3TFO: Vikings @ Giants, Week 7
This undoubtedly was not the matchup we envisioned when we first saw this game on the Monday Night Football schedule. The Minnesota Vikings were a surprise playoff team last season, riding Adrian Peterson’s MVP campaign to a wild card berth. One of the teams they beat out on the regular season’s final weekend was the New York Giants, who Tom Coughlin has always kept in contention deep into December. But the 2013 season has been a lesson in Murphy’s Law for these two teams, as seemingly everything that could go wrong for them has.
Minnesota has been a rudderless ship with weak quarterback play, an aging defensive front, and a secondary that looks a lot worse without veteran Antoine Winfield. New York’s once-proud running game and pass rush have been toothless, and Eli Manning has compounded the damage rather than limited it. A combined 1-10 record means that little more than pride is on the line for these two teams, but there’s no doubt that Leslier Frazier and Coughlin each want a win to mark some progress in an otherwise lost season. Which coach gets it may ultimately be determined by one of these matchups.
Eli Manning vs. Vikings Secondary
Despite all his successes, Manning’s career has been plagued by interceptions, and this six-game stretch is his worst bout ever. Part of the blame goes to Kevin Gilbride’s offense. The run-and-shoot of his 1990’s Houston Oilers teams no longer exists in its pure form, but the Giants still use many of the option routes and sight adjustments from its foundation. That’s brought many big plays for Manning over the years, but disasters ensue when he’s not on the same page as his receivers.
Nevertheless, much of the blame also falls on Manning himself. Even when he led the league with 25 interceptions in 2010, he still finished with our 10th-highest quarterback grade. Even when he had the league’s weakest running attack and second-worst offensive line in 2011, he still carried New York on his back to a championship. But this season, he’s struggling with the rest of the Giants’ offense. His 65.0 Accuracy Percentage is the third-worst rate among starting quarterbacks, ahead of only Blaine Gabbert and Josh Freeman. Manning’s deep ball is his greatest weapon, but his 30.0% accuracy on Deep Passes is far below his 45.2% mark of the previous five seasons. His final interception last week took an unfortunate deflection off Brandon Myers’ hands, but Manning brought that misfortune by sailing the pass when he had a clean pocket and clear throwing lane.
The Vikings’ secondary is ripe for the picking, with no starters grading positively this season. Josh Robinson has surrendered the most yards in coverage of any cornerback in the league, Jamarca Sanford has already allowed three touchdowns after giving up three all last season, and the only defensive back with an interception this season, Harrison Smith, is battling an injury. If Manning is going to turn around this disappointing season, this is as good a place to start as any.
If there was any doubt that the Vikings were ready to move on from the brief Christian Ponder era, and briefer Matt Cassel era, it disappeared when they named Josh Freeman their starter just one week after signing him. Cassel showed little ability to get the ball downfield in his two starts, throwing for a 40.9% completion rate and 46.8 QB rating on passes that traveled 10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Freeman, by comparison, had the second-most yards on deep passes of any quarterback in the league last season. Instead, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneer’s recent struggles have come in the accuracy department. Just two seasons ago he had one of the league’s Top 10 Accuracy Percentages, but he regressed to one of the worst marks last year and is dead-last there this season. The Tampa Bay receivers certainly handicapped him by dropping a league-high 10.6% of his passes, but Freeman did not do himself any favors in his final games with the Buccaneers.
In his first start with the Vikings, Freeman will face a non-threatening Giants secondary that has been too generous this season. At times Prince Amukamara looks like one of the league’s better young corners, but his letdown against Brandon Marshall last week shows that he’s not there yet. Terrell Thomas has allowed four touchdowns and a 126.9 QB rating on throws into his coverage, and Antrel Rolle once again finds himself near the bottom of our safety coverage grades. Much like Manning, Freeman will have his chances to turn around a disappointing season this Monday night.
Adrian Peterson vs. Giants Run Defense
Except for a 78-yard touchdown run on his first carry of the season, Peterson has had a relatively quiet 2013 campaign, but that says less about his production and more about how high he’s raised the bar for himself. His 483 rushing yards rank fourth in the NFL, and he leads all running backs with 366 yards after contact. With a league-high 92.8 Elusive Rating, he’s still the toughest running back in the league to bring down. In front of him, Phil Loadholt is again among the league’s best run-blocking right tackles, Brandon Fusco has the fourth-best run block grade of any guard, and John Sullivan is coming off his best game of the season after being our top-graded center last year.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants’ run defense has been a lot better than most realize, surrendering just 3.9 yards per carry this season. Led by the resurgent Mike Patterson, the Giants’ defensive tackles have a collective +17.4 run defense grade. New York’s outside pass rush has been invisible, but both Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul are Top 10 among 4-3 defensive ends in run defense grades. And, though the Giants linebackers are nothing to write home about, they’ve been solid tacklers this season. Nevertheless, this will be their toughest matchup, and remember that Peterson had only 420 rushing yards at this point last season before his historic second-half surge propelled him to an MVP Award. Monday Night Football would be the perfect stage for him to remind everyone of his excellence.
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