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Minnesota Vikings 28 – New York Giants 10
The former division foe Kirk Cousins returned to MetLife Stadium, this time as a member of the 2-2 Minnesota Vikings. Cousins, who came in with a 3-5 career record against NYG, has always feasted on poor defenses and non-playoff teams. The Giants, a non-playoff team with the 25th-ranked defense, entered the game without their top three inside linebackers and a starting outside linebacker in addition to Saquon Barkley still being sidelined by an ankle injury. With the Eli Manning era in the rear view mirror, hopes were that the results against MIN would change, as he was 3-6 with a 56.1 QBR against them, the lowest QBR of any team he ever faced.
For the first time all season, NYG did not score on their opening drive. They were up against the 6th-ranked defense in the NFL, by far the stiffest test of Daniel Jones’ inaugural season. That defense gave Jones and the offense multiple opportunities to make something happen but, as was the case all afternoon, Big Blue did not capitalize. In addition to the initial “0” on the scoreboard, running back Wayne Gallman jogged off the field after a violent hit to the head. It ended his game, leaving just UDFA Jon Hilliman and fullback Elijhaa Penny remaining in the backfield.
Already up 3-0, MIN got the ball back and picked up chunk gains en route to an 11-play, touchdown-scoring drive. They barely broke a sweat, as the defense forced a 3rd down only two times, the second of which resulted in a 15-yard pass from Cousins to Adam Thielen for the 6 points.
Thanks to a 52-yard kick return by rookie Corey Ballentine, NYG began their next drive at midfield and it took just 5 plays to reach the end zone. A picture-perfect pass and a picture-perfect catch from rookie Daniel Jones to rookie Darius Slayton on a 35-yard ball that beat one of the better corners in the NFL, Xavier Rhodes, put this game at 10-7. The crowd got back into it and the team was showing some of the fight they put in display in their previous two weeks, both wins.
MIN was stuffed on 3rd-and-6 on the ensuing drive via a sack by Dexter Lawrence and Markus Golden, however an illegal contact penalty called on Janoris Jenkins gave MIN new life and they were able to march into field goal range and re-take the lead, 13-7. MIN drove the ball deep into NYG territory on their next possession but on that drive, MIN running back Dalvin Cook fumbled twice. The first time resulted in no damage but the second one, just a few yards shy of the end zone, was recovered by Tuzar Skipper. NYG was gaining momentum but they had to start their drive on their own 1-yard line.
Head Coach Pat Shurmur opted to try and get some breathing room via the inside run, something we all knew wasn’t going to be very productive today. MIN, as they did all afternoon, aggressively sent multiple defenders up the inside lanes and it was Anthony Barr who leaked through and put Hilliman on the ground almost immediately after he got the ball. The play resulted in a safety and NYG was down 15-7. They soon put up another 3 points after another rather easy drive into NYG territory. The MIN offense was doing whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted, however they wanted against the NYG defense. MIN took a commanding 18-7 lead into the half. While it was only 11 points, MIN had out-gained NYG 351-92 to this point. Those 351 yards were the second most by any team in the first half of a game all year across the league.
MIN had two big penalties on the opening NYG offensive drive in the second half. A horse collar tackle by Rhodes after a 12-yard completion to Slayton put NYG into MIN territory. Later, on a 27-yard field goal attempt, former Giant Linval Joseph roughed up snapper Zak DeOssie, giving the Giants a fresh slate of downs at the 5-yard line. The offensive line started to fully crumble at this point, as center Jon Halapio was flagged for a hold and Mike Remmers allowed a sack. It was yet another opportunity missed. NYG ended up settling for a 32-yard field goal by Rosas, making the score 18-10.
