Can the New York Giants go into Minneapolis on Monday night and come out with a victory over the 3-0 Minnesota Vikings? That might hinge, in part, on whether the Giants’ defense can come up with some difference-making plays.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at how the Giants’ defense matches up with the Minnesota offense.
By the numbers
Points per game: 21.3 (21st)
Yards per game: 265.3 (31st)
Passing yards per game: 214.3 (28th)
Rushing yards per game: 53.0 (32nd)
Passing: Sam Bradford, 40-of-59, (67.8 percent), 457 yards, 3 TDs, 0 INTs, 107.8 passer rating
Rushing: Jerick McKinnon, 19 carries, 53 yards, 2.8 yards per carry
Receiving: Stefon Diggs, 20 catches, 325 yards, 16,3 yards per caryr, 1 TD
Points per game: 20.3 (11th)
Yards per game: 339.7 (11th)
Passing yards per game: 262.3 (15th)
Rushing yards per game: 77.3 (5th)
Not an offensive juggernaut
The Vikings are an utterly dominant team defensively. A league-leading 15 sacks. Second in the league in takeaways with nine. Sixth in points allowed per game at 13.3.
Offensively, as you can see from the numbers shown above, not so much.
The Vikings lost quarterback Teddy Bridgewater to a horrific knee injury during training camp, then swung a mega-trade with the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford. Taking over in Week 2, Bradford has played well, but the Vikings have scored only 17 and 22 points the past two weeks, with one of their Week 3 scores on a punt return. More about Bradford in a bit.
Minnesota is also without superstar running back Adrian Peterson, on IR with a torn meniscus and an LCL sprain in his right knee. Without Peterson, the Vikings are last in the league running the ball. They are averaging only 2.1 yards per carry, with Jerick McKinnon (19 carries, 53 yards, 2.8 yards per carry) their leading rusher.
The Vikings do have a pair of dangerous receivers. Wide receiver Stefon Diggs is their primary big play threat, and tight end Kyle Rudolph has 14 catches, two for touchdowns.
“I know that big plays hurt us last week and you can’t continue to allow seven-plus big plays to any offense, especially this one,” defensive captain Jonathan Casillas said. “Diggs does a great job on the outside and 82 (Rudolph), like you said, he not only is a safety blanket, but he can stretch the field as well.”
Perhaps what the Vikings do best is something the Giants have not done well at all thus far — protect the ball. The Vikings are No. 1 in the league at +8 in the takeaway-giveaway column with just one turnover, a fumble. The Giants are 31st at -6 and still do not have a defensive takeaway.
“We have to take care of The Duke better and come up with it on the defensive side of the ball,” said coach Ben McAdoo early in the week.
About Sam Bradford
When Bridgewater went down the Vikings went all-in for 2016 by giving up a 2017 first-round pick and a 2018 fourth-round pick to get Bradford from the Philadelphia Eagles just days before the season began.
Bradford took over the starting job Week 2, and has been everything the Vikings hoped for in two games:
In Minnesota, Bradford has stepped into an offense catering to his strengths. Even before Adrian Peterson suffered a lateral meniscus tear during Bradford’s first start against Green Bay, his first two carries from the new quarterback came out of the shotgun.
With space to survey the field, Bradford has been able to play mistake-free with two varying game plans from offensive coordinator Norv Turner. Against the Packers, Bradford thrived taking shots downfield as he averaged more than nine yards per throw and found receiver Stefon Diggs for gains of 25, 44 and 46 yards.
Bradford got the ball out quicker against the Panthers. With more injuries thinning the offensive line, Bradford succeeded with shallower route concepts and didn’t attempt a pass 20 yards beyond the line. As a whole, the Vikings’ one-sided offense sputtered as 11 of the team’s 13 first downs needed to be picked up by Bradford. They converted just 3 of 12 third down attempts.
But Bradford, and his budding rapport with both tight end Kyle Rudolph and Diggs, have been a few of the offense’s bright spots through three weeks. A willingness to stand in the pocket and take a hit while throwing also hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates and coaches. His mistake-free play has also been critical for a Vikings team that now leads the league with a plus-8 turnover differential. Only two offenses, the Eagles and Vikings, have gone three weeks without a turnover.
Bradford, on his third NFL team, has never played up to being the 2010 first overall pick by the then-St. Louis Rams. Injuries, and playing for bad teams, have plagued him. The situation in Minnesota, though, may finally be the right one for him.
Vikings’ offensive line banged up
If you are looking for an area where the Giants might have an advantage, that could come along the offensive line. Second-year man T.J. Clemmings, who started all 16 games at right tackle last season for Minnesota, has moved to left tackle to replace Matt Kalil, on IR following hip surgery.
Reviews on Clemmings’ first game at the position were mixed. Pro Football Focus graded him as Minnesota’s worst offensive starter, but Vikings coach Mike Zimmer generally praised his performance.
“I thought he did pretty well,” Zimmer said. “He did a nice job in pass protection, used his hands well. There were some really good things in the running game. Obviously, there was some other issues. I think for the first time, it was pretty good.”
Giants’ defensive end Olivier Vernon generally lines up across the from the left tackle. Vernon has just one sack thus far in 2016. Perhaps this will be the week he is able to make a difference.
Starting left guard Alex Boone left Minnesota’s Week 3 victory over the Carolina Panthers with a hip issue, but the Vikings expect him to play.
On paper, this sets up well for the Giants. The poor Minnesota running game combined with a stout Giants’ run defense. A re-shuffled Minnesota offensive line.
The Giants, though, have issues of their own. The biggest of those is in the secondary. Starting free safety Darian Thompson missed last week’s game with a foot injury and is still considered “week-to-week.” The Giants lost cornerbacks Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (groin) and Eli Apple (hamstring) during Sunday’s game against Washington. Their status for Monday remains uncertain.
The Giants entered Sunday’s game against Washington having given up only three passing plays of more than 20 yards, none longer than 40 yards, and with a league-best averaged of just 8.7 yards allowed per completed pass.
Against the Redskins, they gave up passes of 55 and 44 yards, as well as three other passes of 20-31 yards. The Giants are now 10th in the league, giving up 10.4 yards per pass attempt.
“One play was a tough play on the touchdown play. DRC had good coverage, you want to call it a catch, you don’t want to call it a catch, but some people were out of position at safety on that play,” Casillas said. “We were undisciplined last game, it showed up in the penalties and also showed up on defense, giving up big plays.”
With the Giants likely short-handed to at least a degree in the secondary, the guess is that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo won’t be dialing up as many corner and safety blitzes as he has to this point. That means the Giants’ front four will have to generate pressure, something it has not done consistently in the first three games.
To beat this Vikings team, the defense is probably going to have to generate a couple of game-changing turnovers. Since the Vikings have turned the ball over only once, and the Giants have yet to earn a defensive takeaway, that won’t be easy.