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Film Room: Rhodes Closed Ahead? Part II

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Heading to the NFC Championship Game, one game away from the event of which we will not speak, the Philadelphia Eagles will have to get their play-makers involved. The vaunted Minnesota Vikings defense has terrorized offenses all year with their sound, disciplined football that has shown very few weak spots.

A big part of their winning formula is star, shutdown cornerback Xavier Rhodes. He’s often tasked with shadowing a teams’ best wide receiver, in this case, Eagles WR Alshon Jeffery. They’ve met before while Jeffery was with the Chicago Bears, with Rhodes mostly limiting the physical receiver. I broke down their Week 8 match-up from 2016 in the first part of this series (HERE). What follows is analysis from their 2017 Week 17 tilt.

There were a few factors that made this game more difficult to scout than their first encounter of the year.

Jeffery ran 27% of his routes from slot, up from his 16% slot snaps from weeks 1-16. Therefore he saw Rhodes less than in their initial match-up where it was largely those two locked up throughout. The Bears also attempted to run Jeffery away from Rhodes on crossing patterns. Coincidentally, the Eagles also use Jeffery in the slot for 16% of his snaps, but it remains to be seen if moving him inside in condensed sets like the Bears did will be something to Eagles will explore.

With QB Jay Cutler out, the Bears turned to Matt Barkley, former Eagles 4th round pick in 2013. He was replaced by David Fales for the majority of the 4th quarter, further muddying the waters in what could be gleaned from this game.

One last note, the Bears only threw 20 passes despite being blown out 38-10. This limited the number of reps from which to pull solid analysis that would speak of the performance on a bigger scale.

Still, there were moments where we glimpsed a sample of what we might see today. Of Jeffery’s four targets on the day, one of them was an ill-conceived pass in which Barkley was baited by Rhodes.

Jeffery is working from the slot in a condensed set and he runs a corner route that is paired with a flat/out route underneath him. This concept is called a “Flat-7” and is a staple against Cover 2 zone defenses. The corner route stresses the safety, forcing him to get on his horse and close down a window moving away from the numbers. The flat route is designed to hold the outside corner, which in this case is Rhodes.

Rhodes processes this combination quickly and uses his outside leverage to key the quarterback while dropping to his spot. Not concerned with the flat route, he slow plays sinking hard into the deep third to bait the inexperienced Barkley into throwing the corner to Jeffery. Easy interception on a ball that should have been thrown to the flats.

One of the routes Jeffery beat Rhodes with in the first match-up of 2016 was the comeback route. Here, he’s able to haul in his only catch of the day for 10 yards. With a single-high safety in the middle of the field, Rhodes has to respect the vertical threat. This allows Jeffery to sink and create separation at the top of his break without his usual strong armed escort.

This is a route Jeffery can win against Rhodes, but one that must be thrown by Foles with timing and trust.

In off coverage, Rhodes has the athleticism and patience to stay capped over Jeffery without committing or opening his hips early. Notice how he is able to steer in his pedal and burst out when breaking on the route. This is not a route Jeffery will win against Rhodes unless he can invade his space, step on his toes, and get physical at the breakpoint.

With a big lead late in the game, the Vikings were perfectly content to play two-high with man coverage across the board. At the top of the screen, Rhodes is perfectly comfortable patiently trailing Jeffery and stays in his hip pocket, knowing he has help over top. He does his job and the pass rush takes care of the rest.

Admittedly, there wasn’t much to take away from this game from a Jeffery vs. Rhodes standpoint. It does highlight Rhodes’ athleticism, patience, and mental processing while providing a warning being baited by the savvy corner. Jeffery had one win on limited targets, but he has shown over the two games highlighted that he can win against Rhodes on his bread and butter routes if complimented by competent quarterback play.

Did you enjoy this article? Check out our other Film Room pieces!

Michael is an NFL Draft enthusiast, aspiring scout, and grandson of longtime East Stroudsburg (Pa.) HS football coach John P. Kist. He hosts Locked On Eagles and writes for Inside the Pylon & Breaking Football.

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