What a difference a year makes, at least in the case of Minnesota Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn. Last year, he was signed as a free agent and admitted that he did not play to the standard he expects from himself.
There were a couple things factoring into the poor performance. One, he was learning a new defense and that usually takes time, and he had to get used to the teammates playing around him. He was also playing on the outside and inside, as opposed to playing in the slot where he is now. This season, Munnerlyn is strictly playing in the slot and is a lot more comfortable with a full year under his belt.
“Oh yeah, definitely more comfortable,” he said. “Me personally, I know the guys I’m playing with. I know them real well. I know the scheme. I know the defense. It’s like night and day with me. I’m a whole lot more comfortable than I was last year.”
That added level of comfort has led to Munnerlyn creating big plays when opposing teams try to attack him. By better understanding what head coach Mike Zimmer expects from him, the cornerback is able to go out there and play his game instead of thinking about what he has to do every snap.
“I just try to go out there and compete,” he said. “I’ve been competing and trying to get better each and every day. Just going out there, having fun, competing and helping this team get a win.”
The first big play of Sunday’s game that Munnerlyn was able to create was during the Kansas City Chiefs’ first drive of the game. The Chiefs were backed up to their own 4-yard line after they picked off Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
The Chiefs tried to run a screen to receiver Jeremy Maclin in an attempt to give themselves more room to work with. Munnerlyn was able to diagnose the play almost instantly, get around the blockers and tackle Maclin for a 2-yard loss. That play seemed to set the tone early for the Vikings defense and gave them much-needed momentum after the turnover.
Throughout the game, Munnerlyn was able to break up multiple passes and probably none bigger than the third-and-16 pass he broke up in the fourth quarter. By breaking up that pass, the Chiefs had to settle for a field goal, and if the Chiefs converted and scored a touchdown the Vikings could have ended up looking at a loss since they only ended up winning by six points.
He admits that breaking up the pass and not going for the interception was not any easy thing for him to do.
“I think the situation in the game, like the one third-and-16 I want to say, I knew if I went for the interception and missed, and this guy catches the ball he could change the whole game,” he said. “So I just went for the pass breakup and I think the ball actually hit me on my elbow. I was like, ‘Ah, it would have been the house call.’ But I made the play and I think I made the right decision not to go for the interception at the time.”
Zimmer often says he doesn’t care if his defensive backs create turnovers, he would rather have them make the right play. That is what Munnerlyn did in that situation and it just further shows how he is better beginning to understand how to play in Zimmer’s defense.