Approach to the Game – Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants, November 13, 2005: The Vikings are an underperforming team in turmoil that does not play well outside and is led by a lame duck head coach. But they do have talented players and their big division win against Detroit last week buoyed their spirits and gave them new life in the weak NFC North.
They should not be taken lightly.
Giants on Offense: After an experiment with the 3-4 defense failed miserably, the Vikings went back to the 4-3 last week with good success. The most imposing element of their defense in their two defensive tackles – Pat Williams and Kevin Williams. Pat Williams is the ex-Bill import who is difficult to move out against the run. Kevin Williams is a disruptive player. The interior trio on the Giants’ offensive line need to be at the top of their game. OC Shaun O’Hara and LG David Diehl in particular need to play better than they have the last few games. Left end Spencer Johnson is doubtful with a knee injury so Darrion Scott will likely start again this week. The Vikings use a platoon system on the right side with rookie first-rounder Erasmus James starting last week and playing fairly well. He can get after the quarterback as can sub Lance Johnstone, who has given the Giants some problems in the past. I would think this would be a good week to attack the edges of the Vikings defense with Tiki Barber, especially with runs to the weakside.
The linebacking corps is big and physical, but for some reason they are not playing up to their potential. MLB Sam Cowart is a solid player, but he slowing down. WLB E.J. Henderson is talented, but has not lived up to his draft hype. He tends to make mental mistakes. Keith Newman starts on the strongside. Reserves Dontarrious Thomas and Napoleon Harris are big and athletic, but lack instincts. I would try to exploit this group with play-action as well as passes to Jeremy Shockey and Barber. Cutback runs by Barber may also be quite effective.
Right corner Fred Smoot is out with a broken collarbone. I assume that Brian Williams will start in his place, but the Vikings could move Antoine Winfield, their best corner, over as well. Williams is an aggressive, physical player so I would think he would be the guy to cover Plaxico. Winfield is very short, but he plays bigger than his size because he is so physical. The nickel back is ex-Giant Ralph Brown. The Giants might want to try to match Tim Carter up on Brown and take some shots deep. FS Darren Sharper makes a lot of plays, but he also gambles a lot too.
The big hope here is that QB Eli Manning starts playing better, particularly in terms of his decision-making and accuracy. He has forced some throws to Plaxico Burress and Shockey the last few weeks and his accuracy has been up and down most of the season.
Giants on Defense: Based on last week’s performance, Brad Johnson is an upgrade over Daunte Culpepper (who is out for the season). Johnson lacks Culpepper’s arm, but he makes good decisions, gets rid of the ball quickly, and is accurate. Last week against the Lions, Johnson threw a lot of quick, short passes outside to the receivers to exploit soft coverage. The Giants defensive backs and linebackers will have to pursue quickly and make sure, open-field tackles. The Vikings have some decent receivers and often employ three WR-sets. The guy who scares me the most is rookie speedster Troy Williamson, who is one of the fastest players in the league. He also has good size. Nate Burleson is capable of making some excellent grabs and ex-Seahawk Koren Robinson has always had the ability to make big plays. Ex-Raven Travis Taylor has 29 receptions.
Johnson is more likely to spread the ball around more to the backs and tight ends. Jermaine Wiggins leads the team in receptions with 36 and while TE/H-Back/FB Jim Kleinsasser is used more as a blocker (and a very good one), he also can catch out of the backfield. All of the Vikings’ halfbacks can catch too and break big runs. Linebacker coverage here will be important. WLB Nick Greisen (ribs) is banged up and has had problems staying with speedier players in the past. The Vikings may try to match up halfbacks Michael Bennett or Mewelde Moore on him or SLB Reggie Torbor.
The first key is to shut down the run and then get after Johnson. The Giants’ front four has played well the past two weeks and let’s hope that continues. Michael Strahan will face ex-Giant RT Mike Rosenthal. Osi Umenyiora will battle huge, but inconsistent LT Bryant McKinnie. The inside of the Minnesota line is a bit of a mess with the loss of Matt Birk at center. The Giants need their defensive tackles to take advantage of this. Both Bennett and Moore are capable of breaking big runs and the Giants need to keep them under control. Last week, the Vikings made a commitment to run the ball and that formula worked for them. They will likely try the same this weekend as well.
Giants on Special Teams: Koren Robinson returns kickoffs and has a 72-yarder on the season. As for their own return game, the Giants need to start giving Chad Morton more room to operate on punt returns so he can do some damage. I get the sense that Willie Ponder is about to break one again.