By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game: Even the most pessimistic Giants’ fan can feel it. This team is poised for a run. Depleted by injuries, the Giants survived the past two weeks by beating the Jaguars and Redskins and keeping pace with the rest of the playoff hopefuls in the NFC. Now the Giants are getting their walking wounded back. While the returning veterans will likely be somewhat rusty, this team is surprisingly healthy for the last 4-game sprint to the playoffs.
But the Giants still need to make the playoffs in order to do some damage there, and the road does not look easy. Three of the last four games are away games. Two are against playoff-caliber teams and one – the game this week – is against a team with playoff-caliber talent.
The problem the Giants face is the same that I mentioned last week. One or two 10-6 NFC teams will not make the playoffs. 10-6 probably won’t cut it this year. Not counting the NFC West division winner, seven teams (Falcons, Saints, Buccaneers, Bears, Packers, Eagles, and Giants) are vying for only five playoff spots. When the music stops, two good teams will be left without chairs. With the Eagles and Packers coming up, the Giants can ill afford to lose this game against a Vikings team that has had the Giants’ number for the last several years.
The Giants need to take care of business in Minnesota. If you asked the team or their fans, would you sign up for an 8-4 record, tied for first place in the NFC East, relatively healthy, with four games to go, most would say, “Hell yeah!” The Giants are now in that position. Get it done Giants!
Giants on Defense: The Vikings have not been as productive on offense this year as expected because Brett Favre has struggled so much. Part of that had to do with the fact that Favre was missing some of his targets earlier in the season such as WR Sidney Rice. But Rice is back now. And if WR Percy Harvin (migraines) also plays, the Vikings have a lot of speed on the outside to complement an extremely dangerous running game and an outstanding tight end, ex-Giant Visanthe Shiancoe. Third-receiver Bernard Berrian is also a deep threat. There are a lot of weapons to worry about.
Leslie Frazier, the interim coach of the Vikings, has really committed to the run the last two games. That fact, combined with the presence of the super-dynamic Adrian Peterson, means the #1 priority in this game is to stop the run. Everyone on defense – the defensive line, the linebackers, and the defensive backs – will have to smart, disciplined, tough, and physical against the run. The Vikings are a big, physical group up front and the Giants have to match or surpass that toughness on Sunday. They also need to be sound in their gap responsibilities if and when Peterson cuts back. The Giants have made some mistakes in gap control against the Jaguars two weeks ago. Also, although he has protected the ball much better this year, Peterson will fumble.
The problem the Vikings present of offense is that there is so much speed at receiver, along with the presence of a tight end who is a favorite target, that the Giants have to be very wary of cheating their safeties up towards the line of scrimmage. Rice, Harvin, and Berrian can all get deep. Shiancoe is the security blanket. When Favre is playing, he loves to throw to Shiancoe in key situations both to keep drives alive and in the red zone. The Vikings will also throw to Peterson out of the backfield.
Of course, there is much speculation on whether or not Favre or Tarvaris Jackson will play. Both are very inconsistent. Both can look great at times, capable of throwing four touchdowns in a game, or equally capable of throwing four interceptions in a game. Much depends on which version of each quarterback shows up on Sunday. The Giants can help cause more mistakes by stuffing the run, getting pressure on the quarterback, disguising/mixing up their coverages, and taking advantage of turnover opportunities when the ball is in the air.
The Giants just have to play their game. Be smart, disciplined, and physical.
Giants on Offense: David Diehl is back this week at left tackle. It looks like both Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks may play. If they do, the Giants become much more dynamic on offense again. Of course, much depends on how “rusty” each of these players will be. Diehl is coming off a hamstring injury – and hamstrings are always tricky. And he has to face one of the most dangerous pass rushers in football in Jared Allen, who has 8.5 sacks in a supposedly “down” year. Smith and Nicks are not 100 percent. Smith said he won’t be the rest of the year and Nicks has to be careful not to re-open his leg wound. But the season is at stake and these players are needed now.
The Minnesota defense is tough. It is sixth overall in yards allowed and very stingy against the run (fourth in the NFL). Teams have had more success passing against them (12th in the NFL). That said, some teams have been able to run better on the Vikings this year than previous seasons. Some of that has to do with the fact that DT Pat Williams is finally slowing down at age 38. But both he and Kevin Williams are very stout inside. The Vikings’ run defense all starts with them. If the Giants can move those big guys off the line of scrimmage (a tough task), then the Giants should be able to run the football some. If LDE Ray Edwards (ankle) does not play, this helps New York as well. Kevin Boothe, Rich Seubert, and Chris Snee versus the two defensive tackles is one of the big match-ups of this game. So is the Diehl versus Allen match-up. All but one of Allen’s 8.5 sacks have come in the last five games.
Getting hats on a very good linebacking corps will be key too. E.J. Henderson, Chad Greenway, and Ben Leber can play the run and the pass.
Obviously, the Giants can loosen up the run defense through the air if Smith and Nicks join Mario Manningham and Kevin Boss. Eli usually plays well in domes and the weather obviously won’t be a factor. I would attack the Minnesota secondary early and often. The Vikings should have problems matching up with the Giants’ top three wideouts.
Most importantly, if we have learned one thing this season, we have learned this: when the Giants don’t hurt themselves with multiple turnovers, they win. Keep turnovers and other mistakes (penalties) to a minimum. Like the other side of the ball, the Giants will need to play a physical game. Minnesota is a physical team. Be smart. Be physical. Make plays.
Giants on Special Teams: The additions of Michael Coe and Devin Thomas seem to really have helped the special teams units. Obviously, the #1 key on specials is keeping Percy Harvin under control (assuming he plays). Harvin is extremely dangerous on kickoff returns and has already returned one kick 95 yards for a touchdown this season.
Prediction: Eli Manning and the Giants are due for a good game in Minnesota. Giants win.