Source: Vikings go against strategy for covering Jordy Nelson on first series

ByBen Goessling ESPN logo
Monday, December 26, 2016

Minnesota Vikings defensive backs freelanced on only the first series of their game against the Green Bay Packerson Saturday, whencornerbackTerence Newman covered wide receiverJordy Nelson, a well-placed Vikings source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.

As soon as the first series ended, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer addressed the players, and the situation was corrected.

The game plan called for cornerbackXavier Rhodes to cover Nelson one-on-one on the outside but not when Nelson was in the slot.

Nelson had a banner day in Green Bay's victory, catching seven passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

According to one Vikings source, while the incident occurred on the first series, Zimmer did not put a timeline on it in his postgame news conference, resulting in the situation getting "blown out of proportion."

"In the first half, Terence Newman came over and said something to me like, 'I can cover this guy; let me have him,'" Zimmer said. "I said, 'Do what you're supposed to do.'"

The Vikings first had Rhodes shadow Nelson with 2 minutes, 42 seconds left in the first quarter. The Packers had Nelson in the slot, where Rhodes never shadows receivers, during the second series of the game, as well as on his 48-yard reception on the first play of the Packers' third series. The play after Nelson's 48-yard gain, the receiver lined up on the right side of the Packers' formation, and Rhodes moved from his normal right cornerback spot to the left side to shadow Nelson.

Rhodes held Nelson to two catches for 9 yards in the second half.

"That's what he was supposed to do the whole game," Zimmer said. "Someone decided they wouldn't do that."

Rhodes, though, said the Vikings cornerbacks had decided on a different plan during the week, opting to have Rhodes stay at right cornerback, with the veteran Newman or second-year player Trae Waynes at left cornerback.

The Vikings refrained from putting Rhodes exclusively on Nelson when he last faced him in 2014, and Rhodes didn't play in the Vikings' first game against the Packers this season. Rhodes, though, earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl this year by shadowing receivers like Odell Beckham Jr., DeAndre Hopkins and Dez Bryant, and he had drawn similar assignments against players like Calvin Johnson and Alshon Jeffery in recent years.

But against the Packers, Rhodes said the Vikings' cornerbacks wanted to play on their typical sides because it was what they had done in the past.

"To be honest, I really don't want to answer that," Rhodes said Saturday, adding, "As a matter of fact, forget it," and then deciding to open up.

"We felt as a team, as players, we came together, and we felt like we'd never done that when we played against the Packers," he said. "Us as DBs felt like we could handle [Nelson]. That's how we felt as DBs, that we could stay on our side and cover him. In the beginning, we'd always played against them and played our sides, we never followed, so that's what we felt as DBs. That's what we went with."

Nelson's 154 yards were the fourth-most in his career -- and his most in a game against the Vikings.

"It's one of those things that, we have multiple guys out there that can make plays, so it's hard for teams to focus on one player," Nelson said. "They started doing it later, but we can all play different positions, so they were able to continue to move around, and we were able to make plays."

Zimmer will be seeking answers as to how this happened on the first series, and he is expected to meet with Minnesota's defensive backs coach Jerry Gray. The team still could determine that the players' actions were detrimental to the team and discipline them.

Despite the action, the players are said to have a strong affection for Zimmer, according to a source.

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