Oct 292004

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, October 31, 2004: The Vikings are the second best team in the NFC, after the Eagles. They have an explosive offense and an improving defense. If the Giants don’t dramatically elevate their overall performance on offense, defense, and special teams, they have no chance of winning this game.

Giants on Offense: New coaching staff, some new players, same old problem – can’t score enough points. QB Kurt Warner is playing very efficiently this year, he’s completing 65 percent of his passes and has only thrown two interceptions. However, he has only thrown four touchdown passes.

Through six games, starting wideouts Amani Toomer and Ike Hilliard have 48 catches, 602 yards, and zero touchdowns. That’s pretty sad. Jeremy Shockey has two touchdown receptions, but only 259 yards receiving on 24 catches. These three players are not playing anywhere near their reputations. It’s perhaps time to reconsider their ability if they do not pick up their respective games in the last 10 games of this season. Hilliard doesn’t appear to have any speed left and worse, he will face Minnesota’s best corner, Antoine Winfield. RCB Brian Williams is a bigger, more physical corner who matches up well with Toomer. Based on their performance to date, Toomer and Hilliard will struggle to get open on Sunday.

Everyone keeps saying the reason Shockey is not putting up better numbers in the passing game is that because he is being forced to block on passing plays. This is not true. I see Shockey going out on pass patterns as much as ever, including being spread out wide. Either he is not getting open or Warner is not getting the ball to him. SS Corey Chavous is a quality player who will likely be on Shockey for much of the game.

The offensive line played like shit last week against a quality defensive line. This week, they face another quality defensive line and their task will be made much more difficult due to the crowd noise (expect false starts to be a problem again). The left side of the Giants’ offensive line, LT Luke Petitgout and LG Jason Whittle will be severely tested by the Vikings’ top-notch players on that side, DE Kenechi Udeze and DT Kevin Williams – both are former first rounders who can really rush the passer. Reserve DE Lance Johnston can also get after the quarterback. The Vikings are not as strong on their left side of the defense. DT Chris Hovan and DT Steve Martin will line-up over RG Chris Snee, who has been struggling a big in pass protection. RT David Diehl will face DE Kenny Mixon. The Giants obviously need to keep the rush off of Warner and open up some big holes for Barber in order to generate more points. I look for Coughlin to play it more conservatively and try to keep the explosive Vikings’ offense off the field by using the running game and ball-control shorter passes. This will also help to keep the pass rush off of Warner.

Giants on Defense: Everyone talks about the Vikings’ skill position players, but they have a very good offensive line that allows the passing and running game to be so productive. DE Michael Strahan played terribly last week. His run defense has been spotty all year as has his pass rush. He obviously is on the decline. Worse, his wife is giving birth to twins this week and he obviously will be tired and distracted on Sunday. Look for little production from him. The left side of the Vikings is the strength of the line – LT Bryant McKinnie, LG Chris Liwienski, and OC Matt Birk form the core. It will be interesting to see how much DT Fred Robbins (coming off a shoulder injury) plays and how effective (rusty) he will be…this is a big homecoming game for him. Both DT Norman Hand and DT William Joseph played inconsistently last week…Joseph in particular. The Giants need a big game from the defensive line up front. Contrary to popular belief, I think the secret to this game is focusing on run defense rather than pass defense. Viking rookie HB Mewelde Moore has been very impressive and has been putting up big numbers in the ground game. HB Michael Bennett returns from knee injury. He’s a Pro Bowler who can break the big play. HB Moe Williams is the goal line specialist and excellent at picking up blitzes. The Giants have been run over by two weak ground attack the last two games…you can bet that Minnesota is licking their chops at running at this defense.

The Giants’ linebackers need to step it up. SLB Carlos Emmons has been a free agent bust. WLB Barrett Green will now split time with LB Nick Greisen. MLB Kevin Lewis has been getting handled at the point-of-attack on too many positive running plays by the opposition. The Vikings also like to throw to their halfbacks so coverage is important here too.

What can you say about the Viking passing attack? QB Daunte Culpepper has never been better. Through six games, he has completed 73 percent of his passes for almost 2,000 yards and 19 touchdown passes. His quarterback rating is 124.0 as he has only thrown 3 interceptions. The guy is tough to bring down due to his size and he can hurt you with his feet, especially near the goal line.

Randy Moss has been hampered by a hamstring. He’s “questionable” for the game, but he will probably play. Covering him will be a major challenge for Will Allen and Will Peterson as Moss is the supreme deep threat in the NFL (8 touchdown receptions already). The other Viking receivers are no slouches either…Marcus Washington has 6 touchdown catches himself (two more than the entire Giants team). And Nate Burleson has been quite effective as well as the starter opposite Moss.

It’s going to take a total defensive effort by the linemen, linebackers, and secondary to keep this explosive attack under control. The key, in my opinion, is shutting down the ground game…something the Giants haven’t been able to do in recent weeks. Then somehow, they have to get Culpepper out the tremendous rhythm he is in right now, either by putting pressure on him or making life difficult downfield for him with confusing and tight coverages. That’s a lot to ask for. The Giants are going to have to play a near perfect game.

Giants on Special Teams: The Giants will need to dramatically out-play the Vikings on special teams to win. The Vikings may use the explosive Bennett on kickoff returns this week.

Has anyone seen David Tyree lately?

Prediction: This one will get ugly folks. This is the second best team the Giants will face all season. Minnesota’s defense is far stronger than it has been in years, especially in the secondary and on the defensive line. The Giants’ defense has proven to be soft against the run and the Vikings have a slew of running backs who can gouge a defense. The start Eli Manning advocates will be in full force by 4PM on Sunday.

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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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