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Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Giants: Breaking Down New York's Game Plan

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Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Giants: Breaking Down New York's Game Plan
Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

It's not exactly the marquee matchup the NFL schedule-makers envisioned, but hey, it’s something to watch if one is not a fan of the usual Monday night television lineup.

The winless New York Giants will host the one-win Minnesota Vikings in a game that pits two teams sitting firmly in last place in their respective divisions, in a prime-time affair on Monday night.

Rather than ask who might win, the bigger question for each club centers around their respective quarterbacks.

The Vikings’ starting quarterback job has been in a state of flux. They picked up Josh Freeman after he was let go by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and there was some question as to whether he would be ready to make his Vikings debut. 

It turns out he's ready.  

Per the Vikings' official Twitter account, head coach Leslie Frazier feels comfortable with starting Freeman.  

"He has adapted to our system," Frazier said. "I like his work ethic. He has done enough for us to say that he is ready." 

The Giants, meanwhile, know whom they will be lining up behind center.

Or do they? 

The signal-caller, wearing who has the surname “Manning” emblazoned on the back of his jersey, hasn’t looked anything like two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning this season.

The 2013 version has been squeamish in the pocket and has made poor decisions and even poorer throws, such as the high pass intended for tight end Brandon Myers that ended any chance of a comeback in their loss against the Chicago Bears a week ago.

Manning, who has 15 interceptions this year, has yet to go a game without a turnover. Even more alarming, he’s had three games where he’s thrown three interceptions this year, something he hasn't done since 2010, when he finished with a career-high 25 interceptions. 

Manning is on track to finish with 40 interceptions, hardly something a team wants to see from its highest-paid player.

Each team is desperate for a win, probably none more so than the Giants, who would, no doubt, like to avoid a second straight prime-time embarrassment and a 0-7 start.

Let’s look at how it all might unfold. 

 

The Series 

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This is the 23rd regular-season meeting between the two clubs. The Vikings lead the series, 13-9, but the Giants lead the postseason series, 2-1.

This game will be the fifth time in the regular season that the Giants and Vikings have faced each other on Monday Night Football. The MNF series is tied, 2-2

The last time these two teams met was in 2010, a game that was originally scheduled to be played in Minnesota, but was moved to Detroit after a blizzard caused the roof of the Metrodome to collapse the day prior to the game.

The Vikings have won four out of the last five meetings; New York won the most recent matchup, 21-3.

The Vikings and Giants have met four times on Monday Night Football with each team winning a pair of games.

 

Minnesota Vikings vs. New York Giants: The Competitive Edge
Vikings Giants
Quarterback x
Running Backs x
Tight Ends x
Wide Receivers x
Offensive Line x
Defensive Line x
Linebackers x
Defensive Backs even even
Special Teams x

Advantage: Minnesota Vikings

Unit Analyses

Quarterback: The Vikings will start Josh Freeman against the Giants. While head coach Leslie Frazier has confidence that Freeman is ready to lead the offense, it remains to be seen just how smooth Freeman’s debut will actually be.

Eli Manning, on the other hand, has struggled against the Vikings defense, throwing 11 interceptions in five games. Per Pro-Football-Reference.com, that’s the most interceptions thrown by Manning against a non-division opponent. 

 

Running Backs: There’s Adrian Peterson, and then there’s everyone else. The future Hall of Famer is the type of player whom a defense can hope to contain rather than stop.

The Giants, meanwhile, have injury issues at running back; starter Brandon Jacobs has been nursing a balky hamstring. Behind him is Michael Cox, an inexperienced rookie, and newly signed Peyton Hillis.   

                                

Tight Ends: Last week, the Giants tight ends had their best game as a unit, a fact aided largely by the return of Bear Pascoe to his natural position. However, the Giants tight ends are going to face a very good group of Vikings linebackers, whereas Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph looks to be a mismatch for the Giants.   

                  

Wide Receiver: The Giants have the personnel to make the difference in this game if the quarterback cuts down on his errors.

The Vikings’ big-play man has been Jerome Simpson, who is averaging 16.2 yards per catch, but who has yet to record a receiving touchdown. Former Packer Greg Jennings’ two touchdowns tie him for the Vikings' team lead with Rudolph.

 

Offensive Line: Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Vikings have done a much better job protecting the edges, giving up just three sacks, all by right tackle Phil Loadholt.

The Giants tackles have allowed six sacks, and surprisingly, four of those six have come through left tackle Will Beatty’s side instead of rookie Justin Pugh’s. 

