-Daniel Jones: 24/35 – 301 yards / 2 TD – 0 INT / 114.1 RAT / 17 att – 78 yards
Jones started 53 games prior to this matchup in MIN. That is three-plus seasons worth. This one, the first ever in the post-season, needs to be considered one of the best of his career to this point, if not the best when considering the magnitude. What made this one so impressive? He essentially did everything a big-time quarterback does all wrapped into four quarters in a road post-season matchup. Jones’ throws were tremendous, plain and simple. They were accurate to all angles of the tree, from the pocket and on the move. His running attempts were no-nonsense and explosive. Chunk gain after chunk gain with his legs. His pocket presence and decision-making looked so sharp and sure. He responded exceptionally to pressure. He scored 2 touchdowns and did not turn the ball over. He took big hits (a lot of them) and got back up. The list goes on. Proving all of this in one game, a first-ever playoff game for the player and many around him, is worthy of being talked about in Giants history.
Does this kind of performance catapult Jones into a higher level? You know, I hate the talk this time of year about where guys rank in the league. One, it does not matter. Two, save that chatter for the offseason where it holds at least some value. I do wonder if this game in Jones’ own head gives him the last bit of confidence to go out there and play like this week in, week out no matter the opponent. That is what the upper tier quarterbacks do. MIN does not have a good defense. They have solid pieces here and there, but they were bottom 5 in the NFL. But Jones is elevating to arguably the top dual threat in the league. He has 3 interceptions over his last 14 games. THREE. He can’t throw with the likes of Burrow and Mahomes, but they can’t move the way he does. The final component to Jones getting to his own ceiling is between his ears now that he has the right coaching staff. This is the kind of game that can awaken that monster. Next up, a rested defense that allowed the second-fewest yards in football.
-Saquon Barkley: 9 att – 53 yards – 2 TD / 5 rec – 56 yards
#26 look possessed. We have, I have, been critical of Barkley’s back-and-forth hesitation style over the past few years. We have seen a different version of him in this offense, but what we saw here was next level. The sudden burst looked like he was playing in fast forward. The violence he showed on multiple touches left MIN defenders fixing their chin straps after the play. He had two big-time blocks in pass protection. Barkley, like Jones, elevated his game on the biggest stage. The fact he touched the ball just 14 times (and rested during week 18) makes me feel good about his ceiling in PHI next Saturday night. While you can’t just force him into 30 carries because of game situations and tempo, Barkley is set up for the night of his career in the NFC Divisional round against the number one seed.
-Matt Breida had just 3 carries for 8 yards. While the impact wasn’t frequent, he did come up with one of the biggest effort plays of the game. On a 3rd-and-1 jet sweep that was doomed from the beginning, Breida broke three tackles and inched his way over the first down marker. It did not lead to a score or anything big, but the energy it produced for the team and the wind it took out of MIN sails kept the momentum in NYG’s favor.
-Isaiah Hodgins: 8 rec – 105 yards / 1 TD
NYG may not have their own Justin Jefferson, but they do have a version of a go-to receiver who they consider a number one guy. In his last three games including this playoff win, he has 20 catches on just 24 targets for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns. The plays he is making are not layups, either. Precise, sharp routes with elite hand coordination and strength are the standout traits I am seeing. He had four first downs in addition to the score. His catch in the fourth quarter of a tie game on 2nd-and-10 near the sideline was as good as you are going to find. The play was equally impressive and created by Jones. If that were Mahomes and Kelce, it would be played on repeat across all networks. Do not underestimate how hard that was across the board. An in-season waiver pick up. Just amazing.
-Darius Slayton was a big part of the offensive success. He had 88 yards on 4 catches, by far the biggest play-threat in the passing game. He nearly came down with a touchdown in the fourth quarter as well. The play that everyone remembers, however, is the fourth quarter drop that would have likely resulted in a first down and all but sealed the win. Instead, MIN got another possession and forced the defense to come up with the stop. This was Slayton’s second drop of the day, his eighth of the year. His drop percentage is the highest in the NFL. As unfair as it may seem, this is anything but dependable, where the potential ramifications from the result are enormous.
-Richie James caught 4 passes for 31 yards. And Kenny Golladay saw a few snaps (4), but made a huge block on the edge in the fourth quarter that contributed. Good to see that kind of hustle and aggression considering the circumstances. It is plays like that, effort like that, from all 46 active game-day players that win games.
