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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 27, 2015)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, October 3, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
The Giants are not in bad shape at 2-1, but they blew a big opportunity last week against the Redskins and now face one of the NFL’s better teams on their home turf in prime time. Worse, the Giants have major injury issues that will have an impact on the contest. This is an important game for the Giants as the Cowboys and Redskins are likely to win this week against powder-puff opponents (the Eagles have a bye).

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Rashad Jennings (thumb) – questionable
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (calf) – out
  • DE Olivier Vernon (wrist) – probable
  • DT Robert Thomas (illness) – out
  • CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) – questionable
  • CB Eli Apple (hamstring) – doubtful
  • FS Darian Thompson (foot) – out
  • SS Nat Berhe (concussion) – out

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Vikings have been outstanding on defense to start the season (6th overall, 9th against the pass, 7th against the run). The problem for the Giants is that the Minnesota defensive strength is their front seven and the Giants offensive weakness is the line. The Giants will faces challenges across the board. RDE Everson Griffen (4 sacks) is one of the best two-way weakside ends in the game and he will battle LT Ereck Flowers, who has had issues in the past in pass protection. Still-green RT Bobby Hart will be opposed by LDE Brian Robison (2 sacks) and Danielle Hunter (3 sacks). Ex-Giant defensive tackle Linval Joseph (3 sacks) is also off to a strong start. The linebacking corps is strong too, led by Anthony Barr, who can do it all. Middle linebacker Eric Kendricks is a rapidly rising player. Chad Greenway has given the Giants problems in the past. Long story short, Eli Manning will likely be under duress and not have a lot of time in the pocket. And safety valve Shane Vereen is now on IR so the pressure will be on the tight ends and Bobby Rainey to pick up the slack both as receivers and blockers.

The Minnesota secondary is quite good too, led by right cornerback Xavier Rhodes and free safety Harrison Smith.

The strategic question is how much to rely on the ground game and max protect? If the Giants defense were mostly healthy, Ben McAdoo may have wanted to play this more conservatively as Minnesota’s offense has struggled. Now the Giants may have to be more aggressive, assuming the Vikings will have more success moving the football. The risk here is turnovers. The Vikings are 2nd in the NFL in forcing turnovers (5 interceptions, 4 fumbles recovered) for a superb +8 turnover differential. The Giants have been on the other end of the spectrum (5th in the NFL in turnovers, -6 in turnover differential). To me, the key to this game is for the Giants offense to stay out of negative plays – turnovers, penalties, sacks. Don’t get into 2nd-and-15 and 3rd-and-11 situations over and over again.

I suggest a lot of 3-step, get-rid-of-the-ball-quickly type pass plays. Bing…bing…bing. If the play isn’t there, throw it away. Count on Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Sterling Shepard to make plays after the catch. I would not rely a ton on Rainey who has a history of fumbling. Run the ball with Orleans Darkwa between the tackles. Worst case scenario? Punt. Keep your composure in the loud, hostile environment. Ball security is imperative. Eli is going to be pressured and get hit. He has to not fumble it away or make dumb throws into coverage.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Vikings have been hammered by injuries on offense, losing their starting quarterback, running back, and left tackle. They had to over-pay to trade for Sam Bradford from the Eagles but he has kept the team afloat. Still, the Vikings are currently 31st in offense (28th in passing, 32nd in rushing). The problem for New York is half their secondary is missing as they are down three safeties (Darian Thompson, Nat Berhe, Mykkele Thompson) and possibly two cornerbacks (Eli Apple is doubtful and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is questionable).

The Vikings ground game – as the stats show – has been anemic and they are without All-Star Adrian Peterson. The Giants must keep the back-ups from being a factor so they can concentrate on helping out their weakened secondary. Only three Vikings have more than three catches on the season thus far: WR Stefon Diggs (20 catches, 1 TD), TE Kyle Rudolph (14 catches, 2 TDs), and WR Adam Thielen (11 catches). Look for the Giants to keep Janoris Jenkins on the dangerous Diggs and to focus their undercoverage on Rudolph. Much depends on if DRC plays or not. If he can’t go, much pressure will be placed on corners Leon Hall and Trevon Wade to deliver. Bradford and the Vikings have to be licking their chops at whomever is playing free safety (Hall or Andrew Adams?).

RDE Olivier Vernon has been hampered with a nagging wrist injury but he gets an opportunity to play against T.J. Clemmings who was shifted to left tackle due to an injury to the starter. The Giants will need a big game from him as well as everyone up front to stop the run and put more consistent heat on the passer than they have done so far this season. This would be a good spot for either Vernon or Jason Pierre-Paul to have a breakout game.

Remarkably, through three games, the Giants defense has not forced a turnover. And Bradford has not yet thrown an interception. This is the type of game that will likely be decided by turnovers.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Giants have become one of the more dangerous punt and kick blocking teams in the NFL. But punt coverage continues to be an Achilles heel and must be tightened up. Marcus Sherels is a very good punter returner and Cordarrelle Patterson an extremely dangerous kickoff returner. The Vikings have an amazing 11 kickoff/punt return touchdowns in the last five seasons. Close defensive games are often decided by special teams plays.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Ben McAdoo on the Vikings defense: “Everything is tied together. You can’t just give their front credit. It’s their front four in combination with the linebackers. The way they rush. Then the secondary ties into everything that they do. They play well together and on time together. They know you’re going to have to get the ball out in a hurry. Their secondary fits in accordingly.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The Vikings are 3-0 and feeling good about themselves. The Giants are coming off an embarrassing loss. Normally, I like the Giants chances in this situation as I do think the Vikings are playing a bit over their heads and the Giants haven’t hit their stride yet. But the injury situation is not good, and the Vikings will be looking to make a statement on national television at home against a Giants team that tends to struggle on Monday night. My gut says the Giants fall to 2-2.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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