The titles and headlines have some enticing alliteration: There’s “Minnesota Mutiny” and “Defensive Defiance.” The players involved clearly want the story to go away and soon enough it will be filed away as just another bizarre incident in the unraveling Minnesota Vikings season.
But whether Xavier Rhodes not shadowing Jordy Nelson at the start of the Green Bay Packers’ win over the Vikings on Saturday was a “miscommunication,” as the players insisted on Monday, or players coming together and feeling they knew better, as Rhodes indicated after the game, there are several levels to unwind in a narrative that has changed.
The readers can decide if what was said postgame is truth or what was said after two days of communication between coaches and players and then meeting the media again is fact or fiction.
Either way, it’s clear that head coach Mike Zimmer wanted the game plan to be that Rhodes would shadow Nelson nearly every time Nelson wasn’t lined up in the slot. There could be exceptions to that, as Terence Newman, the veteran cornerback on the other side of the field explained. But, in most cases, Rhodes was supposed to shadow Nelson and that didn’t happen at the outset.
Whether the players went against the game plan for one series or one half should be irrelevant.
We offer our take following comments from players and Zimmer.
THE POSTGAME THOUGHTS
Zimmer: The head coach said Rhodes was supposed to shadow Nelson “the whole game. Someone decided they wouldn’t do that.”
Zimmer said he realized that wasn’t happening in the first half “when Terence Newman came over and said something to me like, ‘I can cover this guy, let me have him.’ I said, ‘Do what you’re supposed to do.’”
Rhodes: When asked about Zimmer’s comments after the game, Rhodes responded, “We felt as a team, as players, we came together and we felt like we’d never done that when we played against the Packers. Us as DBs (defensive backs) felt like we could handle him.
“That’s how we felt as DBs, that we could stay on our side and cover him. In the beginning, we’d always played against them and played our sides, so that’s what we as DBs went with.”
Our take: Postgame emotions and analysis, especially when it doesn’t require a review of film by players and coaches, is often the more telling analysis. Zimmer even admitted on Monday that he was “honest” after the game.
WHY WOULD RHODES SAY THAT?
If Rhodes wasn’t telling the truth after the game, why would he say that?
Zimmer: The head coach wasn’t sure. “I don’t know. And when I talked to him, I don’t think he really felt like that’s what he meant to say,” Zimmer said. “Xavier is a great kid. Sometimes he gets nervous about things and says it, but I don’t think that’s the case.”
Our take: After hearing the audio of Rhodes from Saturday and being there for his Monday address in the locker room, he seemed far more uncomfortable on Monday and clearly was told to stick to the script that it was a “miscommunication.” He used that word nine times in nine short answers that offered very little insight into what really happened.
So if Rhodes was going to stick to the story that it was a “miscommunication,” Newman, speaking after Rhodes and offering a little more veteran insight, explained his Monday version when asked about the miscommunication.
Newman: “Just verbally, like pretty much between the whole group, I guess, or just the corners and coaches. Once again, there was a miscommunication. We got it corrected and there was no issues with that.”
Newman was also asked if the expectation during the week of preparation was that the cornerbacks would play “sides,” meaning Rhodes stays at right cornerback and Newman at left no matter where Nelson lined up.
“That’s kind of where the miscommunication came, like we started one way,” Newman said. “There was a little gray area. We went to the game, played, got it corrected.”
Our take: With Zimmer saying some changes in the coverages occurred late in the week, it is possible there was “gray area” on instances in which Rhodes would stick to a side, but clearly those were supposed to be the outliers, given what Rhodes and Zimmer both said after the game.
‘WE’RE ALL ON THE SAME PAGE’
Are there issues in the relationship between Zimmer and the defensive backs?
Newman: “There’s no issue. We’re all the same page. We’re all in this thing together,” he said. “We got beat. There’s no issue, I promise you, there’s no issue at all.”
Our take: So why did Rhodes say that the defensive backs decided to play “sides” before Zimmer told them to do what they were supposed to do? Newman indicated Rhodes was being a good teammate and probably didn’t want to throw anyone under the bus. Zimmer said that was “possible.” But it might have been Newman that Rhodes didn’t want to throw under the bus.
If that’s the case – that a longtime cornerback under Zimmer believed that going against Zimmer’s game plan was the best plan to cover the Packers – Rhodes was put in a very awkward situation early in the game before Zimmer apparently addressed the situation and told the players to execute the game plan as they had prepared.
One part of the story that doesn’t add up is Newman saying “there was no conversation” about the confusion and that he wasn’t aware of any problem during the game.
Newman: “To me, I didn’t know there was an issue. I got it questioned on the way out and honestly didn’t even know where it came from, so I didn’t know there was something about us doing our own thing, us making our own calls or whatnot. None of that ever happened.”
Our take: If that’s the case, then Zimmer’s postgame version of it, in which he said Newman wanted to cover Nelson and Zimmer told him to do his job doesn’t make sense. Clearly, one version of the story isn’t truth.
Rhodes: Rhodes was asked if he talked with Zimmer since the game to smooth things out. “That’s between me and my team, for my team and no one else to know that,” he said.
Zimmer: “Yeah, I talked to them more yesterday. We change a couple calls later in the week. I probably wasn’t specific enough in the things I was asking them to do. … So I could’ve been more specific.”
‘I [OR WE] CAN COVER THIS GUY’
The other part of the equation that doesn’t add up is version of the in-game conversation between Zimmer and Newman and the revised version on Monday.
Zimmer: The head coach said he realized Rhodes wasn’t shadowing Nelson “when Terence Newman came over and said something to me like, ‘I can cover this guy, let me have him.’ I said, ‘Do what you’re supposed to do.’”
Newman: The cornerback disputed the pronoun – “I” or “we” – that was used. “I said, ‘We can cover this guy. I didn’t ask or say, ‘Let me cover him the whole game.’ I didn’t say anything like that,” Newman said. “Just said we can cover him, especially after being the first series they punted. We had success in the first series so everybody should be kind of confident and whatnot. That’s all that transpired. There’s nothing there.”
Rhodes, while he didn’t really offer much insight, was right about one thing on Monday.
“I mean, y’all are searching right now,” he told reporters. “Miscommunication. It’s accurate. Miscommunication, and after that we fixed it after the first series.”
The reasons there is searching is because of the conflicting reaction from players and coaches.
Zimmer on Monday maintained his respect for Newman.
“I’ve had the guy for however many number of years. Terence and I have a great relationship. He can come talk to me about anything at any time,” Zimmer said. “I talk to him a lot about the team. I talk to him a lot about things in the locker room. I talk to him a lot about a lot of different areas. But no. Terence would be the last guy ever in the world to ever be belligerent and go against anything that we do.”
If the Vikings’ best-case version of events two days after the game is to be believed and there was confusion and “gray area” about late changes in the coverage plan, then that conversation should have been had prior to the game.
But it was Zimmer himself that said he was being “honest” after the game when told that Newman was surprised he was upset about the coverages early in the game.
“Typically when we lose and we don’t play good in the back end, I get upset. So there’s a lot of different things I was upset about I think when I said it,” Zimmer said. “That was one of the things that came to my mind. I probably shouldn’t have been as honest after the games as I typically am, which I’ll learn my lesson.”
Our take: It’s that honestly that endeared Zimmer to fans and to others at Winter Park. If he abandons that, only dangerous conjecture is left in trying to figure out how a team that started 5-0 has lost eight of the last 10. Lies only lead to a lack of trust.