The NFL has very few constants week in and week out. Between injuries, scheme changes, and general variance in play, teams and players can look completely different from week to week. One of the few constants in the league is that Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown will make life a nightmare for opposing defenses. Since 2014, no one has caught more passes than Brown who, despite his diminutive size relative to his position, seems to always be open. Brown has been wrecking defensive game plans for years, and when he is not doing it offense he is ruining punter’s lives. Slowing down Brown has to be priority number one for the Vikings this week as they travel to Pittsburgh this week coming off a Monday night victory.
Fortunately for the Vikes they have Xavier Rhodes, who is as well equipped as anyone to give Brown problems. Rhodes is far and away the Vikings best cover man, and will in all likelihood be shadowing Brown all over the field. While he may travel with him, the tricky part about covering Brown is way that Pittsburgh moves him around. Traditional number one wideouts usually remain on the outside, which gives defenders the sideline as a cushion to wall them off. The Steelers do an excellent job varying formations and using Brown in the slot making it harder to jam him up at the line of scrimmage. He is so quick that defenders often have a difficult time getting their hands on him in the five yard area, which allows him to get a clean release. Rhodes strength and speed allow him to keep up with Brown’s of the world while also allowing him to man-handle them at the line of scrimmage.
The blueprint the Vikings need to employ is how they handled Odell Beckham Jr. in their matchup last year against the New York Giants. Rhodes was physical with Beckham all night, frustrating him and getting in his head all night. The Vikings will roll coverage to Brown and bracket him all game long. Beckham is a much more volatile and emotional player than Brown, but the coverage tactics that were employed should be transferable.
It is unlikely that the Vikings will be able to completely take Brown out of the game, but keeping him from dominating the game is essential to keeping them close. Rhodes will have to on top of his game and beat up Brown at the line of scrimmage all afternoon to slow down the vaunted Pittsburgh offense.