New York Giants 34 – Minnesota Vikings 13

Game Overview:

“I’ve just been given the only good news from today. The Giants are not on our schedule next year, thank God.”
– Vikings’ Head Coach Mike Tice after the game

Make no mistake about it, this was a huge win for the Giants. It was a statement game against what had been clearly defined as the second best team in the NFC behind the Philadelphia Eagles. Now, it would seem that the Giants and Falcons can lay claim to that honor. But this is not the BCS so rankings in November don’t mean jack squat. What matters is to put another string of wins together and start positioning oneself for an apparent playoff run.

Giants on Offense: The Giants actually gained more net yards on the ground (168) than they did through the air (115). The big improvement was the dramatically increased efficiency in the red zone. The Giants scored four touchdowns (all rushing) and a field goal in the red zone against the Vikings. The passing game was hampered by some really spotty pass protection by the offensive line and an unwillingness by QB Kurt Warner to pull the trigger on some throws (be it because of solid coverage or a reluctance to take chances). The run blocking was very good and halfbacks Tiki Barber and Mike Cloud played very well.

Quarterback: It wasn’t a great performance by Kurt Warner (13-of-21 for 144 yards, 0 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions), but Warner was under a lot of duress from a strong Vikings’ pass rush. Indeed, it seemed that half the time Warner was dropping back to pass, he was getting hit. Some of this was due to Warner holding onto the ball too long too. For example, on the Giants’ first offensive possession, Warner appeared to have Shockey open on a play-action pass, but did not pull the trigger. He was then sacked as he failed to find another option to his likening. Two plays later, Warner never had a chance as the Vikings got immediate pressure off the edge and up the middle.

On the next offensive possession, Warner threw a deep sideline pass to TE Jeremy Shockey that resulted in a 38-yard pass interference penalty. Two plays later, he hit WR Amani Toomer for 12 yards, setting up the first red zone opportunity that culminated in a touchdown run by Barber.

On the next possession, Viking pass pressure once again became a factor, but the drive ended with a 3rd-and-3 coverage sack. Warner completed his only pass opportunity on the next drive (resulting in another touchdown run by Barber). Then there were two three-and-outs (and another sack). The last drive of the half, which resulted in a field goal, was an 11-play, 49-yard effort that started off with a nice play by Warner to compete a pass to WR Ike Hilliard despite immediate pressure. Warner completed a 10 yard screen to Hilliard, then made a key throw to WR Jamaar Taylor for 19-yards on 3rd-and-6. A 9-yard pass to Shockey put the ball at the 1-yard line, but then OC Wayne Lucier and Warner botched the center-quarterback exchange and a fumble resulted (Warner recovered). This would happen twice on the day. “I’m going to take the full blame for it,” said Lucier. “I have to get the ball up to him.” Warner’s worst pass of the day came two plays later when he didn’t see FS Corey Chavous on a pass intended for Toomer. An interception should have resulted, by Chavous dropped the ball. This was eerily reminiscent of Warner’s snafu at the end of the first half against Detroit.

Warner’s first pass of the second half was not a good decision either as a pass intended for Shockey was almost intercepted by a linebacker (again, Warner was pressured on the play). A few plays later, the second botched center-quarterback exchange occurred. On the next drive, Warner threw too high to a wide-open Shockey; Shockey made the 25-yard catch but had to dive for the ball. If the ball had been better thrown, Shockey would have had significant yardage after the reception. Warner then threw a perfect bullet to Amani Toomer for a 17-yard touchdown, but an offensive holding call erased the score. Toomer dropped a pass from Warner and then on 3rd-and-23, Warner found Shockey for 26 yards and a first down. HB Mike Cloud scored on the following play. All-in-all, it was a mixed drive for the quarterback. The only other play of note in the second half was Warner’s bad decision to hold onto the ball too long late in the fourth quarter on 3-and-6; Warner was sacked and a fumble resulted (the Giants recovered). Of the three fumbles attributed to Warner, this one was his responsibility.

