Xavier Rhodes and the Minnesota Vikings’ defense did it again.
One week ago, Julio Jones shredded the Tampa Bay Bucs for 253 yards on 12 catches and scored two touchdowns. The NFL’s best wide receiver didn’t have anywhere near the same success on Sunday. Jones caught two passes on six targets and gained just 24 yards.
“Xavier did a great job, but all of our guys in the back end did a great job,” head coach Mike Zimmer said following the 14-9 win in Atlanta. “Trae [Waynes], the safeties, we will very rarely just say, ‘Hey, you got him.’ It was just the way we felt we had to play to win this football game. We know how great of a player he is and how talented he is. It’s important that we try to take away some of the opponents’ strengths each week.”
Earlier in the week, Jones said that he hoped Rhodes matched up against him in man-to-man coverage, but the Vikings’ shutdown corner has now gotten the best of Jones each time they’ve matched up. In 2015, Jones only faced Rhodes for part of the game and had two receptions for 27 yards.
“We played good as a whole unit,” Rhodes said. “When we needed a stop, we stopped them. It was a great team win, a statement game, it felt like.”
“We knew it was going to be a defensive game, we knew we would have to have tight coverage,” Rhodes added.
Rhodes has predominantly shadowed the opposing team’s top receiver and the results have been terrific for the Vikings defense. Here are some of the league’s most talented performed against the Vikings this year:
New Orleans, Michael Thomas – Five catches, 45 yards
Pittsburgh, Antonio Brown – Five catches, 62 yards
Tampa Bay, Mike Evans – Seven catches, 67 yards
Los Angeles, Sammy Watkins – Three catches, 36 yards
Atlanta, Julio Jones – Two catches, 24 yards
Overall the Vikings’ defense shut down the entire Falcons passing attack. Quarterback Matt Ryan finished 16-for-29 with 173 yards.