MIN needed just 5 plays, again, to get into the end zone as Cousins found Thielen for another score, making it 25-10. Thanks to three separate MIN penalties that gave NYG three first downs, NYG found themselves just a few yards away from the end zone. They had two shots at it from inside the 5-yard line but it resulted in 0 points. The score remained 25-10 as the fourth quarter began. If you’re keeping track, that is two straight possessions where NYG had a combined 8 plays from inside the MIN 10 yard line an they netted 3 points total in that span.
After a quick stop, NYG got the ball inside the MIN 30-yard line again and once again, NYG walked away with 0 points. With time starting to dwindle and the MIN running game continuing to gain what they needed when they needed, 5 more minutes came off the clock and 3 more points when up next to the “MIN” on the scoreboard.
It was 28-10 and the Giants offense had to really start forcing things. Their next drive didn’t last long, as Jones was intercepted for the first time of the day by Barr, the same player that made the tackle that resulted in the safety early on. MIN bled the clock out and that was it.
NYG loses 28-10.
-Daniel Jones: 21/38 – 182 yards – 1 TD / 1 INT. Jones also gained 12 yards on the ground via 3 carries. After two starts against bottom-third defenses, we knew Jones was going to have his handful against the Mike Zimmer-led defense that entered the game #6 in the NFL. In addition, play caller Pat Shurmur worked under Zimmer prior to accepting the job here in NY, thus there had to have been a little extra forecasting going on. That is exactly what seemed to be the case, as MIN had a quick and aggressive response for Jones in almost every situation. He didn’t have a lot of space to work with in the pocket and the timing of things just wasn’t there. Jones missed Sterling Shepard two times on plays that should have been touchdowns and he took a sack on 4th-and-goal from the 3-yard line. This was a necessary experience for Jones and in a series full of “first times”, just add this one to the list in addition to the upcoming short week.
–Jon Hilliman: 9 att / 20 yards – 1 rec / 4 yards. Hilliman took over the first string running back spot once Wayne Gallman went down with a concussion. Hilliman, who did not earn a 53-man roster job at the end of training camp. Hilliman, who was the number three rusher on a 1-11 Rutgers team in 2018. That was the presence in the backfield behind Jones against a top tier NFL defense. It went as well as expected, as he never posed as a threat and averaged 2.2 yards per carry.
-Wayne Gallman left early with a concussion and I would bet my bottom dollar he will be out this week against NE because of the short rest. Elijhaa Penny, a fullback who has a few running back traits, finished with 15 yards on 3 carries in addition to a 4-yard catch. I’m sure NYG will bring in a back this week for depth purposes, but I project Penny to be pretty involved.
-Darius Slayton: 4 rec / 62 yards / 1 TD. Slayton and Jones have an obvious connection and it put up the early 7 points for NYG. His development this season will be very important for next year, as he figures to be a key component to the future passing game. Slayton only saw 5 targets but he made the most of them. I like the ability to push the secondary but he is also proving to be more than just a deep guy. His routes and awareness near the sidelines look good.
-Sterling Shepard had 5 catches for 49 yards on 10 targets but his stat line could have been so much stronger if Jones had hit his spots. Shepard was getting open up and down the field against man coverage all afternoon but he just couldn’t get on the same page as Jones.
-In Golden Tate’s first game in a Giants uniform, he caught the first pass of the game and went into hiding for the majority of the contest after. He finished with 3 rec / 13 yards while playing two-thirds of the team’s snaps. I wouldn’t say he looked rusty but he didn’t look like the Tate I have seen in the past. This was also a tough game to evaluate, as the passing game just didn’t reach a flow consistently.
-Evan Engram: 6 rec / 42 yards. Engram once again led the team in targets, this time with 11. He is the most dangerous threat on this offense when Barkley isn’t out there and MIN did a great job containing him. He saw a lot of bracket coverage besides routes into the flat. Engram had a drop and was manhandled twice in the running game in addition to being flagged for a hold. The MIN defensive ends are as physical and powerful as it gets and these are guys Engram just won’t be able to compete against. Engram had 2 balls that hit his hands that he didn’t bring in. I did not label them drops, but big-time players have to make those plays.
