Why a cornerback rotation is best for the Vikings' defense

Minnesota's pass defense is giving up 236 yards per game.
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Mike Hughes

With three games remaining for the Vikings, the biggest question isn't on offense, it's surprisingly the team's pass defense.

Through 14 weeks, Minnesota's pass defense ranks 16th (236 yards per game) in the NFL. It's not awful, but teams are picking on Minnesota's cornerbacks, especially Xavier Rhodes, who is statistically having his worst season as a pro.

In last week's win over the Lions, Rhodes was used sparingly and that was before he left the game with a leg injury. Rhodes only played 29 snaps – just 41% of defensive snaps. 

After starting the first series against Detroit, Zimmer elected to hold Rhodes on the sidelines for the second series, with second-year cornerback Mike Hughes, Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander helping force a three-and-out. 

In every other game this season, Rhodes had played in at least 70% of the team's snaps, including 90% of snaps in six games. Injuries aside, it seems the Vikings would be wise to start a rotation at cornerback because they can't afford to have Rhodes playing as much as he usually does. 

Opposing teams are feasting on Rhodes, with quarterbacks owning a passer rating of 130 against him. That's second worst in the entire NFL, according to Matthew Coller of SKOR North. Meanwhile, Hughes is surrendering a passer rating of 100.3.

If passer ratings allowed were body temperatures, Hughes would have a fever and Rhodes would dead. 

"I just think it’s important we mix some guys in there and let some guys adjust and see how the flow of the game is and keep going from there," head coach Mike Zimmer said after the Lions game. "I think in the past two weeks, the cornerbacks have been in better position in pass defense than we were the previous four or five weeks. So if that’s the case we’re going to continue to get better.”

Every other part of Minnesota's defense has been above average. 

Danielle Hunter and Everson Griffen have a combined 20 sacks to lead the defensive line, Eric Kendricks is playing at an elite level, earning a 90.6 grade from Pro Football Focus, and the safety tandem of Harrison Smith (83.3 grade) and Anthony Harris (81.7 grade) is arguably one of the best in the league. 

Basically, there's someone at every position on the Vikings defense playing at a Pro Bowl-level, except at cornerback. 

It's obvious entering Week 15 that Zimmer needs to continue rotating Rhodes out of the game with Hughes and even Holton Hill getting more reps to get the best possible results on defense.

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