 

Defensive Line: There’s nothing wrong with the Giants’ defensive tackles. The ends, however, are just not having any kind of consistent production, which is a major concern.

The trio of Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka has 3.0 sacks through six games. That’s a half-sack less than what Vikings' defensive end Jared Allen alone has recorded so far this season.

 

Linebackers: The Vikings’ top two leaders in tackles are none other than linebackers Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway, who have combined for 73 tackles. The two also have 3.0 sacks and four interceptions, numbers that are far superior than the Giants’ current starting trio. 

 

Secondary: According to the individual player data from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Vikings' secondary has allowed 79 percent of the passes targeted at them to be completed for 785 yards and nine touchdowns.

The Giants' defensive backs have been targeted 110 times, allowing 71 percent of the passes to go for completions for 819 yards and nine touchdowns. 

 

Special Teams: Where the Vikings, however, have the edge is in their place-kicker, Blair Walsh. Despite a leg injury, Walsh has made nine out of 10 field-goal attempts and all 14 of his extra points.

His Giants counterpart, Josh Brown, hasn’t had a field-goal attempt in two games; prior to that, he had two misses in two games, while his kickoffs haven’t always reached the back of the end zone.

 

Strategy Preview

Last week, the Giants offensive line got a bit of a break when it went against a banged-up Bears defensive front.

That won’t be the case this week, as the Vikings have a solid and active front seven capable of getting after the quarterback.

Hence, the first thing that must be done is to get a hat on a hat up against the Vikings’ front four. Considering how squeamish Eli Manning has been in the pocket, if he is put under duress again, the results won’t be pretty.

One way the Giants can help Manning is to deploy a short-passing game, something it hasn’t done much of to date. While offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride fancies the deep ball, unless the Giants can get the Vikings defense to back off, the deep ball won’t be there.

Theoretically, five offensive linemen should be able to block four defensive linemen. However, if Manning is going to be taking many five-step drops, unless his blocking up front is pristine, he’s going to find himself under duress, especially if the Vikings send five at him.

One thing Manning has typically been good with is making blitzing defenses pay. This can be done with three-step drops coupled with quick slants, hitches and hooks. If the Giants can get a short-passing game going, the deep stuff against a mediocre Vikings defensive secondary should be there later in the game. 

As previously noted, the Vikings announced their starting quarterback will be Josh Freeman. However, the key to beating Minnesota’s offense is to find a way to stop running back Adrian Peterson, a powerful runner who doesn't go down very easily.

Peterson, who has rushed for an average of 138.7 yards and 15 touchdowns in his past 15 games, is not a running back against whom an arm or ankle tackle will suffice.

“He’s so strong, so fast, and elusive that if you’re not playing high-tempo, swarming to the ball, and gang tackling, that makes him tougher to contain,” noted middle linebacker Jon Beason.

According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), 366 of his 483 rushing yards have come after contact, which is an NFL-best through six weeks.

Thus, it is imperative that the members of the Giants defensive front, which, per Pro Football Focus’ data, has missed nine tackles, make certain their tackling technique is textbook so that Peterson does not get to the second level.

In the passing game, the Vikings have two viable target options.

The first is receiver Jerome Simpson, who is averaging 16.2 yards per reception and whose 372 yards include 131 after the catch.

Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Simpson has been most effective over the middle, where he’s caught 169 of his receiving yards.

Former Packer Greg Jennings, meanwhile, has 20 receptions for 286 yards, 57.2 yards per game in what’s been a slow start for him.

Look for the Giants to devote double coverage to Simpson. While that will take away one resource from stopping Peterson, the addition of Beason, combined with the continued stout play by the defensive interior should be enough to slow down the Vikings’ rushing attack.

 

What They’re Saying

“Guys are feeling good in the locker room. We have two days to get some rest, and we know we’re a little bit closer to where we need to be and know we’re still in the hunt, with no wins.”

—Running back Brandon Jacobs on the mood of the team after its long weekend away from football 

 

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

“He’s done pretty good. We had him last week for the first time, and he picked up things fairly well. We’re going to try to give him some more this week to see how he handles it. He’s done a good job in the meetings and what we’ve asked him to do on the practice field.”

—Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier on the progress made by new quarterback Josh Freeman 

 

“I think about it a little bit, but you’re careful about what you talk about because you don’t want it to look like you’re trying to single out anything. You kind of try to focus on what you can control the most and for us, we can do a better job of getting them into third and longer situations and then getting off the field.”