-In a game where NYG basically gave up on running the ball, Rhett Ellison’s impact was minimal.
-Bad day overall for this group. MIN has a formidable defensive front, a position group I would rank in the top 5 across the league. Mike Zimmer also dialed up a lot of complex blitzes and stunts and the lack of chemistry along the OL with a rookie QB was exposed.
-Nate Solder and Mike Remmers couldn’t seal the edge nor could they anchor their positions. Solder was flagged for 2 holds and also allowed a pressure and a sack. Remmers allowed 2 pressures and a sack but actually graded out worse of the two, as his inability to hold the point-of-attack made things really tight for Jones to work within the pocket. While he has been an upgrade over what NYG dealt with in recent years (Bobby Hart / Chad Wheeler), Remmers has been a let down so far.
-The interior wasn’t much better. In fact, if you’re Kevin Zeitler and Jon Halapio, you graded out worse than both the tackles. There were multiple miscommunications between the two, as they were visibly frustrated with each other after a couple passing plays where MIN generated pressure and on the safety where LB Anthony Barr ran straight through their gap to make the tackle. Zeitler allowed a pressure, a TFL, and had an allowed sack cancelled by a questionable illegal contact penalty by MIN. Halapio constantly got minimal to no push in the running game and was flagged for a penalty for illegally going downfield too early on a screen. Will Hernandez allowed 2 pressures and a sack as well.
-With no Lorenzo Carter in the picture, it was Tuzar Skipper and Oshane Ximines playing opposite of Markus Golden. Skipper and Ximines were both overwhelmed against the outside running game and it helped create the space for Dalvin Cook to really get going. When that guy reaches space, he is near-unstoppable. Skipper and Ximines got picked on in this one and offered near-nothing as pass rushers.
-Golden had 5 tackles and a sack with 2 pressures. He has been a steady outside presence and also made a couple physical hits in the running game. His is getting more and more nimble as the weeks go which tells me his confidence in growing.
-Dexter Lawrence had a sack nullified by a holding penalty in the secondary but he recorded one in the fourth quarter. He had 5 tackles in addition along with a forced fumble and looks like he may be the best player on the entire defense.
-Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill were a tough evaluation in this one. MIN employs a zone-blocking scheme where they really get guys moving laterally. Both seemed to struggle against it, as they were on skates multiple times and ended up creating massive cutback lanes for the MIN backs. Hill did record 5 tackles and he forced Cousins into quick decisions as a passer a few times, but Tomlinson’s lack if impact continues.
-R.J. McIntosh had a sack and a pressure from his 3-4 DE role. He can shoot the gap well and should factor more and more on passing downs throughout the season.
-No Alec Ogletree. No Tae Davis. No Ryan Connelly. Upon further review of the defense’s horrid performance, much of it can be attributed to the lack of impact along the second level. I respect the grit and hustle that both David Mayo and Nate Stupar bring to the table but this got ugly fast. Neither were filling lanes which allowed the OL to reach them 3-5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. At that point, the lanes are wide open for the running backs and with a head full of steam, that is nearly impossible to stop. Both were concrete blocks against the lateral-route passing game MIN had success with all game as well. This is going to be a problem as long as these two are in there.
-Josiah Tauaefa got his first NFL regular season action after being called up from the practice squad. He responded with 3 tackles, including 2 TFL. Don’t sleep on this kid, as he led NYG in tackles during preseason and he shows more downhill presence as a run defender.
-Janoris Jenkins and Deandre Baker did an OK job defending the outside. Both, however, were awful against the run. Jenkins had 2 missed tackles and Baker had 1 himself. They were both part of the horrid secondary tackling stemming from poor angles and poor technique. Baker still lacks confidence, as he is too-often falling in coverage and tripping over his own feet. He fell to the ground on an Adam Thielen touchdown where he could have been in position to break up the pass had he not. He was also flagged for a taunting penalty when NYG was holding on for dear life. A free 15 yards from the rook.
