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The Indianapolis Colts defense is the right environment for Xavier Rhodes to revive his career

Xavier Rhodes‘ on-field results — Pro Bowl nod aside — were disastrous in 2019. His PFF grade of 47.9 ranked just 115th out of the 121 qualifiers at the cornerback position, and no player allowed a higher completion rate on passes into their coverage than Rhodes did this past season (84.3%). The “washed” label has been thrown around freely with the seven-year veteran, and it’s not all that difficult to see why when he is coming off a stat line in coverage like the one below. 

Xavier Rhodes: 2019 coverage numbers
Targets 70
Completions allowed 59
Yards against 707
Touchdowns allowed 4
Interceptions 0
Penalties 10

For Rhodes, though, that is in the past. He is now in a new defensive scheme with a fast track to a starting job on the outside with the Indianapolis Colts — an opportunity to revive a career that many are leaving for dead. 

Early anecdotal evidence is in on how Rhodes is transitioning to the Colts’ defense, and — shockingly — the change in scenery appears to be well-received.

[Editor's Note: PFF's advanced statistics and player grades are powered by AWS machine learning capabilities.]

Per a piece by the Indianapolis Star’s Joel A. Erickson, Rhodes said of the new defensive scheme in Indianapolis, “This one is more zone, eyes to the quarterback. That’s going to be the main difference for me, it's like being able to play looking at the quarterback rather than looking at the man.” He went on to add, “It’s so much easier. I’ll tell you that.” 

Rhodes may be known primarily for beating up on receivers with his physical play in man coverage throughout his career, but the Vikings were actually one of the heaviest zone-coverage teams in the NFL this past season according to PFF’s coverage-scheme charting. In fact, the only teams to run zone coverage on a higher percentage of their defensive snaps were the Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers

The real difference between Minnesota’s defense and Indianapolis’ defense comes in its complexity. As Robert Mays put it in a 2018 piece on The Ringer, “The way that Zimmer uses pattern-match tactics within his defense makes identifying the coverage nearly impossible for opponents at times. Based on the route distribution on a play, the Vikings can drift between zone and man concepts on a single snap.” That complexity makes it more difficult for offenses to diagnose, but it also increases the chances for blown coverages if the guys in the secondary aren’t on the same page. This 60-yard touchdown below for David Moore is an example of that — a blown coverage that Rhodes took the blame for after the game. 

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