Wide Receivers: Kudos to Amani Toomer (3 catches for 31 yards) for playing despite a sore hamstring. All three of his catches came on scoring drives. Toomer was flagged with a costly offensive pass interference penalty in the end zone that moved the ball from the Minnesota 2-yard line to the 12-yard line at the end of the half. Toomer was flagged with another offensive pass interference penalty on the Giants’ first drive of the second half on a deep fly pattern. Toomer had a 17-yard touchdown reception erased by an offensive holding penalty. On the very next play, Toomer did drop a perfectly-thrown pass over the middle.

Jamaar Taylor only had one catch, but it was a big one for 19-yard on 3rd-and-6 against Minnesota’s top corner. Taylor was flagged for two offensive holding penalties however. He did have a nice block on HB Mike Cloud’s 26-yard run in the fourth quarter.

Ike Hilliard only caught two passes for 8 yards. He also gained five yards on a reverse.

Willie Ponder saw some action and had a 3-yard reception in the first half off of a WR-screen.

Running Backs:

“He’s just incredible. You give him a crease and he takes it and you don’t even know which way (he’s going to go)…He’s just an exciting back to play with and I’m very fortunate to have someone like that on our team.”
– TE Jeremy Shockey on HB Tiki Barber

Barber had yet another excellent game (101 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns; 1 catch for 10 yards). Barber had two strong runs up the middle on the Giants’ second offensive possession – the first for 6 yards; the second for 2 yards and a touchdown. Contrary to newspaper reports, the Giants did not spread out their formation on this play as Shockey was lined up inside as a blocker. Barber kept things moving on the Giants’ next possession, with runs up the middle for 7 and 4 yards as well as a run around right end for 7 yards. On the next drive, Barber gained 13 yards around left end, 4 yards up the gut, and then 5 yards up the middle for another touchdown. On this play, the Giants did spread out the Vikings, and Barber badly faked out the middle linebacker by first taking a step to his left and then cutting back to his right behind the interior run blocking. “It was a simple play,” Barber said. “They cover Shockey one-on-one, we throw it to him. If they don’t, if they pull back out and play a zone, we hand it off to me. It’s a great play because the defense can’t be right.”

On the field goal drive before halftime, Tiki had runs of 5, 4, and 2 as well as a 10-yard reception on a WR-screen. In the second half, Mike Cloud cut into Barber’s touches. Barber did have runs of 6 and 2 yards on the first scoring drive of the second half. Barber didn’t come back into the game until Cloud was dinged. Barber had two runs of 6 yards each on the Giants’ last possession to help bleed some time off the clock.

Mike Cloud (9 carries for 55 yards and two touchdowns) played a strong game in relief of Tiki Barber. I thought one of the biggest plays Cloud actually made was his diving recovery of the botched center/quarterback exchange early in the third quarter. A turnover here in Giants’ territory could have completely switched the momentum of the game and Cloud out-hustled a number of Viking defenders to the ball. Cloud’s first carry of note was his 1-yard touchdown run on the next drive. This was a tight formation again and with OC Wayne Lucier getting pushed back on the play, there wasn’t a lot of room to run the ball, yet Cloud was able to fight his way into the end zone (unlike another running back on the roster who was inactive). On the next possession, Cloud had runs of 3, 3, 26, 4, and 2 yards. The latter was also a tight formation play (again, contrary to press reports, only one of the goal line TD runs was from a spread formation). On Cloud’s 26-yard run, he broke two tackles. He also broke a tackle on his second touchdown run. Cloud’s last run of the day was an 11-yard pitch to the left.

FB Jim Finn (3 carries for 7 yards; 1 catch for 8 yards) didn’t see the field much at all in the first half as the Giants were mostly in a two-tight end offense. His carries all came late as Cloud was dinged and the Giants were trying not to get Barber hurt.

