clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Giants vs. Vikings: When the Vikings have the ball

Can the Giants slow Justin Jefferson and the rest of the Minnesota offense?

Arizona Cardinals v Minnesota Vikings Photo by David Berding/Getty Images

The New York Giants travel to Minnesota on Saturday for a Christmas Eve matchup against the 11-3 Vikings. Minnesota mounted an epic comeback against the Indianapolis Colts last week; down 33-0, the Vikings won the game 39-36, in overtime supplanting - ironically enough - former Colts’ coach Frank Reich’s record for the largest comeback in NFL history (Bills-Oilers 1992 AFC Wildcard game).

Strangely enough, this will be the Vikings’ fifth home game in six weeks. The only away game in that time span was at Detroit in Week 14. ESPN analytics has the Vikings with a 70.4 percent chance to win. Draftkings Sportsbook has the Vikings favored by 4 points with a 48-point over/under, the second-largest on the slate.

Vikings team statistics

Minnesota ranks eighth in the NFL in points scored, with an average of 25.1 points per game. The Giants rank 20th with an average of 20.5 points per game. The Vikings are 13th in yards per game, averaging 354.6 yards per game. The Giants rank 22nd with 325.2 yards per game.

Minnesota averages 259.2 passing yards per game, ranking them seventh in the NFL. The Giants are 28th, with an average of 179 passing yards per game. Minnesota's rushing offense isn’t as potent as in previous seasons; they average 95.4 yards on the ground, ranking them 28th in the NFL. The Giants rank sixth in the NFL, averaging 146.2 yards on the ground per game.

Minnesota has suffered 41 sacks, 11 interceptions, and 17 total turnovers. The Vikings are 19th in the league in motion rate, with motion on 45.3 percent of their plays. They’re also 28th in the league in shotgun rate. The Giants are 23rd in shotgun rate and 24th in motion rate (41.8 percent). Much like the Giants, Minnesota frequently uses play-action; the Vikings run play-action on 19.3 percent of their drop backs, ranking them fifth in the league. The Giants are third in play-action rate, with a rate of 19.8 percent.

The Vikings have 48 explosive plays (20 yards or more) on the season. The Giants are last in the league with 33. The Vikings only have five rushes of 20 yards or more on the season. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is pressured on 33.4 percent of his drop backs while only being blitzed on 20 percent of snaps. The Giants will blitz Cousins more than just 20 percent of the time; Wink Martindale’s defense leads the league in blitz rate at 44.4 percent.

The Vikings are mostly an 11 personal team; they use the grouping at a 74.6 percent rate. The Vikings use more 12 personnel after trading for T.J. Hockenson midseason. They use 12 personnel at an 11.1 percent rate. They also incorporate Ffullback C.J. Ham into their offense in 21 personnel, which they use 8.9 percent of the time.

How to defend the Vikings

The Giants' run defense has been compromised for much of the season. Opposing teams aren’t necessarily successful on every type of run, but lateral power and counter runs to the outside. Luckily for the Giants, the Vikings are more of a wide/stretch zone team.

Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell - or, as Wink Martindale described him, Harry Styles - is a chip off the block of Sean McVay’s coaching tree. According to Pro Football Focus, star running back Dalvin Cook has 152 zone-blocked schemed rushes this season. He has 68 power/gap rushes on the season.

The Giants have played three teams that are much more predicated on zone-based runs than power/gap ones: the Titans, Packers, and Seahawks. New York held Derrick Henry to 82 yards (3.9 YPC), Aaron Jones to 63 yards (should have received more work), and Kenneth Walker III to 51 yards.

Opposing offenses have seen the tape; they’re aware of the glaring struggles that the Giants' defense face when attempting to fit counter-type runs to the outside, so expect to see O’Connell exploit this vulnerability.

New York must remain disciplined in its run fits and be quick to find the intermediate zones while roboting off play-action. Minnesota does a great job attacking the intermediate part of the field off play-action, between the safeties and the linebackers.

