Vikings’ “X” Factor in Atlanta Falcons Matchup


The Minnesota Vikings are coming off of an epically terrible week, in which they not only were defeated by the New Orleans Saints, but also lost a host of their key players to injuries. In a week when the Vikings had already lost Adrian Peterson, potentially forever, the team also lost tight end Kyle Rudolph for the foreseeable future, as well as starting right guard Brandon Fusco and starting quarterback Matt Cassel for the rest of the season. While the majority of headlines in Minnesota will surround rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater making his first career start in the NFL, it should be noted that it will take a whole lot more than a brilliant rookie debut to take down Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.

Outside of Ryan, who has shown elite quarterback skills so far this season, the first thing many notice about the Falcons is their dangerous receiving corps. Both veteran Roddy White and the seemingly limitlessly talented Julio Jones require the full attention of opposing defenses. A defense that focuses their efforts on shutting down one will simply be burned by the other. Since the sure-tackling Captain Munnerlyn cannot cover both White and Jones, the Vikings will need help from their “supposed” No. 1 cornerback if they are to have any chance of winning this Sunday’s matchup.

Jan 20, 2013; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) celebrates a touchdown catch against the San Francisco 49ers with wide receiver Roddy White (84) during the second quarter of the NFC Championship game at the Georgia Dome. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Around this time last season, the Vikings believed they had hit the lottery with their 2013 draft class. From the athletically gifted and monstrous Sharrif Floyd to the defensive nightmare that is Cordarrelle Patterson, the Vikings appeared to have filled multiple gaping holes with just three draft picks. With Patterson quickly becoming a fixture in the NFL and Floyd finally beginning to assert himself as the player scouts expected him to be, it is time for the third member of this trio to fulfill his expectations.

Xavier Rhodes, who was selected in-between Floyd and Patterson at No. 25 overall, has largely been a disappointment since leaving Florida State for Minnesota. While Rhodes has shown flashes of greatness, keeping both Dez Bryant and Brandon Marshall out of the end zone during his rookie season, the Vikings desperately need more consistency from him.

Rhodes has been an absolute disaster in his first season under new head coach and defensive mastermind Mike Zimmer. In fact, he is currently rated 85th out of 97 qualifying cornerbacks on Pro Football Focus, which is dreadful considering his natural ability, size and ideal coaching situation.

Here is a direct quote from regarding his potential:

"“Rhodes thrives in physical press coverage, something very few college players can put on their resume. At times his tackling technique is questionable, but Rhodes will make his living locking up boundary receivers with a balanced and strong jam followed up by enough speed to stick in their hip pocket…”"

While the quote would go on to mention that Rhodes is a bit scheme dependent, he is the ideal fit for Zimmer’s defense and should be thriving in his new environment. He is far more physically gifted and talented than Leon Hall or Dre Kirkpatrick, cornerbacks Zimmer saw excel during his time as defensive coordinator with the Cincinnati Bengals, and should, at the very least, be showing signs of improvement.

There is still plenty of time for Rhodes, as he is only a sophomore in the NFL, but the Vikings were quickly becoming dark horse contenders before the whole Peterson fiasco, and he is expected to be a large part of that. With White and Jones coming into town this weekend and the Vikings reeling from injuries and off-the-field distractions, there would be no better time than now for Rhodes to turn the corner (no pun intended).

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  • He has the tools and has shown he can play at the NFL level. It is time for him to catch up with his 2013 draft classmates and begin shutting down the NFL with his ideal length for covering receivers like Jones or the NFC North Nighmare, better known by his stage name Megatron.

    The Vikings are looking for a new face of their franchise, Xavier, why can’t it be you?

    Robert Reidell is the Editor of Sporting Sota and can be found on Twitter @ RobertReidellMN when he is not depressing over the current state of his beloved Minnesota sports franchises.