Oct 042019
 
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Daniel Jones, New York Giants (September 29, 2019)

The Sun Never Sets on Daniel Jones – © USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Minnesota Vikings at New York Giants, October 6, 2019

THE STORYLINE:
Believe it or not, the regular-season is already one-fourth done. And for the first time in three years, the Giants’ season isn’t all but over by October. But we should step back for a second and look at the big picture.

In my opinion, as long as Daniel Jones remains healthy enough to play most of the remaining 12 games, this season has already been a tremendous success. My biggest fear heading into this season was that the Giants would remain in mathematical contention for the bulk of the season, preventing the franchise from benching Eli Manning and getting a good read on Jones. To be blunt, I feared the Giants wasting another season with an aging quarterback who was never going to be apart of the turnaround. I never, never, never expected the franchise to make the switch as soon as Week 3. This is really a big, big deal.

And after the Giants announced the switch and before Jones started his first game, there were quite a few Giants fans who were projecting the Giants finishing with a top three 2020 draft pick, firing Pat Shurmur, and drafting Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, or Jake Fromm.

Oh how things can quickly change in two weeks! Look, as I’ve stated before, it’s way too early to really know if Daniel Jones will be the franchise quarterback that this team needs. NFL history is filled with flashes in the pan who quickly fade into oblivion – after a few games, even after a season or two. But barring injury, Jones will get 14 regular-season games to prove his worth as a rookie. That’s invaluable. And as of right now, any talk of drafting another quarterback in 2020 seems crazy.

Turning to the short-term, the Giants are actually very much alive, being only one game out of first place in the NFC East. Dallas looks like the prohibitive favorite to win the division, if for no other reason that their defense is vastly superior to the Giants’ defense. But could the Giants stay in contention for a Wild Card spot in November and December? We shall soon find out.

The 2-2 Vikings are a talented team coming off of a tough loss and feeling a little bit desperate. There is a lot of pressure on them to beat an “inferior” Giants team. A few days after this game, the Giants travel to New England to play the NFL Champion Patriots. The Giants may quickly find themselves at 2-4. This is a big game for the Giants too. 3-3 sounds a lot better than 2-4.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Saquon Barkley (ankle – out)
  • RB Wayne Gallman (neck)
  • RG Kevin Zeitler (shoulder)
  • LT Nate Solder (neck)
  • LB Alec Ogletree (hamstring – out)
  • LB Tae Davis (concussion – out)
  • LB Lorenzo Carter (neck – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Giants have played four teams in a row with very tough defensive front sevens. It gets no easier this weekend against the Minnesota Vikings, arguably the best defense the Giants have faced thus far. The Vikings are 6th in overall defense in terms of yardage allowed and 5th in terms of points allowed (15.8 per game). They are top 10 in both run and pass defense. On the defensive line, DE Danielle Hunter, DE Everson Griffen, and former Giant DT Linval Joseph are Pro Bowlers. So is LB Anthony Barr, CB Xavier Rhodes, and S Harrison Smith. The key, albeit scary, match-ups for the Giants in this game are tackles Nate Solder and former Viking Mike Remmers against ends Hunter and Griffen.

The Giants are not likely to score many points against the Vikings. What the offense, Daniel Jones, and the other ball handlers need to do is not make it easier on Minnesota by turning the football over. Ball security has been an issue for Jones and the running backs. Do not give a struggling Vikings’ offense a short field to work with, or worse, give the Vikings a defensive score. If this ends up being a tight, low-scoring affair, the team that makes the most mistakes will most likely lose the game. Winning the field position battle could also be decisive.

The game within the game this week will be Pat Shurmur, who calls the plays, facing his old team and his old head coach, Mike Zimmer (defensive background). Each knows each other and what they like to do. Shurmur is also intimately familiar with the Vikings’ defensive personnel.

Turning to the big picture, we once again look at Daniel Jones. Again, it’s early. But there are some important early signs that give us reason to be extremely hopeful. For one, the criticism of his arm strength ended up being a myth. While Jones doesn’t have a rocket, he can make all of the different types of throws an NFL quarterback is required to make. Indeed, we have now repeatedly seen that he can fire the ball into tight windows. More than that, his accuracy is better than Eli Manning’s, even when Eli was in his prime. Time and time again, Jones has perfectly placed the ball to allow his receivers to do maximum damage after the catch.

