New York Giants: 5 Players to Watch vs. Minnesota Vikings
The irony is difficult to miss.
As the number on the daily Super Bowl countdown “clock” posted on a bulletin board shrinks, so, too, do the 0-6 New York Giants' chance to get into a position to compete for the Super Bowl.
Yet a saving grace for the Giants which continues to give them a sliver of hope has been the play of their three NFC East division opponents—the Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Philadelphia Eagles.
Those three teams have a combined 7-10 record, with Dallas and Philadelphia sharing a division-best 3-3 mark.
With the NFC East still wide-open, the Giants could still get back into the mix if they can somehow find a way to break free of a vicious cycle that, according to Statmilk, has seen them average 2.7 turnovers per game on offense.
The defense hasn’t been much better, as the Giants continue to struggle winning their individual matchups and counteracting offenses from getting rid of the ball faster.
That brings us to the Giants’ matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. That game is, essentially, probably the Giants’ last chance to get back on track toward their initial preseason goal of being in the playoff hunt, which can start with a win on Monday night.
"We've dug ourselves in such a deep hole, we just have to win each and every game if we really want a legitimate shot to reach the playoffs," said cornerback Terrell Thomas.
“It sucks right now to know that if we lose the next game we could be making plans for December in October. That's not a good feeling."
Yet that is the reality for the Giants, who have been to the playoffs once in the last four seasons, and whose coaches and players have been put on notice by general manager Jerry Reese.
With the pressure already high in the Giants locker room, a loss to the Vikings could very well be the catalyst that destroys whatever hope remains.
"At this point, you're human, and you definitely understand the significance of losing a game, especially that last one," Thomas said. "At 0-5, we're still in it. How we lost this last game, we don't know.
“But we're not going to give up,” he added. “We're going to win this next game and get this thing rolling."
Here’s a look at five Giants whose performances could very well be keys to ensuring that the Giants salvage what’s left of a disappointing season.
Running Back Peyton Hillis
Running back Peyton Hillis, the newest member of the Giants, is hoping to provide some stability to the banged up running back depth.
Since signing a one-year contract with the team on Wednesday, Hillis, 6’2”, 250 pounds, has thrust himself into the playbook.
He believes that his transition into the Giants system should be seamless, given that former Giants assistant coach Mike Sullivan, now the offensive coordinator at Hillis’ prior employer, ran a system that’s very similar to what the Giants run, including a significant part of the terminology.
“I was lucky to play enough in Tampa to learn the terminology and playbook," Hillis said. "I feel that now (after) getting that heads up, coming here, I can get on the field faster.”
That factor, in addition to his workout on Tuesday, no doubt led to the Giants deciding to go with Hillis, a 1,000-yard rusher for the Cleveland Browns in 2010 and the Madden ’12 cover boy.
“Hillis knows the offense, (and) he knows the terminology; that helps a lot,” said Giants head coach Tom Coughlin.
“We know he can handle the first- and second-down stuff, and hopefully, he’ll not be too hard-pressed to pick up the third-down stuff as well.”
It is not yet known how much Hillis will actually be asked to contribute on Monday night. However, he’s optimistic that he’ll be able to lend something to the Giants' rushing attack.
“Physically it takes about a week or two to get back into shape, but I don’t have a week or two. I have until Monday night, so we’ll get it done then,” he said.
Defensive Ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul
Perhaps the biggest disappointment on defense has been the continued absence of a pass rush.
Not only are the Giants ranked last in the league in sacks with 5.0, they continue to have trouble applying pressure on the quarterback.
Why has that been the case? Defensive end Justin Tuck thinks he has the answer.
“We’re not winning enough (individual battles),” he said.
Tuck, who took responsibility for his play, noted that each man on the defense holds himself accountable.
However, he added, “There are some things that we still need to work on from a defensive standpoint to get us in situations where we’re not taking two steps and looking for the ball to be out and trying to bat passes down.
Based on the answers given to reporters’ questions about the pass rush, the Giants don’t sound any closer to having a solution about how to start winning those individual battles.
“I see, obviously, we don’t have many numbers. We’re not getting to the quarterback,” offered head coach Tom Coughlin when asked what he and the coaches found during their self-study period over the weekend.
So what can the Giants do to improve its pass rush?
