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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Vikings vs. Beckham: Slowing down the receiver, avoiding the instigator

By Matthew Coller

For decades, children grew up knowing that “The Catch” was Willie Mays’ over-the-shoulder grab at the Polo Grounds in the 1954 World Series against the Cleveland Indians. They were shown the iconic photograph and told the legend of Mays and ingrained with the idea that it was the single greatest catch that a human has ever made.

But if you ask kids in 2016 about “The Catch,” they won’t think of Mays. They will think of Odell Beckham Jr’s reception on Nov. 23, 2014.

In fact, if you type the word “Odell” into Google, “Odell Beckham Catch” comes up before his own name.

It was the first play of the second quarter of Sunday Night Football and the Giants were leading 7-3 when Eli Manning decided to let loose a bomb down the sideline. As Beckham turned to go up for the ball, he was grabbed and yanked toward the ground by the Dallas Cowboys defender Brandon Carr and as he went down, a robot hand shot up and snatched the ball out of the air for a touchdown.

“Did he catch that?” NBC announcer Chris Collinsworth blurted over Al Michaels’ call.

“Put that to music,” Collinsworth said, clearly trying not to curse on live TV, though it would have been appropriate. “That has to be the greatest catch I’ve ever seen.”

Beckham didn’t just make one breathtaking grab that night, he took over the game, catching 10 passes on 11 targets for 146 yards. It was the first double-digit game of his career and the world’s introduction to a weekly fireworks show that would land Beckham in shampoo commercials, on the cover of the Madden video game and at the center of every opponent’s gameplan.

The 23-year-old receiver from Baton Rouge finished 2014 with 91 catches, then followed up his instant-stardom debut with more magical catches and explosive plays. But something happened along the way: Opponents discovered they could infuriate Beckham by pressing him and intimidating with physically.

It appeared to start Week 4 against Buffalo when Beckham was repeatedly jabbed by corner Stephon Gilmore. Beckham threw a punch, which later led the soft-spoken Gilmore to call him a “prima donna” and cheap-shot artist. Carolina Panthers corner Josh Norman pushed Beckham to 11 on Dec. 20, hounding the star receiver to his breaking point. Beckham dove at Norman’s head at one point, which forced the NFL to suspend him for one game.

The Vikings were the Giants’ next opponent. Minnesota beat the Giants, but missed facing off with the league’s most explosive weapon. On Monday Night Football, they will face him for the first time since Mike Zimmer took over as head coach.

Because Beckham hasn’t stopped the nonsense – he was fined $36,000 for a blindside crackback block against the Saints in Week 2 – there are two questions facing the Vikings on Monday: How will they slow down the most dynamic receivers in the league? How will they avoid getting dragged into extracurricular activities?

Let’s start with Beckham the Receiver, then we’ll get to Beckham the Instigator.

Vikings pass rusher Danielle Hunter is one of the only Minnesota players with any experience facing Beckham – except he did it in practice while both were playing for the Louisiana State University Tigers.

“He’s such a superb athlete, I remember when we played Texas A&M, he was the quarterback that week for Johnny Manziel for the scout team,” Hunter said. “He is a different person now than he was then, but if we’re talking about playing wise, he did the same thing in college that he’s doing in the league right now. He used to catch kickoffs with one hand, he used to catch all his passes with one hand in practice, so it’s nothing new to me. It’s nothing new to anybody at LSU.”

At LSU, he was excellent, catching 59 balls for 1,154 yards. But Beckham wasn’t the first or second wide receiver taken in the 2014 NFL Draft. Until he ran a 4.43 at the combine, he wasn’t in Mel Kiper’s top 25 prospects. His ESPN Draft Profile rated his ball skills as “average” and said, “Still drops too many catchable balls, especially ones thrown outside his frame.”

After his 91-catch rookie year (in 12 games), Beckham grabbed 96 more passes for 1,450 yards and an exceptional 15.1 Yards Per Catch. In Year 2, he was targeted 10.6 times per game.

To give you an idea of his all-around effectiveness, Beckham had 19 catches over 20 yards (8th in the NFL) and 516 Yards After Catch (9th). He had 21 catches on the right sideline and 22 on the left sideline. Beckham caught 65 passes that traveled less than 10 yards and another 28 that went more than 10 yards.

The Vikings have one of the league’s best and least appreciated cornerbacks in Xavier Rhodes, who will likely draw the assignment of covering Beckham one-on-one when the Giants’ star lines up on his side. Rhodes played a major role in keeping Panthers No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin to zero catches in Week 3. He hasn’t seen Beckham before, but he’s seen – and slowed down – many of the best.

“He’s really explosive,” Rhodes said. “He’s a great route runner. He is good at attacking the ball in the air. He’s just an all-around player. He can get pretty physical with you in the middle of his route. You have to just play your game and not get distracted by all the good things he does.”

On a conference call with the media on Thursday, Giants quarterback Eli Manning gave an interesting breakdown of all the good things Rhodes is referencing.

“He’s got a combination of great speed and body control but also very disciplined in his route running,” Manning said in a conference call with the Vikings media on Thursday. “He’s a wonderful practice guy, he goes out there full speed every rep. He listens to coaching and from myself and our offensive coaches, so if he’s not doing something perfect, he wants to re-do it and do it the right way.”

The difference in Manning’s stats since Beckham has burst on the scene is quite noticeable. He threw 27 interceptions and only 18 touchdowns in 2013 and had a 69.4 quarterback rating. Over the past two years with Beckham, he’s tossed 65 touchdowns, only 28 interceptions and had ratings of 92.1 and 93.6.

So he’s good. Really, really good. But Beckham has a side that makes him occasionally vulnerable. The side that has caused him to get suspended, fined and have a semi-meltdown last week against Washington. He slammed his helmet and kicked a net after a Manning interception, which prompted head coach Ben McAdoo to say this:

“He needs to control his emotions better and become less of a distraction to himself and to his teammates. It’s our job to help him with that process and maturing.”

Beckham shot back in the media, saying he would not change his game.

“At the end of the day, you play for the guys that wear the jersey,” he told ESPN’s Jordan Raanan. “They’re the ones who take the field with you, who you share the blood, sweat and tears with. I’m just going to go out and be who I am.”

Nickel corner Captain Munnerlyn, the go-to locker room guy for reporters, said he is a fan of Beckham’s, but gave a little hint about how to set him off.

“He’s a competitive guy, man,” Munnerlyn said. “The things that you see, I know a lot of people are like ‘oh man, he needs to calm down’ but you can tell how the guy wants to win so bad. He’s very competitive. He can play for me any day…you can see it in his eyes, the frustration when they lose or things aren’t going their way.”

At least from Josh Norman’s play against Beckham, frustrating the 23-year-old receiver has become part of the strategy. Will it be for the Vikings?

“We try to do things a certain way here,” Zimmer said. “We try to play smart football, do things right. Obviously, we try to win the game the best way we can, but we’re not into that other stuff. So, we just go about our business and try to win.”

Rhodes, who comes off as calm by nature, said he doesn’t have a plan to get underneath Beckham’s skin either.

“That’s not my issue,” Rhodes said. “I’ve never gone against him to the point where I can say anything, but I just think he’s a competitor and he loves the game and he takes it very seriously.”

And Munnerlyn? Well…

“I don’t get into that,” Munnerlyn said. “I don’t get into going back and forth with a person like that.”

He paused.

“Unless you start with me.”

The post Vikings vs. Beckham: Slowing down the receiver, avoiding the instigator appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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