Justin Jefferson

Rotating a safety down to the opposite side of Justin Jefferson, in the middle of the field, to prevent any deep horizontal route could be one way to limit his explosive nature on the horizontal plane. The Giants were physical with Washington’s receivers; although Jefferson is only 195 pounds, he isn’t one to get bullied of the spot.

Terry McLaurin received much attention from the Giants in New York’s Week 15 win. He frequently saw cloud coverage (safety over the top, CB underneath in trail), and was bracketed in the end zone. Martindale should approach Jefferson in the same manner, albeit teams have failed to contain him in the past with this approach.

Last week against the Colts, Jefferson had 12 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. In the previous week against Detroit, he had 11 catches for 223 yards and a would-be touchdown that was ruled out of bounds, which it appeared he stayed in bounds. Detroit double-teamed Jefferson more than the Colts, but both teams failed to contain the star wide receiver.

Against the Colts, wide receiver K.J. Osbourn benefitted from Jefferson’s attention to the tune of 10 catches for 157 yards and a touchdown. I’ll take my chances with the likes of Osbourn, Hockenson, and Adam Thielen, while primarily focusing on Jefferson, who should see Fabian Moreau and safety help.

O’Connell will likely align Jefferson in the slot to match him up against Darnay Holmes; New York must switch things up and give whoever is in the slot as much help as possible if Jefferson is aligned there - he aligns in the slot on 30 percent of his snaps on the season. Martindale cannot allow Jefferson to feast on Holmes as CeeDee Lamb did earlier in the year.

Cor’Dale Flott and Nick McCloud could see a lot of one-on-one if Moreau is tasked to shadow Jefferson. Both young players will have their hands full with Thielen and Osbourn, who are talented wide receivers.

Rushing attack

The Giants also need to pay attention to Cook, who had an outside 64-yard screen for a touchdown against Indianapolis. The Giants have been vulnerable in the flat with Micah McFadden, who does a solid job in the tackle box. McFadden has been better recently, but Cook may pose a problem. Cook has 33 receptions for 235 yards and two touchdowns.

On the ground, Cook has 1,045 yards on 230 carries (4.5 YPC) with eight touchdowns and three fumbles. He has 47 missed tackles forced, ranking him sixth in the NFL. He averages 3.64 yards after contact per attempt, ranking him 15th.

The Vikings offensive line received a healthy Christian Darrisaw back to the lineup last week. Darrisaw missed three games, and his addition is great for Minnesota’s rushing attack. Center Garett Bradbury is out due to a back injury.

Pressure Kirk Cousins?

Cousins is having another solid, under-the-radar season. He has completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 3,818 yards with 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He averages 7.0 yards per attempt, ranking him 20th in the league.

Against the blitz, Cousins has completed 57 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and two interceptions. Martindale will attempt to pressure Cousins, but the veteran quarterback has done a good job processing defenses and getting the football out quickly. According to PFF, Cousins is the seventh-best passer under pressure this season.

New York must attempt everything in their power to mitigate the risk of Jefferson and force Cousins to have an accelerated clock in the pocket. Although he’s done well under pressure, he does have 10 turnover-worthy plays when pressured, so the Giants must seize any opportunities that may arise.

Final thoughts

The Vikings are a good football team, but one that isn’t dominant despite their record. Like the Giants, they’ve been hyper-efficient in one-score games. Minnesota is an incredible 10-1 in one-score games. However, this team drastically collapsed in the first half against an Indianapolis Colts team who lost their star player on their first drive. Yes, they assembled the greatest comeback in NFL history, which must be applauded, but dominant teams aren’t going to surrender 33 points to an interim-coached squad with an elder Matt Ryan at quarterback.

The Giants will be prepared, well-coached, and ready to build on their pivotal Week 15 win over Washington. However, the injuries in their secondary will be a huge issue in containing the 11 personnel package of Minnesota. It’s looking like a track meet with two sub-optimal defenses in a dome December environment; that’s not the typical script for Giants’ team that hasn’t scored more than 27 points this season.