The New York Giants (2-1) get the national spotlight Monday against the 3-0 Minnesota Vikings. Let’s look at five things to watch that will be crucial if the Giants are going to pull off what oddsmakers are considering a fairly substantial upset.
Can Giants handle the Vikings’ pass rush?
Finding this topic on the list should come as no surprise. It has been a source of discussion all week. Led by Everson Griffen (4.0 sacks) the Vikings have a league-leading 15 sacks through eight games. Danielle Hunter and Linval Joseph each have three sacks for Minnesota.
The Giants will likely try to counter the Minnesota pass rush with quick, short passes to Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, Victor Cruz and the rest of their tight ends and running backs. Left tackle Ereck Flowers, who will draw primary responsibility for Griffen and right tackle Bobby Hart, again subbing for the injured Marshall Newhouse, will have their hands full.
If you want an in-depth look at how the Vikings generate pressure, aside from simply having outstanding defensive linemen, Football Outsiders offered examples in a terrific film study.
We know that Eli Manning has had a number of awful games against the Vikings throughout his career. To avoid another one, the Giants will have to find a way to keep that pass rush at bay.
What about the crowd noise?
The now-defunct Metrodome was always a loud, raucous place for opposing teams to play. The Vikings’ new home, the indoor US Bank Stadium, won’t be any different.
The Giants have been practicing with crowd noise during the week, hoping to simulate the environment the best they can.
“It's going to be loud. I'm sure it's not going to be much louder than the Metrodome. I don't know if you can get any louder than that building there,” coach Ben McAdoo said. “We're going to crank up the noise in here, we're going to work through the communications on special teams, and on offense. That'll be a big part of the game for us. We need to really treat the silent count this week like it's another play, another scheme, in the offense.”
Odell Beckham said during the week that no matter what the noise in Minneapolis, it won’t be as bad as what he played in at LSU.
“Death Valley on a Saturday night or 2011 on my birthday, November 5th, in Tuscaloosa. It was by far one of the loudest atmospheres. I’ll be honest with you, as much as the NFL and you work so hard to get here, there’s no feeling like playing college ball. There is no feeling like being in a stadium and being proud to play for your organization. You chose to go there. This is who you were going to represent. There’s no feeling that will ever beat playing in Death Valley unless you win a Super Bowl. That would be great,” Beckham said. “Other than that, playing in front of crowd noise and from the pictures I’ve seen, it looks incredible. From what I’ve seen, I’m happy that it’s not outside. I remember not being at the game last year and not knowing for sure watching the game how cold it was. Right now, what they have looks amazing. It looks perfectly suitable for Monday Night Football.”
Manning said there is no magic formula to dealing with crowd noise.
“I think not giving them the big plays. Just try and stay in good down and distance. There will be some times where it’s loud but we’ve practiced with noise and have played in loud environments before,” Manning said. “It’s just everyone being on the same page. Great communication. Getting up to the line of scrimmage quickly. Making sure everyone has a lot of time to digest what the play is and see what they’re doing. Just make sure we are sound in our assignments.”
During the “Big Blue Chat” podcast on Friday, guest analyst Brandon Thorn (Inside the Pylon/The Scouting Academy) pointed out that during a Week 2 game at home against the Green Bay Packers the stadium was so loud that Packer offensive tackles had to turn their heads toward the ball to see when it was snapped, an obvious advantage for pass-rushing defensive ends.
Whether or not the Giants can keep their poise and execute their offense in a loud, hostile environment will be a critical part of Monday’s game.
Turning the tables
We have spent much of the week talking about the Vikings’ fearsome pass rush. If the Giants are going to win, though, they must turn that around and get a dominant performance from their own defensive line.
Our own Dan Pizzuta looked at the matchup of the Giants’ defensive line vs. the Vikings offensive line and came away believing this could be a big week for Giants’ pass rushers. During our podcast on Friday, Thorn agreed.
The Vikings have their own issues at offensive tackle. T.J. Clemmings, who had a rough rookie season in 2015 at right tackle, is playing left tackle with Matt Kalil on IR. Veteran Andre Smith has been struggling at right tackle.
As Pizzuta wrote:
“The Giants defense has done what it’s needed to do up front even if the raw numbers don’t quite reflect it. The sacks are going to come and the current state of the Vikings might be just the thing to get them going.”
It’s all about the Duke
The Vikings are first in the league in takeaway/giveaway ratio at +8. They have forced nine turnovers while their offense has given the ball away just once, via a fumble.
The Giants have been sloppy with the ball despite McAdoo’s constant preaching about ball security. They are -6 in takeaway/giveaway ratio, and have yet to record a defensive takeaway. The one fumble recovery they got came off a punt last week vs. the Washington Redskins.
If the Giants can’t reverse this trend Monday night, if in fact they perpetuate it and continue to give the ball away without taking it away, they will have little chance.
Who’s covering Minnesota receivers?
As of this writing, the final injury report for Monday is not available. The Giants, though, figure to be extremely short-handed in the secondary. By now, you probably know that the Giants are so depleted at cornerback and safety that they have been using wide receivers and practice squad players as scout team defenders.
At safety, the Giants are without Mykkele Thompson (IR/knee), Darian Thompson (foot) and Nat Berhe (concussion). That means undrafted free agent Andrew Adams, just promoted from the practice squad last week, is a likely starter. He has never played a defensive snap in the NFL.
At corner, as of Friday Eli Apple (hamstring) and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) had not attempted to do more than work on the side with the training staff during practice.
If neither Apple nor Rodgers-Cromartie can play the Giants will have only four cornerbacks — Janoris Jenkins, Leon Hall, Trevin Wade and rookie Michael Hunter — available. Hall will also double as an emergency safety.
The volume of injuries figures to put pressure on the front four to rush Sam Bradford by themselves, and is likely to limit defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo in his ability to design anything exotic.
Brandon Thorn (@VeteranScout) helps Ed break down the game on the latest “Big Blue Chat” podcast.