Tight Ends: I know I am going to sound like a broken record, but once again I want to single out the strong run blocking of Visanthe Shiancoe. Much of the success of the ground game against the Vikings was due to the strong run blocking from Shiancoe. Shank not only got good blocks on the defensive end by sealing his man inside on outside running plays, but Shank got good lead blocks from the H-Back position when sent in motion. Only once did I see him not sustain a run block on one Tiki Barber carry. Shiancoe had one reception for 5 yards that moved the ball to the Minnesota 1-yard line early in the fourth quarter.

“The first couple of years, when I got into a rhythm, it felt like nobody could stop me. If they had double coverage, I felt like I could beat it. Now, I can’t even explain it. I’m not the same. I’m not going to be happy with three catches for however many yards. I want to keep getting better.”
– TE Jeremy Shockey on his play thus far this year

Jeremy Shockey (3 catches for 60 yards) only had three receptions, but they were all big. The first was a 9-yard reception that placed the ball on the Minnesota 1-yard line. Of course, not counted in the statistics, was the huge 38-yard pass interference penalty he caused on the Giants’ first touchdown drive. Shockey’s other two receptions came on the Giants’ first scoring drive of the second half. He made a great one-handed, diving grab of a high Warner pass for a 25-yard gain. Later on this drive, Shockey got wide open again and jumped over an attempted tackle en route to a 26-yard gain on 3rd-and-23. Shockey also had a very good day in the run blocking department, with a number of quality blocking efforts on positive runs. He did badly miss a block on a WR-screen to Ike Hilliard that lost 3-yards.

Offensive Line: It was a strange game for the offensive line. The run blocking was outstanding across the board. This may have been the best run-blocking game by both offensive tackles (Luke Petitgout and David Diehl) all season. And OC Wayne Lucier is a better run blocker at the point-of-attack at center (at least he was against the Vikings). I get a kick out of watching RG Chris Snee when pulling for the ground game – he really looks to lay the wood on people.

However, the pass blocking was another story. Warner was under too much pressure on too many plays. There were five sacks, but three of these were coverage sacks, including the first sack on the first play of the game. However, two plays later, Diehl got badly beaten by DE Kenechi Udeze off the edge and LG Jason Whittle got bulldozed by DT Chris Hovan, resulting in a quick sack. Later in the first quarter, Lucier missed a stunt on play where Warner had to get rid of the ball quickly. On the next play, Snee got pushed back into Warner’s face and the drive ended two plays later when Warner could not find anyone open after a 3-step drop (DE Lance Johnstone sacked Warner as Petitgout strangely tried to block his man at the ankles and appeared to hurt himself on the play – perhaps his back is still bothering him).

In the second quarter, both Diehl and Petitgout gave up pressures on Warner’s 19-yard pass to Taylor on 3rd-and-6. On the next drive, Diehl gave up another sack as he got badly beaten by DE Kenny Mixon (I’ve seen some in The Corner Forum who have argued that Diehl should now be benched despite his mostly solid play this year as a first time starter at right tackle…I can’t think of anything more ridiculous). On the last drive of the half, Warner was under heavy pressure again on the first play of the drive as Petitgout mysteriously ignored the man over his head to help out Whittle (Luke did this twice in the first half). Lucier also gave up a pressure on this drive (and was involved in the botched snap).

Things were better, but not great in the second half. Whittle gave up a pressure on Warner’s first pass of the half. Lucier caused a false start. And then Petitgout gave up a pressure that forced Warner to throw high to Toomer. On the next drive, Whittle was flagged for an obvious holding call on Warner’s touchdown pass to Toomer (Lucier was called, but it was Whittle, who played center in the shotgun formation only, who was the guilty party).

Again, the run blocking was outstanding across the board, but the Giants need to pass block better than they have done the past two games.