"Sometimes you’ve just got to whip somebody’s (butt)," said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
"We can try to become more creative and do some things of that nature, but it just comes down to you’ve got to win an individual battle and, sometimes, you’ve got to beat two people.
"If the ball is coming out quick, sometimes, you’ve just got to will yourself to get there and knock it down."
Quarterback Eli Manning
Whether quarterback Eli Manning wants to admit it or not, he’s in one of the worst slumps of his pro career.
With 15 interceptions already under his belt, the man known around the locker room as “Easy E” hardly resembles the two-time Super Bowl-winning MVP from 2007 and 2011.
The good news is that Manning, who, by the way will only see the bench when his team is on defense, hasn’t given up on himself and insists he’s just as confident as ever.
“I feel good, feel like I can make plays and make all the throws and do my job and lead this team to a win,” he said.
So then what is he doing to eliminate the mistakes in his game?
“Just continuing to work and try to have a great game plan going out there this week, go out there and execute it,” he said.
“Just be ingrained to play smart and practice, doesn’t force throws that aren’t there, don’t throw it before guys are ready, move in the pocket and just reinforce making smart decisions.”
The problem is that Manning has been saying the same thing for six week, yet the results haven’t changed.
According to Pro-Football-Reference.com, this season is the first time Manning has opened a season by throwing at least one interception in each of his first six regular-season games since the 2007 season, a year in which nine of his 20 interceptions came in the team’s first seven games.
“I don’t think I’ve ever lost six in a row, but hey, we’re going to bounce back, and I think we’ve been playing better these last couple of weeks,” Manning said.
“We just have to find a way to finish the games that get into the fourth quarter and start playing even at a higher level in the fourth quarter.”
Manning said he hasn’t sought any specific guidance from his head coach regarding his issues, instead insisting to take things on his shoulders to make the necessary adjustments in his game.
“I’m not looking for a pep talk,” he said. “You make corrections, you look to see if there’s anything, whether it’s fundamental, whether it’s decision-making—those types of things. We talk a bunch in our quarterback meeting room, try to solve the problems and put us in a good situation to win.”
Linebacker Jon Beason
It’s only been one game, but Jon Beason, acquired from the Carolina Panthers in a trade, has established himself as the Giants' middle linebacker, thanks to a solid debut against the Chicago Bears last week.
“I like what he gave us, especially in the run game,” said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.
“The in-line quickness, the ability to get to the ball and make a football play, I thought, was very good for us.”
Beason’s solid play against the run probably couldn’t come at a better time, considering, this week, the Giants will face current NFL MVP Adrian Peterson, who has rushed for 2,081 yards (138.7 per game) and 15 touchdowns in his last 15 games.
Beason, whom Fewell is “leaning” toward giving the radio helmet this week, said he’s looking forward to leading his teammates against Peterson.
“Everybody knows that Adrian Peterson is a special player,” Beason said. “It’s a big challenge, but it’s an opportunity to do something great.”
For Beason, who said he played “OK” in his Giants debut, getting to face Peterson is a chance to see how he measures up as a defender.
“That’s how you define yourself,” Beason said. “It’s all about what you do against ‘the man.’ If he’s the standard, then you want to see where you measure up.”
Receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz
However, opposing teams have figured out a way to neutralize the Giants’ deep ball by bracketing one of the two—usually Cruz—with a cornerback and safety, while taking their chances with single coverage against Nicks.
This week, the Giants receivers should catch a break. The Vikings will be without safety Harrison Smith, the secondary’s best player and the defensive secondary’s leader in tackles (30).
Smith was placed on Injured Reserve/Designated to Return by the Vikings on Friday with a turf toe.
Andrew Sendejo, who earlier this year started for Jamarca Sanford, is expected to get the start in Smith’s place. Sendejo has 13 tackles and one sack.
Meanwhile, Vikings nickel cornerback Xavier Rhodes (ankle) is also ailing.
If Rhodes can’t play, he would probably be replaced by Marcus Sherels, creating a matchup that would seem to favor Cruz, the Giants' slot receiver, and team leader in receptions (35), receiving yards (541) and touchdowns (four).
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cruz has caught three of 10 passes targeted his way for 190 yards, 68 of which have come after the catch on pass attempts of 20 or more yards.
Cruz, who is tied for 28th in the NFL with five receptions of 20 or more yards, is third among teammates Nicks (six) and Rueben Randle (eight) in that category.