-Daniel Bellinger caught 2 passes for 17 yards. He was chewed out by Daboll for moving early on a play that ended in Jones rushing for an apparent touchdown. He was flagged for an illegal shift and NYG ended up settling for a field goal. While it did not impact the result of the game, those were four points NYG left on the board because of a mental mistake. Remember, Bellinger also had a red-zone lost fumble last time NYG was in MIN. But credit to the fourth-round rookie from San Diego State. He came up big on the opening drive of the third quarter, catching Jones’ second touchdown pass. It was a play-action bootleg design that needed Bellinger to sell the block and peel out at the exact right moment. He checked the boxes, caught the ball, and got into the end zone.
-Nick Vannett and Lawrence Cager saw the backup snaps, the latter seeing more and catching a ball for 4 yards. Cager also had a 3rd-and-goal target, but he slipped out of his break and gave the MIN defender a clear shot at batting the ball away.
-The tackles were on the opposite side of the spectrum, as has been the case all year. Andrew Thomas allowed one pressure and was lights out the rest of the way. He played fast and powerful in the running game both in-line and in space. They pulled him outside as a lead blocker on a couple of occasions and he did serious damage. He had one of the key blocks on the first Barkley touchdown run and it only happens because of how fast he can get out of his stance. He looked fully healthy. Evan Neal, in a matchup I absolutely hated on paper prior to the game, had a rough game. He allowed 4 pressures, a sack, and a TFL. The feet keep stopping on initial contact and the edge defenders are just continuing their climb up the edge until they’re free. Too much catch-up needed for a guy who does not have catch up speed. The NYG win and Jones’ performance hid just how bad Neal was in this game.
-Hats off to veterans Jon Feliciano and Mark Glowinski. They were not perfect, but they were effective. Both of their contributions were especially felt in the running game. Glowinski stayed attached and kept the line moving upfield. Feliciano, who allowed 1 pressure, was most effective on the move. His speed when he pulls out laterally is an underrated component to their outside power-run game. Not all centers can get out there fast enough. It is refreshing to see these two gritty linemen raise their games to the next level in this environment.
-Nick Gates got the start at left guard but saw less than half the snaps Ben Bredeson did there. Gates was flagged for a hold early on. Bredeson did not fare much better. He lost a lot of one-on-one battles against the likes of former Giant Dalvin Tomlinson and Harrison Phillips.
-It was good to see the starters back together. Azeez Ojulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux on the outside with the two monsters in the middle creates such a dangerous four-man rush. Some of that shows up in obvious fashion; other ways are hidden to the naked eye but equally beneficial to the defense. These two did not do much against the pass. Thibodeaux had 2 pressures but added 5 tackles and was great in pursuit once again. Ojulari had a half-TFL and one pressure. He left the game early with a quad injury, yet another soft tissue blow to the lower body. These have piled up and I now worry about his long-term prospects.
-Jihad Ward was on the field for just half of the snaps. He is an early-down defender who they tried to keep off the field on most passing downs. He is best suited for that role. He finished with one tackle.
-Oshane Ximines saw most of the snaps after Ojulari went out; Tomon Fox had a handful. Neither made an impact. Overall, a pretty quiet day from the outside guys when it came to the pass rush, but they did well setting the edge in the running game.
-I said earlier that Jones put this team on his shoulders and led the team to victory. A strong argument can be made it was in fact the two-headed monster of Dexter Lawrence + Leonard Williams on defense. These two are special to watch when they’re healthy and on top of their games. They combined for 10 tackles (Lawrence 6 / Williams 4), 11 pressures (Lawrence 6 / Williams 5), and 1 TFL (Lawrence). The second-team, All-Pro Lawrence especially took the game over down the stretch. He was unblockable and MIN center Garrett Bradbury is going to be seeing him in his nightmares all offseason. The power and lockout by himself were unbeatable. Williams missed two tackles and was not as disruptive in the second half; he got put on ice skates a couple times against the run. But nonetheless, big time and game-changing performances by these two.
-Lawrence and Williams were on the field for all but six plays, an uptick from what we saw over the final month of the season. The magnitude of the game and lack of quality depth behind them dictated that. Ryder Anderson and Justin Ellis saw a few snaps and it did not go well. I know Lawrence + Williams cannot stay on the field every single snap, but it is hard to get these two off of the field and not experience a drastic decline in impact up front.