Defense: I thought the big key defensively in this game was not allowing the dangerous Viking ground game to get rolling. Rookie sensation Mewelde Moore and former Pro Bowler Michael Bennett were limited to less than 50 yards combined – and much of that came in garbage time late in the game. This made the Vikings one-dimensional and very much helped to allow the Giants’ defense to concentrate on the defending the Minnesota passing attack. Defensive Coordinator also deserves a lot of credit for coming up with a variety of defensive looks that seemed to confuse QB Daunte Culpepper and the Viking blocking schemes. There was not much of a pass rush, but the Giants were able to shut out THE top-ranked offense in the NFL until the fourth quarter. Also, it is important to note that the Giants’ 10 interceptions thus far this season tie them with the entire total they had for all of the 2003 NFL season.

Defensive Line: The guys up front deserve a lot of credit for shutting down the running game…and everyone contributed as reserves such as Lance Legree, William Joseph, and Osi Umenyiora saw quite a bit of playing time early. It was also interesting to note that Norman Hand continued to line up at right defensive tackle with Fred Robbins back healthy. Robbins (2 tackles) got a couple of good pass pressures in the first half, but he was also flagged with a bad 5-yard encroachment penalty with the Vikings backed up to their own 1-yard line. Robbins showed good hustle on a screen pass to Bennett in the third quarter. Norman Hand (1 tackle) was stout against the run and got good pressure on Culpepper on his first interception of the game (as did DE Keith Washington). Hand also batted down a pass. Joseph got two pass pressures on Culpepper in the second half. Joseph did look a tad silly trying to cover Moore on a zone blitz that picked up 26 yards and that helped set up the Vikings’ first touchdown.

DE Michael Strahan (4 tackles) made a couple of plays from the backside against the run and got a good pass rush on one Culpepper incompletion in the first half. Strahan’s pass pressure on Culpepper despite a double-team block helped to cause Culpepper’s second interception. I also spotted three more pass pressures from Strahan in the second half. I thought DE Osi Umenyiora (no tackles) played a good game even though he didn’t show up on the stat sheet. The Giants played him at both right defensive end and linebacker. He got beat in coverage on a zone blitz early in the game, but what impressed me about him against the Vikings was how stout he played at the point-of-attack at defensive end on running plays. The blitzing Umenyiora (from the linebacker position) seemed to confuse the Minnesota blocking schemes somewhat. However, the Giants did not get not get much of a pass rush in the game.

Linebackers: MLB Kevin Lewis (no tackles) didn’t see a lot of playing time as the Giants were often in their nickel and dime packages. However, he made a huge play early in the game as being the only player on the field to recognize that Culpepper’s swing pass to Mewelde Moore was actually a lateral. His recovery set up the first points of the game for New York.

SLB Carlos Emmons (6 tackles) was more active this week and certainly more aggressive. He really laid the wood on one occasion after a short reception. WLB Barrett Green was forced to leave the game early with knee and ankle injuries.

Reggie Torbor saw some late playing time as a pass rusher and got good heat on one pass rush.

I was once again impressed with WLB Nick Greisen (5 tackles). Greisen was very aggressive in tacking on blockers on running plays and helping to stymie the ground attack.

All of the linebackers deserve credit for their job in coverage against the running backs and tight ends. Emmons knocked away one pass intended for Bennett.

Defensive Backs: While I will single out breakdowns in pass coverage, I want to make one thing crystal clear – the ENTIRE secondary did a SUPERB job of shutting down the most dangerous passing attack in the NFL. The Vikings made some plays, but that is to be expected. Randy Moss did play for most of the first half and on some plays looked like his old self. And even without him at full speed, the Vikings have a very dangerous receiving corps. Will Allen and Will Peterson are playing extremely well and the Giants have themselves a bonafide steal in SS Gibril Wilson. When the ball is not being thrown in a certain direction, that usually means the guys in coverage are doing their job but they don’t always receive the glory because it goes unnoticed. Of particular note was the good job the secondary did of covering Viking receivers deep in the second half of the game (except for one bad pass interference penalty by Frank Walker).

