January 18, 2018
On Wednesday, when we published our five matchups to watch when the Eagles have the ball in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings, one of the more obvious ones was Alshon Jeffery vs. Vikings CB Xavier Rhodes.
To save you the trouble of clicking, we'll just re-post here what we said there.
In my view, Xavier Rhodes is currently the best cornerback in the NFL, though the Jaguars' Jalen Ramsey is right on his heels. In his five year career, Rhodes has had at least 48 tackles as well as double-digit pass breakups every year. At 6'1, 218, he is a very big corner who likes to get physical with opposing wide receivers, and he is a willing tackler in the run game.
The Vikings like to allow Rhodes to trail the opposing team's best wide receiver, which in this case would be Alshon Jeffery. That's a bad matchup for Jeffery, who struggles to gain separation, but can be very effective against smaller corners because of his size and catch radius.
There's no catch radius advantage over Rhodes, who has nearly 34" arms. By comparison, Rhodes' arms are a half inch longer than Jason Peters'. Here's how Rhodes' Combine numbers compare with other corners around the NFL:
Rhodes has size, athleticism, and ball skills. Maaaaayyyyybe Jeffery just shouldn't be a big part of the game plan this week.
In the comment section of our matchups piece, it was pointed out that Jeffery has had a lot of success against the Vikings over his career. In fact, Jeffery has more catches (45), yards (685), and touchdowns (7) against the Vikings than he has against any other team.
Naturally, the thinking would be that Jeffery has enjoyed some of that success against Rhodes. So, out of curiosity, I looked at every game Jeffery ever played against Rhodes, from 2013 to 2016. It turns out that only one of those touchdown receptions came against Rhodes, with Jeffery doing most of his damage against Chris Cook and Terence Newman. Rhodes had two interceptions while covering Jeffery.
Here's a video of every target Jeffery had against Rhodes:
As you can see in the video, it's certainly not as if Rhodes owned Jeffery. There are plenty of examples of Jeffery getting reasonably open, but his quarterback did not have good placement or timing on the throw. He won some and lost some.
As Doug Pederson pointed out, Rhodes is a much better player now than he was previously in his career.
"I've gone back and looked at that matchup in particular just to see the battle that went on and the types of things that Alshon did against him, and the coverage technique that he used," Pederson acknowledged on Thursday. "Does it apply to this game? Maybe a little bit. I think Alshon's a better player. I think Rhodes is a much better player, obviously, and he's playing with a lot of confidence. It's going to be another great matchup again Sunday evening."
Jeffery gave his own scouting report on Rhodes.
"He's competitive," said Jeffery. "I mean, he's strong, physical, long arms."
Yeah, we got that already, Alshon. Anything else?
"It's going to be a challenge, and I look forward to it."
Rhodes is a great player, but it's not as if he's a generational talent like many other "best corners in the NFL" in recent memory. You can certainly throw his way, but there are probably better matchups to take advantage of.
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