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New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings, December 27, 2015
The significance of this game depends on the outcome of Eagles-Redskins game played the day before on Saturday night. If the Eagles win, the Giants must win to keep their now desperate playoff hopes alive. If the Redskins win, the Giants’ playoff hopes are officially dead.
Either way, a seriously undermanned Giants team – sans Odell Beckham – are clear-cut underdogs against a well-rounded 9-5 Minnesota Vikings team on its way to the playoffs. Only a few of the ole’ football coach’s warriors from the 2011 NFL Championship remain – Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Mark Herzlich – for this potential last stand. An era may be ending.
THE INJURY REPORT:
- RB Orleans Darkwa (illness – probable)
- WR Dwayne Harris (shoulder – questionable)
- LT Ereck Flowers (illness – probable)
- DE George Selvie (concussion – probable)
- DT Markus Kuhn (knee – out)
- LB Devon Kennard (foot – out)
- L James Morris (quad – out)
- S Cooper Taylor (concussion – out)
NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The 4-3 defense of the Vikings is 13th in the NFL (7th against the pass and 20th against the run). Minnesota is 4th in red zone defense. It’s solid group anchored up front by defensive tackles ex-Giant Linval Joseph and 1st rounder Sharrif Floyd and defensive ends Everson Griffen (8.5 sacks) and Brian Robison (4 sacks). The leading tackler is rookie middle linebacker Eric Kendricks (76 tackles, 4 sacks). He is flanked by 1st rounders Chad Greenway and Anthony Barr, two athletic play makers.
The secondary has performed surprisingly well but they haven’t made a lot of plays on the ball (only 5 interceptions by the defensive backs). 37-year old ex-Cowboy Terence Newman (3 interceptions) and third-year Xavier Rhodes are the starting corners. Free safety Harrison Smith leads the defensive backfield. Andrew Sendejo is the strong safety.
The game story here is the absence of Odell Beckham and how the Giants will compensate. Facing game-time temperatures of below 10 degrees, Eli Manning’s best friend would be a strong running game. New York had their best rushing performance of the season against a tough Carolina defense last week. Can the Giants build upon that performance? Beckham accounts for 26 percent of the team’s receptions, 36 percent of the team’s passing yardage, and 41 percent of the team’s receiving touchdowns. No Beckham. No Victor Cruz. Only the disappointing Rueben Randle, banged-up special teamer Dwayne Harris (shoulder), reclamation project Hakeem Nicks (4 catches for 26 yards), and ex-Packer practice squader Myles White (5 catches for 54 yards). The Giants desperately need a career-game out of Randle. If not, Manning will have to feature running back Shane Vereen and rookie tight end Will Tye. A wild card here could be tight end Jerome Cunningham.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Vikings are 28th in the NFL on offense (31st passing and 5th rushing). They are a throwback-type offense that runs the ball well and likes to use the play-action pass. The Vikings don’t turn the ball over much (only 8 interceptions and 7 lost fumbles).
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater doesn’t put up big numbers, but he is surprisingly efficient for a second-year player. While he only has 13 touchdown passes, he is completing over 66 percent of his passes and has a quarterback rating of 90.4. His top two targets are rookie wide receiver Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph. Each has 47 catches and four touchdowns. Ex-Steeler and Dolphin deep threat Mike Wallace has 36 catches and 2 touchdowns. Since the Giants have struggled covering quality tight ends, Bridgewater will likely look for Rudolph early and often. Bridgewater has some mobility and will run with the football at times (178 rushing yards and 3 touchdowns). The Vikings also like to bootleg off of play action.
Given the opponent and very cold temperatures, the defensive focus has to be on stopping the run. Running back Adrian Peterson is still one of the very best in the business. He’s virtually their entire running game with 1,314 yards and 9 touchdowns (no other back has 200 yards). Peterson can wear you out, but he can also break the big run. He has an 80-yard touchdown run his year and is averaging 4.6 yards per carry against defenses specifically designed to stop him. It’s old-fashioned power football, running the ball behind a big, physical offensive line, fullback (Zach Line), and multiple tight ends.
NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Minnesota is very strong on special teams. Cordarrelle Patterson has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this season, and has four in his career. He averages over 31 yards per kickoff return. Marcus Sherels has a punt return for a touchdown this season (he has three in career, including an 86-yarder against the Giants in 2013) and is averaging almost 10 yards per punt return. The Vikings are also outstanding covering punts, being second in the NFL by allowing only 5 yards per return. They are more vulnerable on kickoff returns, being 31st in the NFL, and having given up four returns over 40 yards. Dwayne Harris (shoulder) is ailing and may not be able to play much on special teams this week. Shane Vereen may handle kickoff return chores while Ben Edwards handles punt returns.
FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Steve Spagnuolo on QB Teddy Bridgewater and the Vikings’ offense: “Of course like any good quarterback with a running game, he’s aided by that. They’ve become really good—(Offensive Coordinator) Norv (Turner) has done a great job—with the play action concepts that they have. They don’t do a lot, but what they do, they do it really well. Because you’re so focused on 28 (Adrian Peterson), everybody gets (sucked up). That’s the whole deal with a good running game and play action pass off of it. We’re hopeful that we can play good on first and second down and get into some unmanageable third downs for them, it’d be better for us. That’ll be the intent.”
THE FINAL WORD:
Obviously if the Redskins win on Saturday, there will be an emotional letdown and the Giants may get pummeled by a Vikings team still in a division title race. Regardless, it is difficult seeing a Giants team missing Beckham and severely limited by the 32nd-ranked defense (the Giants are only 78 yards from giving up 6,000 yards on the season again) from pulling off the upset. In extremely cold conditions, the team that runs the ball, stops the run, and plays better special teams will prevail. The Vikings are superior in all three categories.