EAGAN — There aren’t too many players who have given the Minnesota Vikings’ defense fits during Mike Zimmer’s tenure but receiver Golden Tate is in that rare club.
In eight games against the Vikings since 2014, Tate has 45 receptions for 368 yards and two touchdowns. He memorably scored a game-winning touchdown on a miraculous play to win at US Bank Stadium in 2016. In a piece for the Player’s Tribune last year, Xavier Rhodes called Tate one of the best players in the NFC North.
Tate is making his season debut for the New York Giants this week after being suspended for the first four weeks of the year. Last season he did not see the Vikings because he was traded midseason to the Philadelphia Eagles, where he caught a go-ahead touchdown pass in the playoffs in the wild card round.
“We’ll just have to figure out where they’re going to play Tate,” Zimmer said on Friday. “Shephard is a very explosive guy. They get a lot of production from him and (Evan) Engram, so we’ll have to do a good job on all of them.”
The Vikings will attempt to slow down Tate, who caught 49 passes out of the slot last year (10th most in the NFL), without nickel corner Mackensie Alexander.
The fourth-year defensive back made great progress during the second half of last season and appeared to be reaching the potential that the Vikings saw when they picked him in the second round of the 2016 draft. But he has been hindered by an elbow injury suffered in Week 1. Alexander returned last week and played 39 snaps but found himself back on the injury report this week and will be out on Sunday.
Asked how Alexander’s absence will impact the gameplan, Zimmer said, “it doesn’t.”
The Vikings’ 2018 first-round pick Mike Hughes will see the majority of the snaps inside along with hybrid DB Jayron Kearse. Hughes played for the first time in Week 3 after suffering an ACL tear last season. In 60 snaps over the last two weeks, Hughes has given up just three receptions on five targets for 23 yards, according to Pro Football Focus.
“He missed a couple tackles the first game, but other than that he’s been fine,” Zimmer said of Hughes’ play.
Against the pass thus far the Vikings have withstood injuries to rank ninth in passing yards per game allowed and sixth in yards per attempt. They will face rookie quarterback Daniel Jones for the first time — and he will have a Viking killer on his side in Tate.