EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Antonio Brown is a matchup challenge that Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer knows well.
From 2010 to 2013, Zimmer drew up a game plan for Brown twice a year as the defensive coordinator for the Cincinnati Bengals. Those AFC North rivalry games with the Pittsburgh Steelers allowed Zimmer to observe Brown from his quick rise in the early stage of his career into becoming one of the best receivers in the league.
“He’s pretty much the same guy,” Zimmer said. “I mean, he’s amazing. Finds ways to get open. Tough. Gets the ball in space. He’s tough to tackle. He’s a big play waiting to happen.”
The last time Minnesota faced Pittsburgh was during a 2013 regular-season meeting in London. The Vikings won that game 34-27. Brown caught 12 passes for 88 yards.
When the Vikings and Steelers meet in Pittsburgh on Sunday, Brown could line up across from someone else who knows him well.
Vikings cornerback Xavier Rhodes grew up down the street from Brown in Miami. Separated by a few years in school, the two are both alumni of Miami Norland Senior High.
In recent years, both have gone back home to train and spent time going against each other.
“Every offseason we tend to find time to work out, hang out,” Rhodes said. “Just try to find a field and work out together. We all have our different things we need to do. He’s a busy man; I’m a busy man. When we find time to work out, we do it.”
Brown led the league in receiving in Week 1 with 11 catches for 182 yards. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was 11-of-11 targeting Brown, the first time a quarterback has targeted a receiver 11 or more times without an incompletion since 2014.
If Rhodes is called on to shadow Brown this Sunday, it wouldn’t be the first time. The cornerback covered Brown in the London game and is often tasked with covering an opponent’s No. 1 receiver.
The Rhodes-Brown matchup would be a highlight of two of the best at their position. Rhodes is among the top shutdown corners in the league with his long, physical presence that causes receivers issues from the second the ball is snapped. Opponsing quarterbacks had a 39.2 rating when targeting him in 2016 and he contained receivers to an NFL-best 41.8-percent catch rate.
It’s been argued that Brown might be the most complete receiver in the NFL. He's aiming for a fifth straight season with 100-plus catches and 1,200-plus receiving yards. The separation Brown creates between himself and his defender relies on deceptiveness and quickness, and there are few others as good at getting open.
Regardless of how much Rhodes finds himself matched up against Brown, the Vikings cornerback doesn’t put a lot of stock into the matchup and is more excited to see the levels he and his old friend have reached in their careers.
“We’re more proud for making it this far and achieving what we’ve achieved,” Rhodes said. “We’re going to be more proud of doing that than being able to line up against each other.