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Giants at Packers: How can the Giants get their passing game going?

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Green Bay secondary not as good as Minnesota’s

NFL: New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Through four weeks of the season, the New York Giants offense hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations, especially after a porous prime time performance against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday night. The Giants rank fifth in yards per drive, but just 22nd in points per drive. It’s a discrepancy that’s been far too familiar for these Giants teams over the past few seasons.

Eli Manning has thrown as many interceptions as he has touchdown passes and the whole offense has lost five of their eight fumbles. That combines for the fourth-worst turnover rate in the league. But of course there’s plenty of talent on that side of the ball, so this type of futility isn’t expected to last.

Against Minnesota, the Giants ran into one of the best defenses in the league. The Vikings gave the offense trouble from the start of the game and the Giants basically had three stages of offense on Monday night. The first was trying to run the planned offense, which didn’t work very well through the first quarter. Then came a shift to quick passing, which kept Manning away from pressure and attempted to get some of the receivers in space with the ball. Then about midway through the second half, the Giants shifted to a “screw it, we’re going deep” philosophy, hoping to gain chunks of yards at a time. None of those stages brought much success.

Throughout the game, the Vikings were able to keep Odell Beckham contained. Minnesota mostly ran with two deep safeties, but that didn’t always lead to bracket or double coverage on Beckham. Instead, the Vikings mixed up their defensive looks on the outside to disguise the coverage. Take these two back-to-back plays from the first quarter.

The first came with 4:47 left in the quarter. Beckham lines up across from Xavier Rhodes and safety Harrison Smith shades over towards Beckham before the snap. But at the snap of the ball, Smith blitzes as the play goes to the other side of the field.

Then on the next play Beckham is again across from Rhodes and Smith creeps up into the box. This time when the ball is snapped, Rhodes bails back and Smith rushes over to cover Beckham off the line.

When the game moved into the second quarter, the Giants did a little more to scheme Beckham open. He was hit for shorter passes, especially in a four play stretch that saw three Beckham receptions with one running play. One such play involved bringing in Beckham tighter to the formation pre-snap, which gave him plenty of room to run an out route for an easy completion.

While the struggles against the Vikings were frustrating, they’re also not something to completely panic about. Everyone has struggled on offense against Minnesota this season as the team’s defense ranks third in DVOA. The Vikings also have three different cornerbacks in the top-10 of yards allowed per target in coverage per Sports Info Solutions Charting metrics from Football Outsiders. Terrance Newman is fourth, Captain Munnerlyn is eighth and Xavier Rhodes is 10th among qualified corners. None of those three have given up more than five yards per target this season.

The same cannot be said about the Giants’ Week 5 opponent, the Green Bay Packers. Green Bay ranks 10th in defensive DVOA, but that is heavily weighted by the second ranked run defense in the league. Against the pass, the Packers rank 22nd. Through three games, the Packers have allowed 8.9 yards per pass attempt, which ranks 31st in the league, beaten only by the New York Jets at 9.7. Green Bay has allowed 300 passing yards in two of their three games, and the third was a 254-yard day to a debuting Sam Bradford.

Much of Green Bay’s struggles have come on the outside. The Packers are 31st in DVOA against No. 1 receiver and also 31st against No. 2 receivers, though they’re surprisingly sixth against No. 3s. Green Bay has been stricken by injuries in the secondary so far, which hasn’t helped their performance. Sam Shields has missed the past two games with a concussion and has not been cleared to return on Sunday night even after the bye week. Damarious Randall is listed as questionable with a groin injury and his status for the game is still unknown.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

Randall has been one of the biggest reasons for Green Bay’s struggles in the secondary when he has been on the field. He has allowed 14.7 yards per target, which is 79th out of 80 cornerbacks with 10 or more targets this season. He’s also been getting targeted further down the field than almost any other highly-targeted corner. Randall is getting thrown at an average of 17.5 yards down the field, which is 75th among those 80 corners.

In the Week 2 game against the Vikings, Randall was tasked with covering Stefon Diggs for much of the game. Diggs’s nine-catch, 182-yard day wasn’t all on Randall, but the Green Bay corner did give up some big plays. Randall was in coverage on Diggs’s lone touchdown of the night on a beautiful play design from the Vikings. Diggs is alone to the right of the formation with two deep safeties. The Vikings run play action, which freezes the middle linebackers long enough so the safety on Diggs’s side of the field has to cover a crossing Kyle Rudolph in the middle of the field. This leaves Diggs one-on-one with Randall, who gets beat over the top.

Randall also saw a decent amount of Marvin Jones’s six-catch, 205-yard receiving day in Week 3, which also saw the corner get beat downfield a few times. Now Randall might not even be able to suit up on Sunday night, which would leave the Packers even more depleted in the secondary. While Randall hasn’t been playing all that well, he’s still been able to stay on the field for 92.4 of Green Bay’s defensive snaps this season.

A Randall absence would place Quinten Rollins and 2015 undrafted free agent Ladarius Gunter into more playing time. Rollins has been the other starter with Sam Shields out with 78.3 percent of the snaps played and Gunter has been the No. 3 and still on the field often, 61.6 percent of the snaps. Gunter has actually been the best performing cornerback on the roster so far this year, allowing just 5.5 yards per target on six throws his way.

It’s understandable to have a bad offensive performance against the Minnesota Vikings. But if these struggles extend to the playing against the Packers, then it would be fair to start worrying about the offense.