-Grant Haley was torched in this one. He allowed a touchdown to Thielen and continues to show he has no ability to defend downfield passes and routes. The turnaround speed isn’t there and the lack of size exposes a lack of ability to make up for getting beat off the ball.
-Even though Antoine Bethea led the team with 11 tackles and a few of those were very high quality, his lack of speed and twitch is hurting this defense on a weekly basis. The 35-year old took a couple of awful angles at Dalvin Cook and was promptly burned for it.
-Jabrill Peppers saw some more LB-type action in this one and that is one of the positives he brings to a defense. He is effective in multiple roles. He had 5 tackles, a TFL, and a forced fumble on a Dalvin Cook run that would have put MIN inside the NYG 5 yard line with a fresh slate of downs. He got beat across the middle on a couple crossing routes, however.
-Sean Chandler saw some action in this one (10 plays) and ended up missing 2 tackles and allowing a 3rd-down conversion where his lack of presence and aggression caused the chains to move. Hesitation and poor tackling, not a good combination for that position.
-K Aldrick Rosas: 1/1 (Made 32).
-P Riley Dixon: 3 punts – 44.7 avg / 33.0 net.
-WR Darius Slayton, S Jabrill Peppers, DT Dexter Lawrence
-OG Kevin Zeitler, LB Nate Stupar, CB Grant Haley
3 THOUGHTS ON MIN.
- I have picked MIN to win the NFC North for 4 straight years. In 2016 they finished 3rd, in 2017 they finished 1st, in 2018 they finished 2nd, and right now they are currently 3rd. They are one of the most inconsistent teams in the league and what I mean by that is, when this team is on they can beat anybody and I mean that. Their defense is strong on every level and they have one of the best RB/WR combinations in the league. Shaky QB play and an inconsistent OL has held them back but it looks like they are on the verge of turning both of those corners. If they do, I think they can be considered a legit Super Bowl contender.
- Anthony Barr has long-been one of my favorite defenders in the league. How many guys that measure 6’5/255 can play in coverage like does? But also rush the passer with a developed skill set? And then also explode downhill and drive a running back through the ground? MIN was smart to sign him long term and even though he doesn’t always blow up the stat sheet, the amount of things he can do at a high level in one game week to week is rare.
- MIN has been one of the better drafting teams in the NFL, particularly on defense. It is amazing how hitting on these high picks can make your team competitive year in, year out. Danielle Hunter, Everson Griffen, Shamar Stephen, Antony Barr, Eric Kendricks, Ben Gedeon, Trae Waynes, Xavier Rhodes, Harrison Smith, Mike Hughes….go find me a team with a better homegrown defense than that. You won’t.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
- There were a number of signs in this game that this team isn’t ready to compete. NYG had several opportunities to take advantage of MIN mistakes, but they did not. They had two straight possessions where they had a combined 8 plays inside the MIN 10-yard line. That netted NYG 3 total points. MIN left Sterling Shepard all alone for a touchdown on 2 occasions and they did not result in any touchdowns. MIN got penalized 12 times (5 of which resulted in NYG 1st downs) while NYG was penalized just 5 times. All these should have at least made this a game because good teams capitalize on mistakes made my the opposition and NYG walked out of this one with…10 points. Not good. Not ready.
- Let’s not start this “sky is falling” mindset when thinking about this team. My thought that these guys will be sub .500 squad has never wavered. Sure, things can happen and we still want them to “go for it”. But in all reality there are holes all over the place and when NYG has faced off against quality opponents, they haven’t gotten the job done. They are a few steps behind and much of this year will be about finding the guys who will be the nucleus for years to come.
- Whether or not Saquon Barkley dresses for the game Thursday night, NYG needs to bring in another body for the backfield. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Penny get the majority carries but there needs to be more security for a running game.