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Bleacher Report – Vikings

Xavier vs. Julio and the advantages of an ‘island’ corner

By Matthew Coller

We’ve gotten to the point with Xavier Rhodes where it’s surprising if the opposing team targets him.

According to Football Outsiders’ tracking data, teams had only gone against Rhodes 43 times through the first 10 weeks and averaged 5.8 yards per attempt.

Detroit’s Marvin Jones had the best day of the year against Rhodes racking up 109 yards on Thanksgiving thanks to an incredible sideline catch, but Rhodes also picked off a pass to put an end to the Lions’ day.

The Vikings’ shutdown corner has routinely given the league’s receivers the “island” treatment, slowing down the likes of Antonio Brown, Mike Evans and Sammy Watkins so far this year.

“My first time following a guy was Calvin Johnson [in 2015],” Rhodes said on Monday. “Yeah, so you know how I felt after that.”

“At first it was a challenge, I was nervous, jittery, now it’s just come and do my job, I have to go out there and do it,” Rhodes added.

This week will mark his biggest challenge of the year: Julio Jones.

Against the Tampa Bay Bucs, Jones racked up 253 yards on 12 receptions (15 targets) and scored two touchdowns

“Julio is Julio, big, fast, physical, gets the ball when it’s in the air,” Rhodes said. “I don’t believe he has any weakness at all. He’s focused, doesn’t really talk much on the field so it’s hard to get in his head.”

The last time the two matched up, November 29, 2015, Jones ended with just five catches for 56 yards in a 20-10 Vikings win.

But the Falcons’ offense is playing at a higher level now than they were when Rhodes last faced off with Jones. After shaking off post-Super Bowl rust (and adapting to a new offensive coordinator) the Falcons have put up 95 points in their last three weeks.

The Rhodes vs. Jones matchup may very well determine whether the Vikings are able to slow down another top-notch offense.

The Island is key to the Vikings’ defensive strategy, which is often to take away opponents’ receiving options on the outsides and force opposing quarterbacks to make high-danger throws over the middle.

Take for example the Vikings’ effort against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 2. On the play below, Rhodes is matched up with Antonio Brown on an island. The nickel corner Terence Newman and outside corner Trae Waynes are both playing outside leverage, while Harrison Smith is up at the line of scrimmage showing blitz and Andrew Sendejo is the deep safety.

On the snap, Smith drops back into Anthony Barr’s place, Barr blitzes and linebacker Eric Kendricks drops into a zone. Sendejo plays the center field zone.

On Pittsburgh’s side, they are attempting to take advantage of the Vikings’ corners playing outside leverage with two routes that run “in” patterns at different levels. The goal is for the underneath route to draw the zone linebackers up and leave space between the linebackers and the deep safety for a big completion down the middle of the field.

But Rhodes’ 1-on-1 battle with Brown condenses everything for the quarterback. Instead of having to lean toward Brown’s “go” route, Sendejo can wait to read the quarterback before he makes his move, meaning that deep “in” pattern won’t be available.

It also allows Kendricks to pass off the tight end coming over the middle to Smith. Then Kendricks can drift underneath the deep “in” route, leaving no window for Roethlisberger.

Le’Veon Bell stayed in to pass block. If he had come out of the backfield, either Smith or Kendricks would have been available to take him because neither was required to take up a zone underneath Brown. Notice the huge hole in the field between the 40 and 50 yard markers – there isn’t a single Vikings player outside the hash mark at the bottom of the screen.

Roethlisberger has only two options: Chuck it deep to Brown or throw to Martavius Bryant on a short “out” pattern against Waynes. But Waynes was on top of his coverage, leaving Roethisberger to throw a prayer. The Steelers caught a break with a pass interference on Rhodes, but most of the time the Vikings will come out successful when the opposing quarterback has no other choice but to heave the ball against their Pro Bowl corner.

One of the biggest challenges for Rhodes will be the Falcons’ penchant for running Jones all the way across the field on play-action throws.

The play below went for an incompletion, but a better throw would have resulted in a huge gain. The two outside receivers run deep patterns, while Jones has the look of a slant-go route, but he turns the route into a post all the way from outside the far side hashes to outside the near hashes. Ryan fakes a handoff and rolls out with Jones coming across.

Carolina plays man coverage on Jones, who created separation with the “go” look around the 45 yard line.

This is where the Vikings’ pass rush and blitzes will play a key role. The Falcons have been outstanding in play-action, in part because they can protect Ryan. Even the best corner has trouble keeping up with Jones for three seconds or more.

The post Xavier vs. Julio and the advantages of an ‘island’ corner appeared first on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.

Source:: 1500 ESPN Sportswire

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