By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, December 28, 2008: With the overtime victory over the Carolina Panthers last Sunday night, the Giants have locked up the #1 seed in the NFC, earning themselves homefield advantage throughout the playoffs and a first-round bye. Thus, other than potentially determining the Giants’ opponent in the divisional round of the NFC playoffs, the Giants really do not have much to play for in this game.
Winning would be nice as momentum is good, but the #1 most important goal is to come out of this game as healthy as the team can.
CB Aaron Ross (concussion) will not play. TE Kevin Boss (ankle/concussion) is doubtful. DT Barry Cofield (knee), HB Brandon Jacobs (knee), and RT Kareem McKenzie (back) are questionable. That’s five key starters right there. On top of that DT Fred Robbins (shoulder) and DE Justin Tuck (lower leg) were limited in practice again all week. And WR Domenik Hixon (ankle/foot) is probably still nowhere near 100 percent. One wonders if the Giants should be cautious with all of these players.
As for the Vikings, they are playing with their playoff lives. They need to win this game or hope the Bears lose to the Texans.
Giants’ fans shouldn’t get worked up too much one way or the other over this game. Also keep in mind that since the Giants could possibly face the Vikings again in the playoffs, it doesn’t make much sense for the coaching staff to reveal too much in the play-calling department.
Giants on Offense: The Vikings have the #1 run defense in the NFL but the team will be without one of its key run defenders, DT Pat Williams. Still, right defensive tackle Kevin Williams (8 sacks) is a Pro Bowler as is right defensive end Jared Allen (14 sacks). The left side of the Giants’ line – David Diehl and Rich Seubert – will have their work cut out for them. The Giants may be further challenged up front if Kevin Boothe has to play for the injured Kareem McKenzie at right tackle.
And the Giants’ ground game won’t be at full strength either if Jacobs does not play. Derrick Ward and the offensive line, tight ends, and fullback will have to prove they can move the football against a top run defense – something they could not do against the Eagles or Cowboys (keep in mind that the Panthers were 18th in run defense and missing their best run stuffer).
It may be easier for the Giants to move the ball through the air. But the left side will have to protect Manning from Allen and Williams. And linebacker Chad Greenway is a good blitzer too. Boothe – if he plays – will have to play much better in pass protection than he did against Dallas.
As for Manning’s targets, the Giants will not only be without Plaxico Burress, but Kevin Boss will not play. That will make the Giants’ passing game much easier to defend. Left cornerback Antoine Winfield is yet another Pro Bowler. If the Vikings keep him on Amani Toomer – who has been largely invisible in the passing game – then Toomer will likely be a non-factor. That means the onus will really be on Domenik Hixon and Steve Smith. With Boss out, we may see many more multiple wide receiver sets with Sinorice Moss and possibly Mario Manningham being a bigger factor. Since this game doesn’t mean much, that’s the route I would take, that is, use the game as an opportunity to give experience to the young receivers.
The Vikings do have a solid safety combination in Darren Sharper and Madieu Williams. Sharper has had great success the past two seasons in reading Eli Manning and taking two picks for long interception return touchdowns.
In the controlled atmosphere of the dome, my strategy in this game would be to come out throwing the football by starting out with multiple wide receiver formations, and perhaps even some hurry up. Give future opponents something to think about and perhaps game plan for since the Giants are unlikely to do this at home in the windy Meadowlands in the playoffs. Plus, this strategy has the added advantage of giving the young receivers some experience against a defense that is the tops in the NFL at defending the run. And the players might have some fun with it. Of course, the Giants don’t want to get Eli hurt so if the Giants can’t protect Eli, simply run the ball and get the game over as quickly as possible.
Giants on Defense: The strength of the Giants’ defense is its defensive line and its secondary. But the defensive line is really, really beat up. Barry Cofield (knee), Fred Robbins (shoulder), and Justin Tuck (lower leg) are all ailing. Mathias Kiwanuka’s ankle injury from week one is probably still an issue and he’s most likely dog tired after his first season as full-time starter at defensive end. Some of these guys may not play or play long. That’s not a good thing when facing arguably the best running back in the NFL in Adrian Peterson (1,657 yards) and his very talented back-up Chester Taylor. We may see a defensive line for long stretches that includes the likes of Renaldo Wynn, Dave Tollefson, Jay Alford, and Jeremy Clark. Heck, we may even see Jerome McDougle and Leger Douzable. Yikes! That’s why folks shouldn’t get to worked up over this one.
Obviously, if the Giants are to win this game, they must stuff the running game. The strength of the Vikings’ offensive line is on the left side with LG Steve Hutchinson and LT Bryant McKinnie. The weakside of the Giants’ defense will really be challenged by these two and Peterson.
The Vikings’ passing game has struggled due to issues at quarterback. That old head-banger Gus Frerotte suffered a lower back injury earlier this month and was replaced by former starter Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson is very inconsistent, but he has played better since his return to the starting line-up. He has a rocket for an arm and is a good athlete.
Minnesota’s most dangerous receiver is former Bear Bernard Berrian (20.1 yards per catch average). He has very good speed and can get deep. The Vikings will also throw to the backs (Taylor has 44 catches, Peterson 21) and the tight ends (former Giant Visanthe Shiancoe is easily having his best season with 40 catches and 7 touchdowns). With Aaron Ross not playing, the Giants really need Kevin Dockery and Terrell Thomas to step up and play well this weekend as the Giants will likely playing a lot of defenders in the box and relying on the secondary to win some one-on-one match-ups.
Just like last week, simple game plan. Stop the run, stop the run, stop the run!
Giants on Special Teams: In the crunch, the Vikings will use Bernard Berrian as a punt returner and he does have an 82-yard return for a score this year. The Giants need to find a way to get more productivity out of their return game, both punting and kickoff.