The Minnesota Vikings secondary has a tough task in front of them this weekend, as they will be forced to try and cover Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones. At 6-foot-3, 220 pounds, Jones is a mismatch for most defenders, but when you add in his unique combination of strength and speed you get one of the best receivers in the NFL.
Through 10 games this season he has recorded 89 receptions for 1,189 yards and six touchdowns. He has eclipsed 100 yards in a game six different times and was just a few yards short of it happening again on two other occasions.
Everyone on the defensive side of the ball knows that Jones is going to get the ball, but defenses have still had trouble slowing him down. A big reason why is the Falcons like to move him all over the field in order to try and get favorable matchups for him.
“They’ve got him everywhere – Z, X, slot, you name it, they’ve got him everywhere,” Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said of Jones. “He’s a tremendous receiver, great athlete, catches the ball good, great size, good blocker. Yeah, he’s tough.”
Zimmer’s defensive backs know it, too.
“I know their coaches like moving him around so they can get different matchups or adjusting to how defenses are playing him. It seems to be working for them. He’s making a lot of plays,” safety Harrison Smith said.
“He’s obviously a playmaker and they throw it to him and he makes plays. But they have a lot of other guys that can do great things with the ball. Roddy White has been doing it for a long time.”
This won’t be the first time this season that the Vikings will go up against an elite receiver, though. They have already played against the likes of Calvin Johnson on two separate occasions, holding him to under 100 yards in both games. However, Johnson was able to come down with a touchdown reception in both of those games and that is something that the Vikings are going to try to avoid happening when they play Jones.
When the Vikings go up against these elite receivers, the task of covering them often falls on cornerback Xavier Rhodes. At 6-foot-1, 218 pounds, he is able to match the physicality of a lot of the bigger receivers and his size also gives him a better chance to go up and contest passes.
Zimmer isn’t going to specify whether or not he is planning to have Rhodes shadow Jones yet or not, but if the previous games this season are any indication that is exactly what Rhodes will do.
“Just feeling, really,” Zimmer said when asked what goes into deciding to shadow a receiver. “Sometimes it’s different routes they run. Sometimes it’s the size, the speed, where they line up. There’s a lot of different variables.”
Rhodes had a rough start to the season, as he was getting called for defensive holding too often. It even reached a point a point where Vikings defensive backs coach Jerry Gray made Rhodes wear boxing gloves in practice to try and change his habits.
The Vikings cornerback has seemingly gotten things back under control as he has been playing better in recent weeks and Zimmer hopes it stays that way because he knows the team is going to need Rhodes to be playing at a high level for the remainder of the season.
“I think he’s cleaned those up,” Zimmer said of Rhodes’ penalties. “I think he’s feeling more positive about his technique. He needs to play good these last six games. We’re going to need him to play really good.”
The good play is going to need to start this Sunday against Jones and the Falcons. If Rhodes and the rest of the defensive backs can keep Jones under control, the Vikings’ chances of winning should greatly increase.