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By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants, November 25, 2007: The Vikings may be 4-6 but they are quite capable of beating the Giants on Sunday if New York does not play well.  Minnesota is a tough, physical football team that runs the ball well and plays good run defense.  In fact, the Vikings not only lead the League in rushing (178 yards per game), they also have the League’s #1 run defense (less than 75 yards per game).  Any team that can do those two things has a decent chance to win.

While the injury situation is nowhere near as dire as it was last season, the injury concerns are mounting for New York.  Aside from Eli Manning, the two centerpieces of the offense are gimpy.  Plaxico Burress appears to be deteriorating.  While he is still drawing coverage and opening up things for his teammates, one wonders how long the opposition will give him that much respect.  Brandon Jacobs won’t play this weekend.  Worse, hamstrings can be very tricky.  This might be an injury that also affects his play for the rest of the season.  And his backup, Derrick Ward, was limited in practice on Wednesday and Thursday.  He’s probably not likely to play.

Defensively, losing Mathias Kiwanuka hurts.

I don’t expect this game to be pretty.  Look for a slugfest.  The Giants should win if they don’t turn the football over or collapse on special teams like they did two years ago against the Vikings at Giants Stadium.

Giants on Special Teams: Let’s give some credit to this much-maligned unit.  Last week against the Lions, the special teams were a key component in that victory with the kicking game, coverage unit, and return game.  Ahmad Bradshaw has really provided a spark to the kick return game.

Troy Williamson is now the primary kick returner for the Vikings.  He has the speed to break a big return.  Mewelde Moore is a punt returner who has given the Giants problems in the past, including returning a punt 71 yards for a touchdown in the Meadowlands two years ago.

Giants on Defense: The Giants will have to buckle up their chin straps on Sunday.  The Vikings are a very good rushing team, and not just because of Adrian Peterson, who will not play this weekend.  The Viking offensive line is big and physical.  And Peterson’s replacement, Chester Taylor, ran for 164 yards and three touchdowns against the Raiders last week.

The guys on the spot will be the down four of Osi Umenyiora, Barry Cofield, Fred Robbins, and Michael Strahan.  The right side of Umenyiora and Cofield, in particular, will be tested by LT Bryant McKinnie (6-8, 335lbs) and All-Pro LG Steve Hutchinson (6-5, 313lbs).  Strahan will face RT Ryan Cook (6-6, 328lbs) and Robbins will battle RG Artis Hicks (6-4, 335lbs).  The Giants’ defensive line will be very much out-sized.  They will have to play a smarter game with superior leverage/technique and quickness.  The Vikings will likely run to their left at Umenyiora and up the gut to test both defensive tackles.

The down four will need strong run support as well from the linebackers and secondary.  Taylor is a physical runner who will push the pile and break tackles.  James Butler and Gibril Wilson will be on the spot as will new strongside linebacker Reggie Torbor.

The Giants must stop the run or this game will be tight.  If they are able to stop the run, the Minnesota offense should struggle.  Despite the fact that he played his best game of the season last week, QB Tarvaris Jackson has struggled, completing less than 50 percent of his passes (though he completed an impressive 77 percent of his passes against the Raiders).  The Vikings’ wide receiving corps of Bobby Wade, Sidney Rice, and Troy Williamson is nothing to write home about, though Rice and Williamson are very fast.  The tight end is our old friend Visanthe Shiancoe.  The Giants do need to be wary of play-action.  The Raiders were also over-aggressive last week against a flea flicker that burned them.

Giants on Offense: Simply put, the Giants’ offense is not scoring enough.  It has scored 13, 20, and 16 points in the past three games.  That usually won’t get it done.  After significantly reducing penalties for much of the early of the year, the Giants have been killing themselves in recent weeks with costly penalties that stall promising scoring drives.  Stop shooting yourself in the foot!

The injury to Jacobs is very worrisome because Derrick Ward is nowhere near 100 percent and has proven to be an injury-prone player.  While Reuben Droughns is a nice back-up, he really doesn’t scare opposing teams.  Worse, the strength of his game is the inside running game and this is where the Vikings are tough to run against.  Ahmad Bradshaw should play much more, but he is a rookie.  And rookie running backs struggle on the blitz pickup.  Every time he is in the backfield in passing situations, look for the Vikings to blitz.  That said, Bradshaw demonstrated in college and in the preseason that he is a dangerous and elusive runner.  I’d like to see him get 10+ carries.

Like on the defensive side of the ball, the Giants will be challenged up front by a very good line.  NT Pat Williams and UT Kevin Williams are as good as it gets in the NFL today.  They are a nightmare to block.  The interior trio of Rich Seubert, Shaun O’Hara, and Chris Snee will have their hands full.  And the ends, while not top pass rushers, are bigger players as well.

The Vikings will likely not be afraid of Ward, Droughns, and Bradshaw.  I look for them to play it pretty straight on defense and dare the Giants to beat them on the ground.  The Vikings have not been good at defending the pass this year and this is where they will likely commit their attention to defend against Burress, Amani Toomer, and Jeremy Shockey.  The Giants MUST get a good game out of Eli Manning this weekend.  If you recall, a killer goal line interception by Vikings’ safety Darren Sharper that was returned for a touchdown was a critical play in Minnesota’s upset of New York two years ago.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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