How important is Xavier Rhodes to Minnesota Vikings?

In the wake of the Teddy Bridgewater injury that forced an organizational about-face on the 2016 season, the Xavier Rhodes injury is having a similar impact

With so many players on the field during the course of game, it’s amazing how an injury to one player can have a ripple effect. The Minnesota Vikings saw a Ground Zero version of that happen when Teddy Bridgewater collapsed on the practice field at Winter Park.

But, on Sunday, the Vikings saw a similar – albeit less catastrophic – version happen when cornerback Xavier Rhodes heard a pop in his knee while stretching prior to the Tennessee game.

It came only hours before a game he was expected to start and be on the field for almost the entirety of the game. The Vikings had to make snap decisions on the fly that may have drastically altered what the original plan was.

There was a lot of talk during training camp and the preseason that second-year cornerback Trae Waynes had made significant strides and was going to push veteran Terence Newman for playing time.

That point was rendered moot when Rhodes went down with his knee injury Sunday. We may never know how the playing time distribution would have been handed out, but there was a growing sentiment that, whether it took one or two weeks or one or two months, Waynes was likely going to turn Newman into a part-time player by cutting into his playing time and eventually taking over the starting job he has held down since arriving in Minnesota last year.

Whatever timetable was being planned, Plan B got thrown in and the result was pronounced. Waynes was on the field for every play in the season opener and Newman was in for all but two plays – being replaced by rookie Mackensie Alexander for those two plays. Throwing in that safeties Harrison Smith and Andrew Sendejo played all 67 defensive snaps, the starting secondary was set by design.

It would appear that Tennessee became quickly aware of the Vikings’ lack of experienced depth in the secondary. Most analysts expected the Titans to try to ground-and-pound the Vikings with running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry.

Instead, quite possibly because Rhodes wasn’t on the field, the plan was to go after Waynes and see if he could hold up. The result was that Waynes led the team in tackles, which is rare for cornerbacks not named Antoine Winfield. A guy like Josh Norman never gets 10 tackles because he rarely even sees 10 passes come his way.

The Titans decided to throw and to throw at Waynes or run plays in his direction in hopes of taking advantage of his relative inexperience.

The proof of that perception is how two other players divided up the 67 defensive plays Sunday. Linebackers Eric Kendricks and Anthony Barr were on the field all 67 plays.

Chad Greenway? He was only on the field for 29 plays – a mere 43 percent. The other two linebackers on the game-day roster – Audie Cole and Emmanuel Lamur – never saw the field on defense. The other 38 plays were filled in by slot corner Captain Munnerlyn.

For a team that ran 225 plays in the preseason – 120 rushes and 105 passes – the Titans completely flipped the script almost by design, likely because of the lack of Rhodes in the Vikings secondary.

Of the 64 offensive plays Tennessee ran, only 22 of them were runs. Those numbers would make sense if the Titans were down 21-0 at halftime. They were ahead by 10 at the half. They had every reason to try to work the clock with a double-digit lead and it wasn’t until the Vikings took a two-score lead in the fourth quarter that the Titans were forced to pass and, even then, on the following drive they ran two of the three plays before Murray fumbled and made a bad situation worse.


What makes the Rhodes situation even more troubling for the Vikings is that it has had a ripple effect not only on the game-day lineup. It has impacted the practice squad.

On Tuesday, the Vikings made a pair of roster moves. By no fault of their own, offensive tackle Carter Bykowski and safety Shamiel Gary were cut.


So the Vikings could sign a pair of cornerbacks – Tre Roberson, a rookie from Illinois State that was with them in the offseason, and first-year pro Julian Wilson out of Oklahoma.


The Vikings likely didn’t tell either Bykowski or Gary to clean out their lockers and to forget the building passcode, but need has taken precedence over want.

The loss of a quarterback causes a tsunami of scrambling for an offense. From the looks of things – both on how the Vikings and Titans reacted to Rhodes being off the field – apparently a top-end cornerback has almost as big an impact.


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