In his last two games, Rhodes has spent most of his time blanketing the opponent’s top receiver. Against Carolina, he not only held go-to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin without a reception, Benjamin was only targeted once by quarterback Cam Newton.
Monday’s win over the New York Giants was very similar in design by the Vikings’ defensive coaching staff, but the results were impressive in a different way. Fresh off a renewal of unfriendly acquaintances with Washington cornerback Josh Norman, which was part of the reason the NFL instituted the rule of post-play personal fouls leading to ejections, Odell Beckham Jr. was frustrated and ready to take out some of that anger on Rhodes.
For his part, Rhodes welcomed the violence that often erupted during and after plays – one such exchange got Beckham flagged for a personal foul early in the game that forced him to change his style somewhat in fear of getting the second foul that would send him to the locker room early.
It wasn’t completely unexpected and Rhodes was ready for whatever Beckham was going to bring to the table, holding him to a career-low 23 yards on three receptions.
“It was a great challenge,” Rhodes said. “We were both up for it. We both competed hard out there. It was good.”
What was unusual about their matchup was the level of brute physicality that came into play between them. Nobody has ever accused Rhodes of being soft, but this wasn’t the typical style of play that he was used to.
Rhodes admitted getting caught up in the heat of the battle that was going on for most of the game, but felt he needed to stand his ground and take the fight right to Beckham.
“It just happened,” Rhodes said. “We were just out there playing ball. We both love the game and have a passion for the game. We let the emotions get the best of us at times. As the game went on, we kind of got our stuff together and just played ball.”
There will be no breaks for Rhodes this week. If the Vikings continue with the trend of having Rhodes line up with the opposing top receiver for most of the plays he’s on the field, that will mean he will line up opposite DeAndre Hopkins.
Rookie Will Fuller has been getting a lot of the early headlines, but Hopkins is the top dog in the passing game. In his last two seasons, Hopkins has caught 187 passes for 2,731 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was one of the reasons the Texans allowed all-time franchise leading receiver Andre Johnson move on and Rhodes knows that, while a different type of challenge than Beckham, Hopkins has a lot of positives that will make for more downfield dogfights.
“He goes up and gets the ball,” Rhodes said. “When he wants to catch the ball, it’s his. When the ball is in the air, you have to fight for it. He’s a very smart receiver.”
What makes Hopkins so dangerous is that he was able to achieve what he did over the last two seasons with a revolving door at quarterback. Although just four games into his fourth season, Brock Osweiler is the ninth different starting quarterback Hopkins has had and he has been able to produce big numbers will all of them.
It seems it doesn’t matter who throws the ball, Hopkins has the ability to come down with it and Rhodes knows that high-pointing the ball is going to be a priority Sunday.
“You have be on that guy,” Rhodes said. “You have to make sure once he has the ball in his hands you have to fight. You know there’s going to be a fight once the ball is in the air.”
As the lack of receiving numbers from Pro Bowl-quality players continue to be adding up on Rhodes’ professional resume, he is starting to get his name mentioned in the discussion of the NFL’s top shutdown cornerbacks.
He isn’t buying into the hype. As he views it, if he just keeps doing what he has always done, he’s satisfied to let others make the claim that he’s one of the better young corners in the league.
“My goal is just to go and play ball, I don’t think too much about that,” Rhodes said. “I just go out there and let my play do all the talking after that.”