David Blough was a sight for sore egos in the Vikings’ embattled secondary.
Making his first NFL road start behind porous pass protection, the Lions’ undrafted rookie quarterback posted a 60.9 passer rating, with no completion longer than 18 yards, two interceptions, five sacks and a garbage-time touchdown in a 20-7 snoozer at U.S. Bank Stadium.
On behalf of Xavier Rhodes, thank you, David.
The slumping cornerback now living in the cross hairs of most opposing quarterbacks (see most recently: Wilson, R.) was targeted just one time in 25 snaps as he, Mike Hughes and Trae Waynes rotated each series until Rhodes (ankle) and Hughes (oblique) were injured late in the third quarter.
And what happened on that one target? The flustered Blough fired the ball about 10 feet over the head of receiver Kenny Golladay, who had gotten separation from Rhodes on a crossing route. Safety Harrison Smith made a leaping interception while colliding with Rhodes, who was injured and sidelined for the rest of the game at the 4:24 mark of the third quarter.
“When you got guys up front rushing like we did today, it’s pretty easy stuff in the back end,” Smith said of a pass rush that included three third-down first-half drive-stoppers by Danielle Hunter.
“When they do that, all we have to do is cover for a little bit and we’re OK.”
Things weren’t OK last week for Rhodes. He was torched at Seattle, where he also threw an embarrassing temper tantrum on national TV. He apologized two days later and said he needed to act and play better.
Sunday, Zimmer unveiled the most structured and consistent cornerback rotation he’s used as Vikings coach.
Rhodes and Hughes were available for nine of Detroit’s 12 possessions. Rhodes and Waynes started Detroit’s first, fourth, seventh and ninth possessions. Hughes and Waynes started the second, fifth and eighth possessions. And Rhodes and Hughes started the third and sixth possessions.
Detroit’s third and fifth possessions saw all three corners see action. Waynes and Holton Hill handled the final 20 minutes.
“I just think it’s important that we mix some guys in there and let some guys adjust and see how the game, the flow of the game is, and keep going from there,” Zimmer said. “And, more importantly … in the last two weeks, they’ve been in much better position in pass defense than we were the previous four or five weeks.”
The Lions had seven punts, including five that came on three-and-outs. Rhodes and Waynes were on the field for three of them, Hughes and Waynes for two.
Hughes played 24 snaps, one fewer than Rhodes. He was targeted three times, giving up receptions of 18 and 4 yards while making an excellent pass defense in tight coverage to force an early three-and-out on third-and-2.
Blough picked on Waynes more than any other corner. On Detroit’s fifth possession, Waynes was flagged for holding while also giving up a 17-yard completion. He gave up two more completions on that drive and was pulled.
The Vikings presumably will continue the rotation next week when they visit the Los Angeles Chargers and Philip Rivers. Assuming the injuries aren’t serious.
Any concerns there? “I don’t think so,” Zimmer said. “I don’t know.”
Rivers has 221 regular-season starts. That’s 219 more than Mr. Blough.
So things might not go as smoothly for the Vikings as they did on the Lions’ third offensive snap Sunday.
Blough dropped back as Rhodes backpedaled alongside the speedster Golladay on third-and-10. Blough peeked to his left and probably thought about launching a ball in Golladay’s direction.
But, whammo! Hunter mauled him before he could think twice.
Asked if Sunday’s game was the perfect mix of rush and cover, safety Anthony Harris said, “Yes,” but …
“It’s got to be a consistent thing,” he added. “Or it puts stress on everybody.”
On this day, Mr. Blough relieved a whole lot of stress on the back end of the Vikings defense.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org