Minnesota Vikings 24 – New York Giants 10
Giants fans need to step away from the ledge. The loss to the Minnesota Vikings was not unexpected, especially given the quality of the opponent, the Giants current injury situation, and the hoopla surrounding the Vikings first Monday night game in their new stadium. For the Giants to pull off the upset, they were most likely going to have to win the turnover battle, have the passing game excel, the defensive line dominate, and/or the special teams to out-play its counterpart. None of these things happened. The Giants lost fair and square. If New York fails to make the playoffs again this season, it won’t be this game the Giants look back to and regret. It will be the Week 3 loss to the Redskins.
Giants on Offense
You can’t win in the NFL if you only score 10 points. And you are not likely to win if you lose the turnover battle. Aside from interception, the biggest issue for the Giants was the disconnect between Eli Manning and his top three wide receivers. This was a major factor in the team being an abysmal 2-of-12 (17 percent) on 3rd down and 0-of-2 (0 percent) on 4th down. When you can’t matriculate the ball down the field, you have to rely on the big play. But the Giants only had one offensive gain over 20 yards in the game.
Another negative factor in sustaining drives was penalties. After being relatively clean in the first two weeks of the season, the Giants had penalty issues for the second game in a row as the Giants were flagged 8 times for 69 yards. Half of these were on offense and were an issue in stalling three drives. The book on the Giants now is this: don’t let them beat you deep in the passing game; make them drive the length of the field in small chunks and they’ll shoot themselves in the foot.
The Giants had 11 offensive possessions. Six resulted in punts (including the first five), an interception, two turnovers on downs, and two scoring drives. Not good enough.
There is something about the Minnesota Vikings that brings out the worst in Eli Manning. Fans can exclaim that is rubbish, but we’ve seen it before. Lawrence Taylor used to have the same problem with the Los Angeles Rams. Long story short, the Giants were not going to beat Minnesota unless Eli played well and he didn’t. Despite having reasonable pass protection (no sacks and only 2 quarterback hits), Manning appeared jumpy in the pocket and had accuracy issues. He was out-played by his counterpart that was only traded to the Vikings a few weeks ago. Manning finished 25-of-45 for 261 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 1 interception. In other words, he had 20 incompletions and only averaged 5.8 yards per pass play. This is even worse when you consider 67 of those yards came on a dump off to a running back.
With Rashad Jennings (#1 back) out again and Shane Vereen (#2 back) possibly done for the season, the Giants relied on a trio of back-ups who performed pretty darn well, especially considering the quality of the opponent. The Giants only rushed the ball 18 times out of 63 plays, with only six rushing attempts in the second half. But they averaged a very respectable 4.3 yards per rush. Orleans Darkwa saw the bulk of the work (12 carries for 48 yards) followed by Bobby Rainey (4 carries for 22 yards), and Paul Perkins (2 carries for 8 yards). The backs were also heavily involved in the passing game with Rainey catching 7-of-9 passes thrown his way for 43 yards, Perkins 2-of-3 passes for 72 yards, and Darkwa 0-of-2 passes. Perkins had the offensive play of this night with his nifty 67-yard catch-and-run where he demonstrated good vision and speed. He did have issues in pass protection however.
Along with Manning, the wide receivers were the major offensive letdown on the evening. To win, Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz had to play well. They didn’t. Beckham had his worst game as a pro since the second game of his career. He only caught 3-of-9 passes thrown in his direction for a measly 23 yards. Beckham dropped a pass and had a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. There also was major confusion between Manning and Beckham on the deep interception that started the 3rd quarter off on a bad note – this was a key momentum killer in the game. Shepard was also surprisingly kept quiet, catching 4-of-7 targets for only 30 yards. Cruz caught 5-of-9 passes for 50 yards and was flagged with an illegal block penalty. The longest reception by any of these three was 14 yards!
Larry Donnell suffered a concussion early in the 2nd quarter. Will Tye was the only factor in the passing game, catching 4-of-6 passes for 43 yards.