-In a move that surprised me, Micah McFadden was a healthy scratch in favor of Jarrad Davis, who was signed on December 28. Davis played over half of the snaps. He and Jaylon Smith are both very similar profiles. Former highly-touted prospects, former starters in the middle for other teams, overall disappointments who did not reach the ceiling many projected. But they still have three traits that nobody can deny. They’re fast, big, and physical. One of the standout traits to this defense overall is how sudden they are in pursuit. They truly fly after the football with a mob mentality. Davis and Smith both had some issues against the inside run, but they picked it up as the game went on and remained aggressive. Smith had 7 tackles and a TFL while Davis had 3 tackles and a pressure. He also allowed a touchdown in zone coverage against a receiver, not a battle anyone would expect him to win. It was a great play design and I thought safety Xavier McKinney should have made a better read on the play.
-Landon Collins played just 11 snaps and made 1 tackle. Davis really did shoot up this depth chart in a hurry. It has Martindale written all over it. There is a specific way he wanted to work against this offense, and he went after the size + speed + physicality traits. It could be completely different at PHI. He wants you to be confused, he relishes in that fact.
-Adoree’ Jackson was back for the first time in seven weeks after spraining his knee on a punt return. As expected, he looked a bit rusty early on and MIN attacked him. He later allowed a touchdown in zone coverage to TE Irv Smith. While it wasn’t the best game for Jackson, I would still take this version of him over what they had out there during his injury. Add in the fact he looked more confident later, I feel good about his status against PHI and A.J. Brown/DeVonta Smith.
-Darnay Holmes was handed a tough assignment. He drew T.J. Hockenson often in man coverage and got roasted. He allowed 7 catches on 7 targets. Many of them were underneath though and he quickly made the tackle afterward. With that in mind, he was dynamite against the MIN screen game. He sniffed two out in a hurry, reacted fast, and recorded 2 TFL. His physical play is a weapon in these nickel/dime looks, almost like an extra linebacker.
-Fabian Moreau was on the field for almost the entire game and we rarely heard his name called. That is a good sign and upon looking at the All-22, his coverage matched the perception. Martindale showed more zone coverage than we are used to seeing in this game and I believe Moreau shined in that role. He seems much more comfortable than Jackson did.
-Cor’Dale Flott played just 3 snaps, but he had the best play on the ball we saw all game from NYG defenders on a 3rd-down pass on the final drive of the game. Excellent recovery speed, steady eyes, and an accurate extension for a nice, clean break-up. Nick McCloud saw 16 snaps and was not much of a factor, good or bad.
-The two unsung heroes in a game of full of easily noticeable stars were Xavier McKinney and Julian Love. They were a joy to watch over the top, as they took turns on doubling/bracketing Justin Jefferson. McKinney led the team with 8 tackles and added a deep ball pass break-up. Love added 4 tackles. One of the biggest wins this defense had was limiting yards after catch to the MIN wide receivers. Adam Thielen had 4 yards on 3 catches (1.3 avg vs. 2.3 on the year). Justin Jefferson had 7 yards on 7 catches (1.0 avg vs 4.7 on the year). K.J. Osborn had 4 yards on 2 catches (2.0 avg vs 4.9 on the year). You may not think that is a lot, but it adds up if you do the math. Much of this had to do with McKinney being there right away and good tackling by the rest of the defensive backs.
-All three backups saw time. Tony Jefferson led the way with 22 snaps, Dane Belton played 10 snaps, and Jason Pinnock was on the field for 7 snaps before being carted off with a serious abdomen injury that required a trip to the hospital. The mix in personnel packages helps the Martindale ethos. Cause confusion, create your own match-up advantages. Jefferson had 4 tackles and a pressure. Belton added 2 tackles and provided quality coverage down the stretch. I know the staff may not fully trust the day-three rookie, but Belton’s range and movement are excellent.
-K Graham Gano: 1/1 (Made 25)
-P Jamie Gillan: 2 punts / 45.0 avg – 45.0 net
-QB Daniel Jones, DT Dexter Lawrence, WR Isaiah Hodgins
-OT Evan Neal, WR Darius Slayton, EDGE Oshane Ximines
3 THOUGHTS ON MIN
(1) We need to go into this offseason knowing that, despite winning 13 games, the Vikings simply were not a good team. Yes, from the basic (and maybe more important to some) level, wins are wins. Nevertheless, the Vikings are middle tier in the league when it comes to point differential and turnover differential. They ranked number one in the league in fumble luck. They won 11 out of 12 games decided by one score, which almost always regresses from a mark like that in the next season. MIN is in a division that provided almost no competition and that helped inflate what they really were.