Will Peterson stopped the Vikings’ second offensive possession on 3rd-and-3 when his big hit on WR Marcus Robinson forced an incompletion. However, on Minnesota’s next possession both Peterson and FS Brent Alexander were fortunate that Culpepper overthrew WR Kelly Campbell deep as Campbell got behind both. On the next drive, Robinson beat Peterson on a double-move and Alexander was late in getting over, resulting in a huge 42-yard reception. A few plays later, Will Allen got beat for 6-yards by WR Nate Burleson on 3rd-and-3. Two plays after that, Gibril Wilson originally misread the play on Culpepper’s intended pass to TE Jermaine Wiggins, but Wilson incredible closing speed quickly made up for that mistake as Wilson cut in front of Wiggins to intercept the pass and return it 39 yards.

In the second quarter, Frank Walker made an excellent play defeating a block on a WR-screen to limit the play to a 1-yard gain. Marcus Robinson then beat the Giants deep again as he got behind Will Allen and Alexander couldn’t make the play on the ball, resulting in a 32-yard gain. On the very next play, a supposedly gimpy Moss turned on the after-jets and cruised by Allen to what would have been a 21-yard touchdown strike had Moss been able to get his second foot in bounds. The drive ended when Wilson made a superb play by avoiding the blocks on an attempted screen pass that lost 3 yards. Later in the quarter, I was impressed with Wilson’s run force on one play. Alexander’s blitz forced an incompletion by Culpepper. On the last Viking possession of the half, Frank Walker had excellent coverage on a 3rd-and-6 pass to Robinson that fell incomplete.

In the second half, Wilson missed a tackle on a short reception that ended up picking up 15 yards. This drive ended when Culpepper through the ball right to Will Allen. On the next drive, Will Peterson did a good job of holding a screen pass to a 1-yard gain. Allen later knocked away a pass intended for Burleson.

Probably the worst the secondary played was on the Vikings’ last touchdown drive of the game. Walker did not play a deep ball to Campbell well and was flagged with a bad 42-yard pass interference penalty. On the very next play, he missed a tackle on a short reception that picked up 18 yards. A few plays later, Will Allen looked terrible on two plays near the goal line. He got faked out badly by Burleson on 1st-and-goal from the 7-yard line; Burleson was wide open but dropped the ball for what should have been a touchdown. Then on 3rd-and-goal from the one, Burleson put another move on Allen that allowed him to get open easily for the score. To Allen’s credit, he did knock away the 2-point conversion attempt to Burleson.

Special Teams: The Giants played pretty darn well on special teams except for their own return game, which continues to remain untracked.

PK Steve Christie nailed his third 50+ field goal of the season (out of four attempts). He also made a 30-yarder. His kickoffs landed at the Minnesota 8, 1, 8, 30 (questionable coaching decision to call a pooch kick), 29 (squib kick), 8, and 9. Viking kickoff returns went for 19 (David Tyree and Willie Ponder on the tackle), 22 (Nick Greisen), 22 (David Tyree and Jack Brewer), 15 (Nick Greisen), 3 (returner took a knee), 15 (Frank Walker), and 23 (Jim Maxwell). Obviously, the kickoff coverage was very good. The only down note was Frank Walker’s 5-yard offsides penalty.

Jeff Feagles averaged over 45 yards per punt on five punts, including three downed inside the 20-yard line. Feagles’ first punt was downed inside the one as David Tyree did a fantastic job of batting the ball back before it bounced into the end zone and Curtis Deloatch downed it. The other Viking returns went for 1 (David Tyree on the tackle), fair catch, 5 (Reggie Torbor), and fair catch. Both Tyree and Deloatch did a great job of gunners all day. David Tyree was VERY active on special teams on Sunday.

Giant kickoff returns went for 28 (Willie Ponder) and 20 yards (Mark Jones). Ike Hilliard recovered an onsides kick. Punt returns by Jones went for 5, 7, 3, downed, and downed (the latter being partially blocked by Reggie Torbor, resulting in a 9-yard punt).

(Box Score – New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, October 31, 2004)