. Although that was not always the case, this play showed why the Vikings named him to be the starter opposite Rhodes when the season started.

Play No. 2
The Vikings are again lined up in their base defense for this next play, but there are no receivers lined up on the left side of the field, so Munnerlyn becomes responsible for Dolphins tight end Charles Clay. This play has a lot of similarities to the last play, but instead of Munnerlyn coming away on top he gets beat for a big gain.

When the ball is snapped, Clay runs down the field but appears to be drifting towards the sideline. Munnerlyn then appears to try to get Clay to continue to drift towards the sideline like he did with Evans, but Clay is able to cut back to the inside and get around the cornerback. Munnerlyn got too far in front of Clay and squared his hips up too much with the sideline. That meant that all Clay had to do to get around him was a little swim move.

Once Clay got past Munnerlyn, it was just a matter of catching the ball in order to have a big gain. But since the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Clay is so much bigger than Munnerlyn he was able to carry him for an extra 15 yards or so, making the gain even larger.

Play No. 3
In this next play, Munnerlyn is playing where the Vikings originally intended to use him, in the slot. He is lined up on the right side of the field and is responsible for covering Andre Roberts.

When the ball is snapped, Roberts runs straight up the field and then cuts out to his left after about 10 yards. The entire time Munnerlyn is able to backpedal and keep his eyes in the backfield. He sees that Robert Griffin III has his eyes locked on Roberts the entire time, and once the receiver makes his break Munnerlyn is able to jump under the route and intercept the ball.

These are the types of plays that the Vikings were hoping they were going to see more of from Munnerlyn during the course of the 2014 season. He seems to be more natural playing in the slot, which is good news for the Vikings because a lot of cornerbacks struggle when trying to play there.

Play No. 4
Even though Munnerlyn does seem to play better in the slot, he still does make mistakes. As mentioned earlier, part of the reason could be because he was learning a new defensive system and new techniques.

Here, he is lined up on Brandon Gibson on the right side of the field in the slot. Once the ball is snapped, Gibson runs up field, cuts to the inside, and then cuts back to the outside. Munnerlyn got turned around when Gibson cut back to the outside and clearly was not expecting it. The corner was even flagged for defensive holding, but the penalty was declined.

Once Gibson got around Munnerlyn he was wide open and the quarterback was able to complete a pass to him. He was then able to cut up field with Munnerlyn trying to catch up to him. Gibson would have scored if the Vikings safety Robert Blanton did not come over and push him out of bounds.

It’s plays like these that show Munnerlyn still has plenty to learn and perfect, even in the slot.

Play No. 5
Since Munnerlyn is a cornerback, his primary responsibility is pass coverage, but he also has to support in stopping the run from time to time, especially from the slot. This next play demonstrates his ability to do just that.

When the ball is snapped, the receiver Munnerlyn is covering immediately engages him. Munnerlyn is able to create separation from the receiver by extending his arms and holding his ground. When he sees that the run is coming his way, he is able to free himself from the block and get to the backfield.

He then is able to wrap up the running back and bring him to the ground, along with the help of some of his teammates. Munnerlyn was the closest Viking to the sideline and it is very possible that if he did not get off the block and make the play, this run could have gone for a big gain. Instead, it was stopped at the line of scrimmage for no gain.

Even though 2014 was not Munnerlyn’s best year as a pro, he still made many good plays. Fans should see a lot of improvement from him in 2015 because he is likely to be playing just the slot, which means he doesn’t have to focus on learning the role of the slot and outside cornerback in Zimmer’s defense. He will also have a full year in that defense, which should help him better understand the concepts.

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