(2) All of this and the team ranks 10th worst in cap space for 2023. We are about to see a lot of changes to that roster; guys who have been mainstays on the team that has made the playoffs three times since 2017 but has ranked bottom-five in yards allowed each of the last three seasons. Adam Thielen carries a $19+ million cap hit, way too high. Harrison Smith is in the same exact boat. They both carry hurtful dead money amounts if cut, however. Za’Darius Smith and Dalvin Cook do not. They are due to make a combined $30 million in 2023, but they can both be let go for roughly $6 million in dead cap combined. Those are just a few examples and there a couple others, but the point is we are going to see players with something left to give shake free from this team that can help NYG moving forward at a cheaper price.
(3) Not sure if everyone remembers or even knows what MIN did this past offseason in their front office. They hired Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as general manager, a former Wall Streeter with very limited football background compared to most in that position. A New Jersey kid who went to Princeton and played college basketball, Mensah was initially hired by the Niners in the analytics/research department. Ten years later, he is a GM. Year two is where I really pay close attention to a new general manager and his tactics. I’ll be interested to see what he does this offseason. His trade value chart for the draft was way different than anything that has been used in the past, based on his value of draft picks in the 35-60 range. I am also curious to see where he spends his future money that will eventually become available from this offseason’s expected cuts. This could be the way of the future, or this could be an experiment that folds in a hurry.
3 CLOSING THOUGHTS
(1) Is the NYG coaching staff playing chess while the rest of us are playing checkers? The decision to play for the tie vs. WAS Week 13. The decline in usage of Dexter Lawrence down the stretch in important games. The rotations they have used along the OL all season. The back-and-forth safety depth chart. The progression of Daniel Jones. The aggressive nature vs. the conservative style at the end of halves and games. I could go on with a few others, but there were a few head-scratchers this year, a few decisions by the coaching staff that simply left me confused. Was this a part of their long-term vision? Are they really that detailed with what they have mapped out for the future in a league full of weekly surprises? Coaching staffs and front offices often talk about a long-term plan, but on game day and with certain roster moves, it appears to be BS. Their vision seems to be a step ahead of everyone else. I can count on one hand how many teams challenge us intellectually. I’m now thinking NYG is one of them.
(2) “My mission is to confuse the quarterback.” A quote from Wink Martindale that stood out to me soon after he was hired. This is a guy who led the NFL in blitzing by a wide margin in 2022. Nobody was even close. We have to think with a banged up MIN offensive line, and facing a healthy group of NYG pass rushers, more of the same right? Martindale essentially cut his blitz rate in half, utilized more zone coverage than he did all season, and made a surprising personnel change at inside linebacker that nobody saw coming. I thought one of the keys to the game was NYG causing disruption with four pass rushers and dropping seven into coverage. It went against what Martindale did all year, but that is what he did and it worked. The lack of explosive plays generated at receiver by MIN were a catalyst to the win, and a result derived from NYG dropping seven and still getting enough pressure. Whatever PHI thinks they will see Saturday, expect the opposite? What do you think Martindale will do?
(3) The Divisional Playoffs in Philadelphia on a Saturday night against the number-one seed. You want to talk about a franchise-changing opportunity? We all know the ship is heading in the right direction a few knots faster than anticipated. This game, however, is a different level of complexity and potential trajectory. A team that has been at the top of the NFC all season. A division rival. Arguably the deepest roster in the league, many of their players battle-tested in the post-season. NYG is the team that comes in with nothing to lose, though. This is the kind of matchup we saw back in 2008, the season after NYG won Eli Manning’s first Super Bowl. They went 12-4 (#1 seed), got a first-round bye, and faced off against the 9-6-1 Eagles coming off a Wild Card win at…you guessed it…Minnesota. I went back and took at look at Eric’s game review from that game 14 years ago, and I suggest you do too. Here is an excerpt you need to keep in mind when thinking about this game that will be played in a few days:
“In football, nothing is given. It is earned. Every playoff game is a season in itself and if you do not out-play your opponent on that given day, you go home. It hurts, but that is the reality of post-season football. #1 seeds fall all the time in the playoffs. It’s not a rare event.”