The Shadow Knows Week 3 2017

By Gary Davenport
Gary Davenport It’s been a rough September for Minnesota Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes.

In the season opener, Rhodes had to contend with Michael Thomas, Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints. Then it was off to Pittsburgh to face the Steelers and stud wideout Antonio Brown. Now, the 27-year-old gets to come home again to square off with Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

As Eric Smith of the team’s website reported, Rhodes told reporters he’s not sure who he’ll spend the afternoon covering,

“They’re great at their abilities, what they can do and bring to the table. You have to watch out for both, DeSean with the speed and Evans with his size and physicality,” Rhodes said. “Those guys are both good at what they do, so we have to watch out for both of them. Whoever lines up against me, I’ll have to be ready for. If I’m on DeSean, I’ll have to do a lot of hamstring workouts. If I’m on Mike Evans, I’ll have to get in the weight room.”

Rhodes may not want to tip his hand, but the smart money says he spends most of the game on Evans – although it’s possible after watching Martavis Bryant abuse Trae Waynes last week Mike Zimmer’s wary of matching Waynes up on another burner.

For what it’s worth, whoever Rhodes covers had best bring their “A” game. While his PFF grade is low after two weeks (partly due to the Murderer’s Row of receiving talent he’s faced, Thomas and Brown have combined for just 10 grabs for 107 yards in two games with Rhodes (primarily, at least), covering them.

My guess is that Rhodes draws Evans. But it’s just that – an (educated) guess.

Xavier Rhodes and the Tampa Two-Step isn’t the only matchup in Week 3 between big-name receivers and “shutdown” cornerbacks.

Here’s a look at the best of the rest.

Keenan Allen, Los Angeles Chargers (vs. KCC – Marcus Peters) Ahead of their AFC West showdown with the Bolts Sunday, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid talked up Allen while speaking to Hayley Elwood of the Chargers’ website. “He’s a great route-runner, that’s what he is,” Reid said. He’s got tools, too. But I think he’s one of the better route-runners in this league. He’s got a lot of other things but if you had to just say (one), he’s a crisp route runner.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: This is one of the more intriguing matchups of Week 3, if only because Allen tore his ACL against these same Chiefs in Week 1 last year and the fact that from all indications Allen hates Marcus Peters’ guts. I’m not kidding. He really does – for reasons that have never been fully explained.

Allen’s coming off a big game – a nine catch, 100-yard effort in a loss to the Miami Dolphins. He’s healthy, he’s (apparently) angry and Peters is more a takeaway artist than a true “shutdown” corner. This isn’t a matchup to shy away from – it’s one to exploit.

Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys (at ARZ – Patrick Peterson) As Kyle Odegard of the Cardinals’ website wrote, Patrick Peterson believes he can still be a much better NFL cornerback. “I’m still not at my peak yet,” Peterson said. “’I’m just getting there. At my position now, it’s all about what I give up, not what I get. It would be great for me to get some interceptions, great for me to get some touchdowns, but when you don’t get many opportunities, it’s hard to fulfill that void or that goal that you put out there for yourself.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: The Cardinals coaching staff must feel pretty good about Peterson – there isn’t a corner in the NFL who spends more time in “shadow” coverage than the 27-year-old. This week that means Bryant, who continues his tour of the NFL’s elite cover men. So far this season, that tour (Janoris Jenkins in Week 1 and the “No Fly Zone” in Week 2) has led to a 9/102/1 stat line for Bryant. For one game that would be great. From two? Not so much.

Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders (at WAS – Josh Norman) Through two weeks the Oakland Raiders look like one of the best teams in the NFL, and it will fall to Norman and the Redskins defense Sunday to try to slow down an Oakland offense that just hung 45 on the corpse of the New York Jets. Norman told Mike Jones of the Washington Post he’s looking forward to it.

“Their team as a whole is a bodacious swagger group,” Norman said. “It’s like they’re bringing that old Raider style football back into play. I like going against challenges like that. … It’s why you play this game.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: Assuming that the Raiders don’t flip the formation all night long, it’s Crabtree who will draw Josh Norman in coverage more often than not. That’s not what Crabtree owners want to hear after his three-touchdown explosion in Week 2, but it’s music to ears of Amari Cooper owners. It’s also fitting after a fashion – Cooper’s down Week 2 was due at least in part to being shadowed by Morris Claiborne while Crabtree got to run past Busted Skrine.

OK, Buster…whatever.

DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans (at NE – Stephon Gilmore) If Hopkins gets shadow coverage Sunday it will be from Gilmore, because Malcolm Butler is in Bill Belichick’s doghouse. And Butler admitted to ESPN’s Mike Reiss that he has no one to blame but himself for that.

“I haven’t been performing at the level that I should be performing at,” he said. “There’s no excuses. I’m finding my way back, you better believe that. Complaining or feeling sorry for myself is not going to make me perform better. I just have to keep it rolling. I’m going to get it rolling. That’s what I have to do.”

THE SHADOW SAYS: I have no doubt Hopkins will see a lot of Gilmore in Week 3. On any downfield routes I’d wager he’ll be bracketed by safety Devin McCourty too. The Patriots could have Butler triple-team “Nuk” and I wouldn’t really care. Deshaun Watson is absolutely locked onto Hopkins all day every day. He’s the most targeted receiver in the NFL. And you just don’t sit the most targeted receiver in the NFL, coverage be damned.

Marvin Jones, Detroit Lions (vs. ATL – Desmond Trufant) In news that should surprise no one, Trufant’s NFC Defensive Player of the Week-worthy performance drew praise from head coach Dan Quinn. “It’s his mindset for the ball, where he is catching it better than he has in the past,” Quinn told ESPN’s Vaughn McClure. I think that really carried forward through the game, where he was able to get his hand on it and really make a nice play down the field to track it. It’s a great challenge for him to have. Can he do it better than he’s ever done it before? He’s certainly on that trajectory this year. He’s put the work in. He’s fast, he’s fit and he’s off to a good start."

THE SHADOW SAYS: Trufant’s playing as well as he ever has, which would be un-good news for the Lions’ best wide receiver – If Marvin Jones was that guy. Will Golden Tate see some time opposite Trufant? Sure. But he isn’t going to see a lot, because Tate spends a ton of time in the slot. Trufant, on the other hand, does not. Tate will be fine.

However, starting Jones is essentially praying for a third straight game with a score.