But beyond all of that, two other aspects of Jones’ game have stood out to me. First, regardless of the pass rush, he keeps his eyes transfixed down the field. While this has hurt him a few times in terms of having the ball knocked out of his hands, his ability to maintain his focus under duress and maneuver around in the pocket (sometimes only ever so slightly) has allowed him to spot targets opening up downfield and to make the key throw at the last half-second. Secondly, Jones is already reading coverages likes a seasoned veteran. For example, on the touchdown throw to Gallman last weekend, Gallman was his fifth option on the play. FIFTH! I bet you there are some veteran quarterbacks who have started three years in this league who have yet to throw to their fifth option on a play. And Jones just did it in his second game!

Finally, something that has not received enough attention this week is how dramatically the New York receiving corps has changed. To start the season, New York’s receivers were Sterling Shepard, Cody Latimer, Bennie Fowler, Russell Shepard, and Cody Core. Two-fifths of that corps has now been replaced by Golden Tate and Darius Slayton. T.J. Jones has also come and gone. The net effect is the receiving corps looks far stronger now.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants’ defense hasn’t given up a touchdown in six quarters. Is that misleading? I would argue  yes, but we shall see. Unfortunately, one of the key players leading the apparent turnaround, inside linebacker Ryan Connelly, is done for the season. A 5th-round rookie, he was already wearing the green dot on his helmet. It’s a huge loss for a defense trying to gain some respectable consistency. Making matters worse is that Alec Ogletree and Tae Davis are both out again. All of the sudden, ex-Panther and 49er castoff David Mayo becomes a key figure moving forward. And God help us if Nate Stupar is on the field. Look for the Giants to continue to use the three-safety package.

As I talked about last week, the good news for the Giants’ defense is the defensive line is starting to exert itself. Dexter Lawrence is showing why he was a 1st-round pick. B.J. Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson are flashing, as are edge rushers Markus Golden, Oshane Ximines, and Tuzar Skipper. Coming off perhaps his worst game as a pro, Janoris Jenkins rebounded with “defensive player of the week” honors. Deandre Baker has had two quiet (in a positive sense) games in a row. Jabrill Peppers just made his first impact play. But the opponent last week was a dysfunctional Redskins team. A bigger sample size is needed.

Minnesota has its own issues. There appear to be too many cooks in the kitchen on the offensive coaching staff. And quarterback Kirk Cousins is under fire from the media, fans, and most notably, fellow teammates. He’s one of those quarterbacks who can look very good in one game, and then awful in another. You never know which version of Cousins you will get. But, the Vikings have three very dangerous difference-makers on offense: RB Dalvin Cook, WR Stefon Diggs, and WR Adam Thielen. These are all 1,000-yard producers. Cousins will also throw to his tight ends (Pro Bowler Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith). Most notably, Cook is the team’s leading pass receiver.

But make no mistake about it, the Vikings are a run-first team. Cook is averaging almost six yards per carry and already has five touchdowns on an offense that has been struggling. His back-up, rookie Alexander Mattison, is averaging over five yards per carry. The Vikings are a physical, old-school football team. They run the football behind a physical offensive line and play great defense. If the Giants have any shot at the upset, they need to stop the Minnesota ground attack, or at the very least, limit the damage. When the Vikings see three safeties on the field, they will challenge that with the ground game, as well as the injury-depleted inside linebacking corps.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Here comes the first real serious challenge for the New York coverage teams. Marcus Sherels has five career punt returns for touchdowns, including one already against the Giants. As for the New York return game, it will be interesting to see if Jabrill Peppers or Golden Tate becomes the feature punt returner now that T.J. Jones has been let go.

There is a very good chance that special teams and field position will decide the outcome of this game.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula on facing the Vikings’ defense: “Yeah, they’re really good… We all want to be aware of the kind of defense we’re facing. They’re talented across the board. They have a really good scheme. They feed off of mistakes made by the offense. As most defenses are, they’re even better in long yardage. I think the biggest thing, the point of emphasis, is getting the ball out on time, making good decisions, don’t think you have to make big plays and don’t think you have to win the game on every play. We talk about, as we do every week, staying ahead of the chains, so to speak. Staying out of those long yardage situations.”

THE FINAL WORD:
This is a big game for both teams. Neither wants to fall to 2-3. And the Giants play the Patriots on a short week after this game. Most pundits expect the Giants to be 2-4 soon. Much depends on the Vikings. Do they come into this game pissed off and ready to take it out on the Giants? Or has this week’s turmoil started to wear on their psyche? To be determined. This may be a horrible time to play the Vikings or a good time. The problem for the Giants are the match-ups up front. That usually doesn’t bode well.

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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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