Reunion with Vikings next for Xavier Rhodes; it’s still target practice against Colts’ pass D

Indianapolis Colts

Keelan Cole #84 of the Jacksonville Jaguars makes a reception against Xavier Rhodes #27 of the Indianapolis Colts during the game at TIAA Bank Field on September 13, 2020 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS – Xavier Rhodes is focused on the business at hand, not the business that resulted in him facing his old business partners Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.

Confused? Listen up.

Rhodes finds himself as the starting right cornerback with a new team (the Indianapolis Colts) after his old team (the Minnesota Vikings) rocked his offseason. In mid-March and two years after giving him a five-year, $70 million extension, the Vikings released him.

Now in his second game with the Colts, we have a Rhodes/Vikings reunion.

“It’s all love, man,’’ he said Tuesday on a Zoom conference call. “It was a brotherhood when I was there and still a brotherhood to this day. It’s gonna be good going against those guys.’’

Rhodes insisted it took him about a day to get over being pink-slipped by the Vikings, with whom he had a long history. He was their 2013 first-round draft pick who would make three Pro Bowl appearances and be selected first-team All-Pro in ’17.

“The first couple of hours it was like a shock to me,’’ Rhodes said. “After that I reminded myself this is a business, and I’ve got to move on to the next.’’

The next stop was Indy, and nothing drives home the business nature of the NFL more than the Rhodes/Colts/Vikings situation. He not only counts $3.25 million against the Colts’ salary cap, but $4.8 million against the Vikings’ in the form of dead money from the ’17 extension.

When Tuesday’s discussion kept returning to the Vikings and their decision to move on, Rhodes kept taking the high road.

“It’s business at the end of the day,’’ he said. “I’ve been in the league going on eight years, and I’ve seen it happen multiple times, and we see it happen on ESPN to different players. It’s business. That’s how things go.

“I mean you’ve just got to move on, go to your next team, your new family and not allow that to get to you because you have to know at the end of the day it’s a business.’’

And that brings us to Rivers’ business with the Colts, and a Colts pass defense that for too long simply hasn’t been good enough.

The latest evidence surfaced Sunday at Jacksonville, and the latest quarterback to torment them was Gardner Minshew. In the Jaguars’ 27-20 upset, Minshew completed 19-of-20 passes (95%). The Colts limited him to just 173 yards, but gave up three TD passes.

After reviewing the video, Rhodes huddled with his coordinator. Overall, Rhodes believed he played “solid,’’ according to Matt Eberflus, but “wants to have two plays back.’’

The first was a third-quarter interference penalty Rhodes earned while running step-for-step with DJ Chark. When Minshew’s pass was slightly underthrown, Rhodes put his hands on Chark to keep him from coming back for it.

“(On) the PI, I was thinking back-shoulder and I didn’t see it,’’ he said. “I looked the other way. It was a 50-50 call and with those calls, the ref’s goingto call it on the defensive player almost always.’’

The 36-yard penalty was instrumental in positioning the Jaguars for Josh Lambo’s 50-yard field goal that tied the game at 17-all.

The second mulligan Rhodes wanted and the Colts needed was on Minshew’s 22-yard touchdown to Keelan Cole. It came with 5:56 to play in the fourth quarter and pushed the Jaguars in front for good at 24-20.

It was Rhodes’ mistake and a killer. Lined up to the right of the defensive formation, he took a couple of hesitant steps forward at the snap. That allowed Cole – his man in coverage – to streak across the field and, with Rhodes trailing him by 10 yards, run under Minshew’s pass.

“He’s got to cover the guy in man coverage on the last play,’’ Eberflus said.

Added Rhodes: “Just a good scheme, a good play by the Jaguars. They just capitalized on the mistake that was made.’’

About that pass defense

As we mentioned earlier, the Colts have issues with their pass defense. More to the point, those issues primarily deal with yielding completions at an alarming rate. Past and present.

The 4-3 scheme utilized by Eberflus – and Tony Dungy and Jim Caldwell before him – involves limiting over-the-top plays by keeping completions in front of the defender. In simplistic terms, it invites a dink-and-dunk approach while expecting a pass rusher to get to the QB or a DB to make a play on a long drive.

Not only aren’t the Colts getting the desired results, they’re putting their name in the team’s record book and the NFL’s as well.

The top two completion percentage marks in team history have occurred in the last four games. Remember Drew Brees’ 29-of-30 (96.7%) sniping in week 15 last season? Minshew’s 19-of-20 (95%) on Sunday ranks 2nd all-time.

At the NFL level, Brees’ 96.7% ranks 1st and Minshew’s 95% checks in 4th.

According to Pro Football Reference, a QB has completed 90% of his passes with a minimum of 20 attempts only eight times.

Interestingly, Philip Rivers, now under center for the Colts, has accounted for two of those eight. He completed 28-of-29 (96.55%) against Arizona in 2018, including tying a league record with 25 straight at one point, and 18-of-20 (90%) against Kansas City in ’12.

Over a complete season, the Colts allowed completions at 70.8% in ’18, Eberflus’ first season as coordinator, and 70.1% last season. Those figures rank 2nd and 3rd in team history.

Over the last six games, QBs have completed 75.6% of their attempts.

“There’s no question we have to improve that, and we will improve that,’’ Eberflus said. “We have confidence in our process, we have confidence in our players, and we have confidence in our scheme.

“Keep chipping away at it, and we’ll get better as we go.’’

Don’t be surprised if the Colts adjust things and tighten up their coverage against Kirk Cousins and the Vikings.

“It just depends on what the call is and the scheme is,’’ Rhodes said. “But, yeah, definitely.’’

It’s not as if the Colts’ defense simply allowed Minshew to play pitch-and-catch with his receivers. While he had phenomenal success throwing, his 29 drop-back attempts included four sacks and five scrambles.

“So we had him choking the ball, and we were doing some things on third down that we hadn’t done in terms of our coverage,’’ Eberflus said. “The guys did a good job in a lot of those instances.’’

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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