NFL

Rhodes Pick-Six Was Key In Vikings Win Over Cardinals

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The way the Minnesota Vikings win a football game is by the will of their defense. If the recent losing streak—where the defense largely underperformed and fell apart save against Washington—isn’t enough to prove that, the 30-24 win over the Arizona Cardinals should be.

The Vikings offense accounted for just two touchdowns, and 17 points overall. The special teams and defense were able to nearly match that in two plays—a Cordarrelle Patterson 104-yard kick return and a 100-yard interception return by Xavier Rhodes.

The interesting thing about that interception by Rhodes was that it came along because of both pressure from the front four and good coverage by the secondary—both themes for the Vikings defense in the win.

Image via NFL Game Pass

Image via NFL Game Pass

The play took place on the Vikings’ 9-yard line on third down and goal. The Vikings initially have six men at the line of scrimmage, but drop two into coverage well before the snap, presenting a four-man pass rush.  That leaves seven defenders in coverage—two linebackers in the middle of the field, two safeties high and the cornerbacks on the edge.

The Cardinals line up with two wide receivers to quarterback Carson Palmers’ left and one to his right, with a single running back in the backfield. The line up six blocked on the offensive line as well.

Right there, you can see this could be an issue for the offense, as even if they send the back out into a pass route (they do), they have to contend with two extra defenders. They are simply outnumbered and are hoping the defense makes a mistake.

Image via NFL Game Pass

Image via NFL Game Pass

At the snap, the defensive line immediately has the offensive line on skates. Not one lineman keeps the pass rushers—only four of them—in place. The worst is left tackle John Wetzel, who allows Everson Griffin to get around him. While Wetzel ends up recovering and pushing Griffin wide, the result of the pressure—along with the other pressure coming from the right side—gets Palmer to hurry his release.

That’s a disaster because Palmer has nobody open.  At best he has his running back open in the flat, but Palmer never sees him or just decides that this option won’t cut it. Two of his other receivers are perfect covered. On the right side, Michael Floyd is blanketed by the corner and crossing from the left at the goal line, Larry Fitzgerald has one safety next to him and another coming over. There’s also a linebacker in the middle of the field who could adjust to a throw at Fitzgerald.

John Brown is the final receiver but he shouldn’t have been an option either. He’s blanketed by an extra corner, Captain Munnerlyn, and is locked up with him. Brown isn’t open and he’s not making it to the spot Palmer is throwing too. It’s blatantly obvious that he’s stuck. Worse, and something which should have been apparent to Palmer even if he was rushed, is Rhodes lying in wait in the area.

Image via NFL Game Pass

Image via NFL Game Pass

If Brown wasn’t engaged with Munnerlyn, one might argue the risk is worth it. As it stood, Munnerlyn was doing a great job of holding him up and the risk was too great.

Which you can argue, Palmer discovered a moment later.

Overall, this one play encapsulated three things the Vikings defense did perfectly on Sunday.

They created pressure without needing extra pass-rushers, freeing up defenders to drop into coverage. They stayed ‘at home’—Rhodes stayed in position, as did other defenders. Nobody was caught out of position trying to jump a route too early or pulled away from an assignment by something the offense did. And they presented excellent coverage, taking away Palmer’s options immediately at the snap.

Of course, you don’t allow 24 points if you are perfect, but the Vikings did enough to hold Palmer to 198 yards and two touchdowns while generating two interceptions as well.

If they can stifle the quarterback and generate turnovers the way they did against Arizona, the Vikings can re-assert themselves as the division leader against the Detroit Lions this Thanksgiving.

If they are forced to rely on the offense—with its bad offensive line and fourth quarter Sam Bradford sacks—they will not win Thursday, or many of their games going forward.


About Andrew Garda

Andrew Garda is a freelance writer primarily covering NFL football, with frequent side trips to everything else. A member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he is a contributing writer for Sports on Earth and Pro Football Weekly. He also covers fantasy for Footballguys.com. Garda is the host of the At the Whistle podcast and has been credentialed for many NFL drafts, Senior Bowls, pro days and various NFL events.