Xavier Rhodes was an All-Pro pick two years ago, when it seemed he could disrupt almost any pass attempt that came his way.
But during the past two seasons, the Vikings cornerback's coverage area has been draped in yellow — 16 penalties in 22 games.
Pass deflections and interceptions are no longer a top priority, Rhodes said after Thursday night's 19-9 victory over Washington. He said he remains focused on trying to curb his increasing penalty total this season. His seventh flag in eight games, a 19-yard defensive pass interference, moved Washington to the 2-yard line in the first half.
That put Rhodes on pace for a career-high 14 penalties, a number reflecting his reputation among NFL officials.
"If it's a 50-50 chance, they're going to call that on me every time," Rhodes said. "I know that. Coaches know that. Everyone on the team knows that. That's why I don't trip about it no more.
"Earlier in my career I'd get mad, but I know what I'm going against. I guess I have a rep, a name out there in the league, and I have to change it. It's up to me to change it."
The simple fix on the most recent penalty, according to Rhodes, is turning his helmet and playing the ball. That flag "does not bother" coach Mike Zimmer, who said he would've challenged the call if officials had a better precedent for overturning them.
While he has coaching points for Rhodes, Zimmer doesn't want to change a style that has produced 70 pass deflections, including 10 interceptions, in seven NFL seasons.
"This guy has to play like a power forward," Zimmer said. "That's how he has to play. That's his game. If he doesn't play like a power forward — he's not going to play like Mackensie [Alexander] or Mike Hughes or one of these little guys. He's got to play as a power forward, and if he gets some penalties, he's going to get some."
Slight pull here, a little grab there; Rhodes said he feels like he's been under the microscope from officials this season while he's given opponents 100 penalty yards. He recalled last weekend's win in Detroit, when an official approached after what he thought was an innocuous play.
"It was a little slight tug and the ref said, 'I'm going to call you next time,'" Rhodes said. "I'm like … 'I ain't even do nothing.' That lets me know. That confirms to me that it's a target on my back. They're looking at every little detail in my game. Everything I do they looking at 29 [his number] and what 29 does. It is what it is. I have to go out there and work on a different technique, work on myself and do better."
In nonpenalized coverage, Rhodes' self-evaluations are sunnier.
The two-time Pro Bowl player isn't losing sleep over Redskins rookie receiver Terry McLaurin catching two quick hitch routes for 23 yards in Thursday's first quarter. He said he was playing the way he was told to play by Vikings coaches, which was "over the top" of McLaurin in coverage schemes that didn't provide him safety help.
The Lions also got Rhodes with quick throws — a 2-yard touchdown and 3-yard touchdown — during the Vikings' victory Sunday at Detroit. Zimmer shouldered blame after Thursday night's game.
"I'm talking to him about being over the top on receivers, because that's what we're trying to do," Zimmer said. "I always tell him, if they throw those [short] balls, then I need to change the coverage."
Quarterbacks aren't targeting Rhodes any more or less than his career average — his current pace of 80 targets, according to Pro Football Focus, wouldn't rank top-three in his career — but the disruption that helped make him one of the NFL's highest-paid cornerbacks still is missing.
Zimmer said Friday he wasn't worried about Rhodes' three pass deflections to seven penalties.
"I'm good with Xavier," Zimmer said.
Rhodes is not good with all that yellow, however.
"Right now, I'm hurting my team. They're helping me out with the wins," Rhodes said. "It's the penalties that's been killing me. I feel like in coverage, I've been in great coverage all the games I've played, but it's the penalties that have been killing me."