The New York Giants will be looking to get to 3-2 on Sunday, but they will have to go through a staunch Minnesota Vikings defense to get there.
Can they? Let’s break down the matchup.
Daniel Jones’ biggest challenge
Rookie quarterback Daniel Jones has done some extraordinary things in his two starts for the Giants.
- First and foremost, he has led the Giants to two victories.
- He won an NFC Offensive Player of the Week award.
- He has compiled a 68.8 percent completion rate, highest by a Giants quarterback in his first two starts in the Super Bowl era.
- He has passed for 561 yards, highest opening two-game total among Giants quarterbacks who began their career in the Super Bowl era.
Jones has done all of that, though, against questionable competition. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the NFL’s 30th-ranked defense, and the 0-4 Washington Redskins the 31st.
Jones will face a defense of an entirely different caliber on Sunday. The Vikings are fifth in the league in points and sixth in yards allowed. They have Pro Bowl-caliber players at every level of their defense.
“They have outstanding players everywhere. When you start saying, ‘Okay, well, this is their best player. No, this guy is their best player.’ All of the guys up front … they have two edge rushers. They have interior guys that can get push. They have linebackers that are Pro Bowlers. They have corners and they have safeties that have all been to Pro Bowls. They’re well-coordinated and they put pressure on the passer, and they do a good job of stopping the run. That’s what you want from a defense.”
Defensive linemen Everson Griffen (3), Linval Joseph (2), Danielle Hunter (1), linebacker Anthony Barr (4), cornerback Xavier Rhodes (2) and safety Harrison Smith (4) all have been selected for the Pro Bowl at various times.
“I think they are a very complete team. Compared to the teams we have played, they are definitely up there,” Jones said. “Like coach said, they have a good front seven and they are really good in the back end, too. I think we’ll be ready, I think we have a plan to attack, a plan to handle what they do well. Realize it’s about what we do well, too. It’s about playing to our strengths and we will have a plan to do that. We’re confident and I’m looking forward to it.”
Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer was complementary toward the rookie when asked about Jones by New York media this week.
“Jones just seems like he’s playing very free, he just sees it and lets it loose, and he’s not worried about any ramifications, he’s just going out and playing the game, it looks like to me,” Zimmer said.
“Daniel, I think the guy is going to be really, really good, honestly. I think he’s good now, but I think he’s going to be really, really good. He looks like a big time NFL quarterback that can move in the pocket, can make all the throws, looks like he makes quick decisions, moves under duress, so I think there’s a lot of good things that are going on with him.”
As a bonus, just because I can and I know you will enjoy it, here is a little Brian Baldinger breaking down Jones and the Giant offense.
.@Giants Danny DIMES! Converting 3rd downs all day. Using his arm and his legs making plays happen. This offense looks good with @Daniel_Jones10 at QB #BaldysBreakdowns @Giants @NFLNetwork pic.twitter.com/UP4hTdderH— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) October 2, 2019
Return of Golden Tate
The veteran wide receiver returns to the Giants lineup as his four-game PED suspension has been served. What does the 31-year-old, in his 10th NFL season, bring to the offense?
Via his Twitter account, Tate has been listing 10 things he has missed while suspended. Here are a couple:
#8. Making the most out of every catch and scrapping for those YAC yards! #movingchains ⛓️ pic.twitter.com/sZP1fYOY2T— Golden Tate (@ShowtimeTate) September 29, 2019
#4. Making the clutch catches for my squad in big moments. #playoffs #MissYouEndzone #bigtimeplayersmakebigtimeplays pic.twitter.com/eXc5ML8Efp— Golden Tate (@ShowtimeTate) October 2, 2019
Tate will undoubtedly add play-making ability on offense. He has 611 career catches and his 4,048 yards after catch is the most of any receiver since Tate entered the league in 2010.
Both Tate and Sterling Shepard, who has 20 catches in three games, have had most of their success as slot receivers. On Thursday, offensive coordinator Mike Shula said the Giants see them as “interchangeable” in the slot and on the outside.
“Whether or not we just keep Shep in one spot now or Golden, the good thing is that both of them can play in several spots, and I think that helps us for a lot of reasons,” Shula said. “They’re smart, they have a good feel for our offense, and they have good speed and quickness.”
Limit those turnovers
The Giants have 10 turnovers through four games, tied with the Cincinnati Bengals and Buffalo Bills for most in the league.
Four turnovers (two fumbles, two interceptions) did not prove costly last Sunday vs. the Washington Redskins. The Giants, though, cannot expect to continue winning games against better competition if they continue to give the ball away.
Riding the Wayne Train
Miraculously Saquon Barkley has been running and cutting lightly on the sideline at practice this week. That, however, does not mean he is suiting up for the Giants on Sunday. He still has not really practiced and Barkley suiting up vs. the Vikings is far-fetched, even if Shurmur has been cagey and refused to rule out the possibility.
Of course, Shurmur can be as cagey as he wants with videos like this from Thursday’s practice.
#Giants #Shurmur won't rule out Barkley for Minny - says he did "fine" Wednesday. Media portion today: Barkley moving well today - then worked w/ trainers... Ogletree on the side...Davis working w/o yellow jersey in LB drills ...All others in pads pic.twitter.com/4XOhlpjB1j— GiantsWFAN (@giantswfan) October 3, 2019
Still, this soon after a high ankle sprain it just doesn’t seem sensible for Barkley to be playing on Sunday. That means Wayne Gallman is likely to again be the workhorse.
Using a varied rushing attack that included 63 yards from Gallman, 33 from Jones and 23 from wide receiver Sterling Shepard the Giants had season highs in rushing attempts (37) and yards (164) vs. Washington.
Don’t expect similar success against this Minnesota defense, seventh in the league at 3.7 yards allowed per rushing attempt, but the Giants will have to be effective running the ball.
Blocking the edges
As we have established, the Vikings have tremendous talent at all levels of their defense. Most dangerous, though, are probably the edge rushers — Hunter and Griffen. Hunter had 14.5 sacks a year ago, while Griffen had 5.5. This year, Hunter has three and Griffen two.
Two weeks ago, Shaq Barrett of the Buccaneers overwhelmed the Giants with four sacks. Last week, the Giants did better — holding Redskins edge rusher Ryan Kerrigan without a sack or a hit on Jones.
Left tackle Nate Solder and right tackle Mike Remmers face a huge challenge this time around.