Sunday, June 1, 2014

Xavier Rhodes: A Key Piece of the Secondary

Daniel House analyzes why Xavier Rhodes needs to be utilized in press and man coverage in 2014. He tells you why this perfectly translates with what Mike Zimmer is looking to execute from a defensive standpoint.

Updated: June 1st, 2014 11:36am

By: Daniel House

Last season, we only scratched the surface of what Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes can do as a defensive back for this team. To the dismay of many, Rhodes witnessed just 57.8% snaps on the defensive side of the ball last season. He missed the final four games of the season with a high ankle sprain, but he failed to see extended action until week seven vs. Green Bay. We didn't see a strong production until the Vikings traveled to Green Bay in week 11 in 2013. For whatever reason, the Vikings defensive staff decided to execute more zone assignments, instead of jamming wideouts at the line of scrimmage. It wasn't a coincidence that the first time the Vikings played extensive amounts of press and man coverage, Rhodes flourished.

Let's take a dive into the advanced statistics that justify the strides Xavier Rhodes made in press and man coverage last year.

Last season when the Vikings won games, Xavier Rhodes was on the field playing. The following chart shows the difference between Rhodes seeing twenty less snaps per game.

Xavier Rhodes: Snaps Played (according to Pro Football Focus)

When the Vikings Lose                    Games         Snaps/Game
                                                              9                    45.0
When  the Vikings Win or Tie               4                    66.2

In the Vikings' losses, Rhodes only started three times and played more than 53 snaps just once. On the other hand, in the Vikings' three wins and a tie, Rhodes started three of those games and was on the field for at least 55 plays.

As for the importance of scheme for Rhodes, he is most successful in man and press coverage, which bodes well for his time with Vikings new head coach Mike Zimmer. Rhodes defensed just two of his ten passes in zone coverage schemes, compared with eight in man and press strategies in 2013. All eight of those passes defensed came over the last three games of the season, directly reflecting how the change in philosophies benefited the rookie. Zimmer will likely run a 4-3 defense that will be predicated on a front-four pass rush and press cornerbacks that can consistently thrive in man-to-man coverage.

Was Rhodes targeted as much as other vulnerable Vikings cornerbacks in 2013? Based upon advanced statistics from Football Outsiders, he wasn't targeted nearly as much as Josh Robinson and Marcus Sherels. Rhodes was targeted 79 times, for an average of 5.3 adjusted yards per pass play, which ranked fifth among all cornerbacks in the NFL last season. Nearly half of those targets came when Rhodes was susceptible in zone coverage schemes. As for distance per pass, Rhodes allowed an average distance of 12.1 yards, along with 2.7 yards after the catch, which ranks 13th among all NFL defensive backs. To put this into context, Josh Robinson was targeted over half the amount Rhodes was last season (45), in seven less games.

The Vikings will be adding veteran leader cornerback Captain Munnerlyn to the secondary, which greatly benefits Xavier Rhodes. Teams won't pass the ball in Munnerlyn's direction because of his playmaking abilities, leaving Rhodes with more opportunities to make plays.

This poses the final concern for Rhodes heading into the 2014 season. Can he handle the rigors of a full NFL schedule? He ended up missing three games last season and durability was a concern when he entered the league last season. With more balls coming his way, he will be more susceptible to injuries, meaning the training staff will need to work with him from a training standpoint.

As a whole, Xavier Rhodes flourished in man and press coverage in 2013, which directly translates perfectly into Mike Zimmer's defensive philosophies. The continued trend with the young players on this roster comes back to coaching fundamentals and placing them in the best position to succeed. When Rhodes was utilized correctly in 2013, he quickly became one of the best cornerbacks in this league.

With a stronger pass rush putting pressure on the quarterback and the right philosophy for Rhodes as a cornerback, he has the potential to become an All-Pro level cornerback in the seasons to come.

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