Xavier Rhodes didn’t have a single pass defense, but the Vikings’ All-Pro shutdown cornerback did make a fourth-down tackle to complete a game-changing goal-line stand that left Arizona’s offense empty-handed and the Vikings’ defense full of renewed energy.
“That stand changed the game,” safety Anthony Harris said after Sunday’s 27-17 win at U.S. Bank Stadium. “Changed the mind-set. A goal-line stand brings a lot of energy with it.”
Rhodes’ stop on fourth-and-goal at the 1 came with the Vikings leading 10-3 early in the second quarter. In their next three possessions, the Cardinals ran nine plays for 4 yards, went three-and-out three times and were outscored 17-7 with the Arizona touchdown coming on defense.
“We missed a lot of opportunities, particularly fourth-and-goal,” Cardinals coach Steve Wilks said in his remarks after the game. “We need to score when we get down there.”
The Cardinals got down there because of two plays. A massively ill-advised Kirk Cousins pass was intercepted and immediately followed by a 40-yard completion from Josh Rosen to tight end Ricky Seals-Jones.
It was first-and-UH-OH at the 7.
On first down, the other starting corner, Trae Waynes, undercut 224-pound running back David Johnson for a 1-yard gain. It was one of two tackles on the day for the guy who missed the Eagles game because of a concussion.
“You have to be aggressive and make tackles as a corner in this defense,” Rhodes said. “Coach is going to put you in situations where you’re going to be in an open field with the running back. We work a lot on that.”
Johnson got 5 yards on second down before linebacker Anthony Barr dragged him down short of the goal line.
Third-and-goal from the 1. Rosen ran a play fake to Johnson and turned to his right.
“I’m reading the tight end at the line of scrimmage,” Harris said. “He released. Then I saw the fullback coming out, sneaking into the flat. I took the fullback. Ben [Gedeon] took the tight end.”
Rosen said he liked the play call because he figured they still could run the ball on fourth down if the pass was incomplete.
“We thought we’d try something and get a little sneaky,” he said. “It didn’t work out, but I’d say hindsight is 20/20.”
It didn’t work because Gedeon had good coverage on Seals-Jones, and Harris had time to leave the fullback and go to the ball and help break up the pass.
“As soon as I saw the ball go,” he said, “I went for it so I could help Ben.”
Done trying to be tricky, the Cardinals lined up in a power formation that signaled a run off left tackle.
That side of the line held firm, allowing Rhodes to simply sidestep the traffic and secure the tackle for no gain.
“We watch a lot of film, and we know that they trust the ball in [Johnson’s] hands,” Rhodes said. “I’m just watching my man. If my man does what he did, I’m filling the gap.”
Rhodes’ man didn’t release. So he charged at the ball carrier using the perfect angle.
“I recognized it pretty early,” he said. “Just seen it on film. And the film work was right.”
The Cardinals went 0-for-2 on fourth down and 0-for-10 on third down. With 269 yards of offense, they’ve yet to reach 300 in a game this season.
The Vikings had four sacks, two of them on third down. End Danielle Hunter had two sacks. He’s tied for the league lead with seven and is the only player to have a sack in every game this season. Chicago’s Khalil Mack went without one for the first time on Sunday.
“Am I concerned?” Wilks said when asked about another week with fewer than 300 yards. “Majorly. Mystified. I wouldn’t use that word. We need to correct it. We need to find ways to get into the end zone.”
Especially from the 1-yard line and in.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL. E-mail: email@example.com