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It’s time for Mike Zimmer to bench Xavier Rhodes

He’s been hurting the defense for too long

Minnesota Vikings v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

Ever since Mike Zimmer came to town six years ago, he’s been pushing Xavier Rhodes. He’s been pushing him to play tighter coverage. He’s pushed him to work on his technique. He’s pushed him to learn the defensive scheme better. And in the early years that led to Rhodes’ gradual improvement, a $70 million contract extension, and an All-Pro season in 2017.

But since then, it’s been all downhill for Rhodes. Particularly this season.

This season Rhodes has allowed a passer rating when targeted of 132.6 this season - by far the worst of his career. After 12 games, he also has committed 10 penalties, and is on pace for a career season worst on that score as well.

His coverage performance against Seattle represents his nadir - allowing a perfect 158.3 passer rating when targeted, including a long touchdown pass in blown coverage. He also committed a stupid personal foul - which also led to a Seahawks touchdown.

It’s Time to Bench Rhodes

The Vikings had their bye-week prior to the Seahawks game, and after poor performances the previous two games, head coach Mike Zimmer said that they spent a lot of time during the bye-week working on coverage, re-teaching fundamentals, and so forth. That seemed to help the rest of the Vikings secondary, but not Rhodes.

Rhodes himself said he needed to get better, to finish better, and improve his game. He’s said that many times this season after poor performances, and earlier in the year he said he was hurting his team with his performance.

Rhodes has now declined in PFF rankings to the 109th ranked cornerback out of 119.

The problem for Rhodes at this point isn’t technique really anymore, although he could improve in many aspects. It’s quite simply that he’s lost not just a step since he was drafted, but clearly at least a couple steps. And there’s nothing anybody can do about that.

Rhodes knows it as well as anybody. That’s why he’s more aggressive physically in press man, and why he commits coverage penalties. He knows if a receiver gets by him, it’s over. He’s not gonna catch them. He doesn’t have make-up speed. The best he can hope for is an under-thrown ball that the receiver has to wait for and he can catch up. Otherwise it’s over.

Obviously it’s a frustrating situation for Rhodes, who turns 30 next summer, and that shows up in penalties and sideline antics. But this is also the problem.

It’s not unusual for an NFL player to lose a step after a few years in the league, and another after that. That’s how it goes. But guys like Terence Newman, who played until age 39, could make up for that in part with technique, but also his head. He knew all the route combos and coverages, and he did his homework. He didn’t get frustrated, he kept his head in the game and played smart.

Rhodes isn’t doing that.

Here is the stupid personal foul Rhodes picked up for throwing Chris Carson while out-of-bounds:

That led to a 15-yard penalty that put Seattle well into Vikings territory and allowed them to tie the game in their opening drive in the 3rd quarter, which was a momentum shift.

Then, later in the 3rd quarter, Rhodes gave up another big play:

Apparently Rhodes thought he had safety help over the top on this play, as he forced David Moore inside and allowed him past him. But had he paid attention around him, he would have known better. Safety Harrison Smith was in front of him at the line of scrimmage, while the other safety Anthony Harris was drifting left to help over the top with the two receivers on that side of the field. Harrison Smith dropped to cover the flat. All that means the Vikings were playing Cover 6, in which case Rhodes should have played the deep zone on his side of the field, which meant covering Moore as the only receiver on that side of the field. It was a perfect coverage call for that play. But somehow Rhodes didn’t get it and blew the coverage.

It’s not the first time this season that’s happened. But given his experience and tenure in Mike Zimmer’s defense, it shouldn’t happen at all. If anything he should be helping and communicating with others to make sure everything is done right and assignment sound.

But Rhodes, who should be a leader in the Vikings secondary given his tenure, instead made a spectacle of himself on the sideline:

That blown coverage video also reveals how Rhodes has lost a couple steps. Both Rhodes and Seahawks’ receiver David Moore ran a 4.43” pre-draft 40. In Moore’s case that was in 2017, and in Rhodes’ case 2013. The foot race between the two makes it pretty clear Rhodes has lost at least a couple steps since then.

Of course all this led to a pretty good question:

The Vikings have higher ranked cornerbacks behind Rhodes on the roster. First-round pick Mike Hughes, UDFA Holton Hill, and even safety Jayron Kearse, who’s also played some cornerback, have fared better in coverage and overall than Rhodes. They’ll all faster than Rhodes too.

Holton Hill has had a total of 223 coverage snaps over the past two seasons (only 10 this year), and has a passer rating when targeted of only 63.1. And only 2 penalties.

Mike Hughes has been up and down this season, but overall still better than Rhodes - and with signs of improvement. He had his best PFF coverage grade of the season against Seattle, albeit only 9 coverage snaps. He was targeted 3 times however, but gave up only one reception for 19 yards and a 56.3 passer rating when targeted.

For Mike Zimmer, clearly he cannot ignore this situation. Rhodes has lost a couple steps and can’t keep up with to receivers anymore. That leads to penalties and/or giving up big plays when he gets beat. Beyond that, he’s just not being smart on the field, and that leads to giving up big plays too.

Not sure how all that plays in the locker room, or the coaching staff, but I’m guessing not all that well. Harrison Smith didn’t seem all that sympathetic when Rhodes locked heads with him after he gave up the long touchdown pass.

It’s Not Just This Season, It’s Next Season Too

Clearly the Vikings have some better alternatives to Rhodes as a starting right cornerback. Improving the weak link in the defensive secondary could go a long way toward shoring up the Vikings’ defensive performance the rest of this month and into the postseason.

But it’s not just about this season either.

The Vikings will have to make some salary cap choices in the off-season, and clearly Xavier Rhodes is not playing up to his salary cap. Not even close. Releasing or trading Rhodes next spring would save the Vikings $8.1 million in salary cap. That would help them retain other guys in the secondary who’s contracts expire this season: Trae Waynes, Anthony Harris, Jayron Kearse, and MacKensie Alexander among them.

So, if Rhodes is not in the Vikings plans next year, and isn’t doing the job this year - what’s the point in putting him on the field when other guys like Holton Hill and Mike Hughes could use the experience and do a better job?

Hopefully Mike Zimmer and Rick Spielman see it this way too. In today’s press conference, however, Zimmer seemed to talk up Rhodes’ performance:

That doesn’t sound like a coach who’s about to bench a player, although Zimmer isn’t the type of coach to criticize his players in front of the media.

As for Rhodes, perhaps he got a different vibe from the team and/or Zimmer after the game:

Poll

Should the Vikings bench Xavier Rhodes?

This poll is closed

  • 94%
    Yes - he’s not getting it done
    (2687 votes)
  • 5%
    No- give him a chance to redeem himself
    (157 votes)
2844 votes total Vote Now