—Giants defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins, when asked if he’s thought about how many times the Giants have had the lead this year

 

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

"Right now, it doesn’t matter what our record is; let’s take this opportunity to sure up things on defense, get back to playing winning defense and let the chips fall."

—Vikings defensive end Jared Allen on the uncertainty surrounding his team due to the revolving door at quarterback

 

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

“A lot of the plays are the same. It’s just different terminology. As long as you get the terminology down, you’ll be fine. Here though, it seems like it’s the same as Tampa’s, so it shouldn’t be that big of a (transition).”

—Giants new running back Peyton Hillis, on how quickly he thinks he can come up to speed in the Giants system.

 

Giants-Vikings Injury Report

Giants - Vikings Injury Situation
Giants Vikings
CB Corey Webster (groin) CB Chris Cook (groin)
CB Jayron Hosley (hamstring) TE Rhett Ellison (knee)
RB David Wilson (neck) QB Christian Ponder (rib)
C David Baas (neck) S Jamarca Sanford (hamstring)
RB Brandon Jacobs (hamstring) K Blair Walsh (left leg)
CB Terrell Thomas (knee) DT Kevin Williams (knee)
S Cooper Taylor (shoulder)
TE Adrien Robinson (foot)

Note: Neither team was required to file an official injury report to the league on Wednesday.

 

Giants Injury Analysis

Despite multiple reports claiming that Wilson does not need neck surgery, don’t look for him to return to action for several weeks.

"It’s going to be a wait-and-see until such a point where after certain evaluations over time, maybe, we have to make a call," head coach Tom Coughlin told the Vikings media via conference call.

"David is in a position where we’re going to have to be very careful with this and the doctors are going to control this and all we can do is hope.”

In the meantime, the Giants are hoping that Jacobs’ ailing hamstring has responded to treatment so that he doesn't have to miss Monday night’s game. 

“I feel really good now, to be honest with you.” Jacobs told reporters after he sat out of Monday’s practice.

“Just doing what I have to do to take care of it. Hamstrings can be tricky, especially when you feel like they are healed and ready to go. I’m just taking it very precautionary. I don’t think it’s going to be an issue.”

The Giants are cautiously optimistic that they might be getting center David Baas back after he missed the last three weeks with a neck injury.

Coughlin told reporters on Monday that Baas had yet not received clearance from the team's medical staff to return to the practice field, but the veteran center was “close” to receiving that clearance.

 

This Week’s Game Stats and Facts
(courtesy of the NFL's Communications Office, unless otherwise noted)

* The Giants hold a 22-33-1 record in games played on Monday night. They are 7-8 in those games played at home. Their last Monday night home game was played on Sept. 19, 2011, against St. Louis, a 28-16 win.

* Vikings defensive end Jared Allen has recorded an NFL-best 120.5 sacks since entering the league in 2004.

* Giants quarterback Eli Manning is 7-4 as a starter on Monday Night Football.

* Vikings receiver Greg Jennings has 14 catches for 236 yards (118 per game) and one touchdown in his last two games against the Giants. He also has seven career 70-plus-yard receiving touchdowns, tied for most among active players with Giants receiver Victor Cruz.  

* Giants running back Brandon Jacobs needs one more rushing touchdown to extend his franchise-leading total to 60. 

* Vikings linebacker Erin Henderson is the only player in the NFL with two sacks and two interceptions.  

* Giants receiver Rueben Randle is looking for his third game in a row with a touchdown reception.

* The Vikings have not won a Monday Night Football matchup since Oct. 5, 2009, when they defeated the Green Bay Packers, 30-23 (via Minnesota Vikings press notes).

 

Prediction

Sometimes, it’s good to step away when things aren’t going good. That’s, at least, what Giants head coach Tom Coughlin is hoping for after holding just two light practices in the six days following his team’s heartbreaking 27-21 loss to the Bears.

However, getting away doesn’t make the problems that have haunted this team disappear overnight. If the play-calling isn’t simplified, if the schemes aren’t tweaked, then there’s probably little hope that the results are going to be much different moving forward.

Perhaps, the Giants coaching staff did put together a game plan that better fits the talent level they have. Maybe they simplified the number of route options their receivers have to worry about.

Maybe they’re going to stop asking players, such as tight end Brandon Myers, whose strength really isn’t as a blocker, to do what he just isn’t efficient doing.

Then again, maybe things are going to stay the same and the coaches are going to hope that the time away magically erases the feelings of frustration that have come about with a team that right now is playing like a group of individuals rather than as a well-oiled unit.

 

Patricia Traina is the Senior Editor at InsideFootball.com. All quotes obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted.

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