Around the Horns: Xavier Rhodes shines in Vikings' win over Falcons

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For a Vikings team that's been staking plenty of its plans on Xavier Rhodes turning into a top-end cover cornerback, his performance Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons had to deliver a shot of encouragement. Rhodes had one of the best games of his career at TCF Bank Stadium, two weeks after one of his worst on the same field. He was targeted frequently by Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan but broke up four passes, handled the right side of the field well and thumped running back Steven Jackson for a 2-yard loss in the second half.

According to Pro Football Focus, Rhodes was targeted 11 times Sunday but gave up just five catches for 66 yards, with none of the completions going for more than 20 yards. The Falcons eventually found more success targeting linebacker Anthony Barr on short passes (as several teams have) and attacking Captain Munnerlyn on the other side of the field, but Rhodes held up well when the Vikings needed it.

"I have a lot of confidence in Xavier," coach Mike Zimmer said. "I think he’s got a chance to continue to be a very good player. He’s like a lot of these guys we have on defense -- so young and learning so much of trying to figure out what we’re trying to do in situations and how we play the techniques and the different combinations. (Defensive backs coach) Jerry (Gray) is doing a great job with him, but I do think Xavier is continually getting better and he’s got a chance to be very, very good if he keeps working on the little things to make him really good."

Rhodes will be in for another test Thursday night when the Vikings travel to Green Bay to face the Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but if he's able to take away his side of the field as effectively as he did Sunday, he'll have a chance to throw off the Packers' rhythm on offense. Green Bay essentially decided not to throw to Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman's side of the field in its season-opening loss to Seattle, and while Rhodes hasn't come close to earning that kind of reputation, he could force the Packers to look elsewhere if he handles his assignments well Thursday night. What he did Sunday against the league's top passing offense was a good step.

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