Through the first six weeks of the season the Minnesota Vikings are 1-4, underperforming on both offense and defense after a playoff appearance last season.
The Vikings are coming off an embarrassing 35-10 home loss to the Carolina Panthers, where Matt Cassel started his second game in place of Christian Ponder. Recently acquired Josh Freeman watched from the sidelines, witnessing the worst performance this season by his new team.
While the plan was to ease Freeman into the Vikings offense, the blowout on Sunday triggered a chain reaction that led head coach Leslie Frazier to announce on Wednesday that the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer would be this week's starting quarterback for the Vikings.
Minnesota travels to the Meadowlands for a Monday night contest against the winless New York Giants. But as bad as the Vikings have played this season, Eli Manning and the Giants may actually be worse.
Commissioner Roger Goodell probably sent a thank you note to the Vikings' front office for choosing to start Freeman, adding the only piece of intrigue for a game featuring two teams with a combined 1-10 record.
Both clubs have been atrocious this season on defense, with the Giants ranking dead last in points per game (34.8) and the Vikings third worst at 31.6.
Although the game is on the road for Minnesota, it has an opportunity to rebound from its performance against the Panthers and provide somewhat of a warm-up for Freeman before hosting the rival Green Bay Packers the following week.
Let's take a look at what to expect on offense for the Vikings in their Week 7 matchup against the Giants.
Josh Freeman: The Buc Stops Here
The Vikings will trot out their third quarterback of the season on Monday Night Football, leaving many fans still shaking their heads about what has transpired in 2013.
That's not to say that Vikings fans are discouraged by the signing of Freeman—quite the opposite in fact—but few expected such a deflating start to the season, one that only gets more difficult over the next several weeks.
Frazier explained his rationale for choosing to start Freeman, providing a slightly more articulate response than 'What else do we have to lose?'
According to Tom Pelissero of USA Today:
I like the things that he's done in his career, along with what he's done since he arrived here with our football team, Frazier said of Freeman.
The time that he's put in, how well he's adapted to our system, and I like his work ethic. He's done enough for us to say we want to give him this opportunity — which is something we had in mind when we acquired him. We think now is the time.
Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave will likely simplify the playbook for Freeman on Monday, something a snarky fanbase already believes lacks creativity.
Based on his time at Kansas State under head coach Ron Prince, Freeman believes he has a leg up on what otherwise would be a steep learning curve, via Ben Goessling of ESPN.com:
Looking back at Freeman's career with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, there is a lot to be optimistic about heading into his first game at quarterback for the Vikings. His effort last season' was the highest output yet for the fifth-year veteran, who posted 4,065 yards and 27 touchdowns.
However, the 2010 season was Freeman's cleanest year with 25 touchdowns and just six interceptions. The 17th overall draft pick from 2009 finished that season with 3,451 yards passing and his best passer rating of 95.9.
|Josh Freeman Career Statistics|
Despite these outbursts, Freeman has been inconsistent at times, lacking accuracy and decision-making skills when under pressure—somewhat of a broken record with Ponder still on the roster.
The most realistic expectation for the Vikings' new quarterback is a slightly above-average performance against a weak Giants defense. Musgrave will likely call a balanced attack of runs and passes, leaving Freeman with about 25-30 passing attempts.
He should get a few opportunities to air it out to streaking wide receivers down the field, something that Freeman excelled at in Tampa Bay. He had 10 games last season with passes of 40 yards or more, and six games with passes of 60 yards or more.
As easy as it is to hand the ball off to Adrian Peterson in the backfield, it's just as easy to call a fly pattern to any of the host of wide receivers the Vikings possess. Brett Favre made a living in Minnesota of chucking it up to Sidney Rice in 2009. Freeman should be given the same opportunity with a strong arm and enough talent at wide receiver.
Freeman Prediction: 230 yards passing, 2 TD, 1 INT
Offensive Line: Blocking All Day
You've probably seen the statistic by now: Adrian Peterson already has more yards through five games this season (483) than last season (420).
This seems to be the silver lining for another run at the season-rushing record for Peterson, an escape from ther reality that the Vikings may only win a few more games this season.
The Vikings offensive line has played well in the running game, ranking 13th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (116.4). The team's average yards per carry (4.7) ranks the Vikings fifth overall in the league.
Right guard Brandon Fusco and right tackle Phil Loadholt have been the strength of Minnesota's rushing offense, ranking fourth and sixth, respectively, in run-blocking at their positions, via Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The two Vikings linemen in most need of improvement are left tackle Matt Kalil, who appears to be suffering a bit of a sophomore slump, and center John Sullivan, who may still be recovering from knee surgery from the offseason.
The New York Giants defense ranks 26th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game with 123.3, presenting an opportunity for Peterson to explode on the big stage of Monday Night Football.
All the talk of Freeman may take the attention away from Peterson, last season's NFL MVP, but a typical gouging of the defense for one play should be available at some point during the game.
Peterson has had long runs of at least 30 yards in four out of five games, with two games of 60 yards or more. Expect a couple big runs to the right side of the offense and a couple long scampers made possible by broken Giants' tackles.
The effort may not be enough for the Vikings when facing the Giants on the road, considering the number of other flaws on their defense, but at least there are a couple storylines to watch for between two teams currently mired in futility.
Peterson Prediction: 105 yards rushing, 1 TD
All statistics courtesy of ESPN.com, unless otherwise noted.
Matthew Stensrud is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter and Google+.
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