The offensive line played well. The Vikings were averaging five sacks per game but the Giants offensive line held them sackless and only allowed two hits on quarterback Eli Manning. Against a very good run defense, the team also averaged 4.3 yards per rush. The biggest negative were two penalties on LT Ereck Flowers: a false start and a holding penalty (though the holding call was questionable). Bobby Hart was also flagged with illegal use of hands but that was declined.
Giants on Defense
The Giants defense was severely hampered by three de facto starters missing the game (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Eli Apple, and Darian Thompson) and a primary back-up (Nat Berhe). This turned a team strength into a team weakness. To compensate, the Giants needed an exceptionally strong game from their front seven. They didn’t get it.
Coming into the game, the Vikings had the 31st-ranked offense. Minnesota gained 22 first downs, 366 total net yards (262 passing, 104 rushing), and controlled the clock for over 35 minutes. The Vikings converted half of their 3rd-down conversion attempts. The Giants did not force a turnover, register a sack, and only hit QB Sam Bradford (101.9 QB rating) twice. The Giants also only defensed one pass.
New York’s defense did not make a stand after Dwayne Harris’ muffed punt, allowed a long 2nd-quarter touchdown drive, and most damning, could not stop the Vikings after the Giants cut the score to 17-10 early in the 4th quarter. Minnesota drove 76 yards in eight plays to put the game away.
This is not what the Giants expected. With both primary offensive tackles out of the game, defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon were non-factors in a game where the Giants expected and needed them to make a difference. Each registered one hit on the QB – the only two hits on the night. The inside tackles were not much better as what had been an anemic Vikings ground attack gained 104 yards and scored twice, and Sam Bradford was rarely pressure up the middle.
The linebackers came up small, particularly team captain Jonathan Casillas who had issues tackling in the open field. Coverage was also an issue as many of the Vikings successful pass plays came against CB Trevin Wade or over the middle against the under coverage. There were no impact plays to speak of – no sacks, no forced turnovers, no pass breakups. Casillas, Keenan Robinson, Kelvin Sheppard, and Devon Kennard did combine for 21 tackles.
The Giants were simply undermanned here with corners Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Eli Apple and safeties Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe being out. The Giants were forced to start defensive backs who were at the bottom of the depth chart in Trevin Wade and Andrew Adams. Both had issues. Wade in particular was a disaster, giving up 70 yards on two deep passes to WR Charles Johnson and a 7-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-4 to TE Kyle Rudolph. When the Vikings needed a play, they went after Wade. Adams – as would be expected of a green, undrafted rookie starting for the first time – was exposed as well, being late to help out in coverage. Aside from a pass interference penalty, Janoris Jenkins had a decent game. Landon Collins led the team in tackles and also had a tackle for a loss. Unbelievably, the Giants only broke up one pass all night.
Giants on Special Teams
Dwayne Harris started the game off with a bang on a 44-yard kickoff return, but his muffed punt after the Giants defense forced a three-and-out inside the Vikings 10-yard line set the tone for the night and directly led to a 7-0 lead. It was an early momentum killer in a hostile building. The Giants didn’t gain any punt return yardage on the evening.
The coverage teams actually did a respectable job against a very dangerous return team as the Vikings only gained 29 yards on kickoff returns and 13 yards on punt returns. Brad Wing average 46.7 yards per punt with three of his six punts being downed inside the 20-yard line, including one at the 1-yard line. Josh Brown hit his only field goal attempt of the night, from 40 yards out.
As expected, criticism of the new head coach is beginning to mount. Many of those who were praising him two weeks ago are starting to say he was the wrong hire. It’s simply too early to make those kind of judgments. That said, the Giants did mismanage the clock at the end of the first half, which prevented the team possibly taking two more shots at the end zone. Turnovers remain an issue and the passing game seems out of sync. Being a 39-year old head coach and NFL play-caller at the same time isn’t easy. If Mike Sullivan had more experience with the West Coast Offense, he’d probably be calling the plays. The McAdoo-Sullivan marriage seemed odd from the start other than Sullivan’s familiarity with Eli Manning. Steve Spagnuolo is quickly gaining a reputation as a guy who can coach only when he has all of his chess pieces still on the board.