ReFo: Vikings @ Giants, Week 7
Ben Stockwell looks over a game that produced a rather gloomy piece of history - the worst PFF grade ever given to a quarterback.
ReFo: Vikings @ Giants, Week 7
Much has already been said by both media and fans about what a tough match this was to watch and how poorly both offenses played throughout the game. So, where possible, I’m going to try and focus on the positives but we can’t avoid the elephant in the room, or even the herd of them, so I’ll try not to polish this game up beyond the level it deserves.
First off, the biggest positive was for the Giants who finally took that goose egg out of their win column and replaced it with a one — still vastly and irreparably outweighed by the six in the loss column, but so much nicer to not be staring at that winless streak. Aided without question by an inept performance from the Vikings’ on offense — as well as Marcus Sherels missing a massive opportunity on what could have been a pick-six just prior to Peyton Hillis’ touchdown — but there was enough from the Giants that they deserved this first win of the season on merit.
For the Vikings, however, there were few such bright spots with the poor display from their offense outweighing what was a solid defensive performance. They limited the Giants to 2 yards per carry on the ground, pressured Eli Manning on more than 50% of his drop-backs, and got their hands to two passes. Short of Sherels finishing the aforementioned interception, there’s not much more the defense could have done.
Minnesota – Three Performances of Note
High, Wide and Not at all Handsome
The NFL are trying to get defenders to “lower their aiming point” when targeting opposing wide receivers. Josh Freeman needs to do so when he’s targeting his own receivers after consistently missing high and overthrown during his debut with the Vikings. If you were being generous, you would perhaps say Freeman was too eager, wound up too tight, to grasp the opportunity to put in a big game in front of a national audience and show that Greg Schiano and the Buccaneers were wrong to move on from him in such acrimonious fashion. That might explain a few early throws, if you were being generous, but if that were the case then the Vikings did nothing to calm him and bring his throws back down toward his receivers. Of his 33 incompletions, we charted 15 as overthrown either in the vertical or horizontal plane, two behind his intended receiver, and two underthrown. Having signed Freeman the Vikings made a clear signal that they were moving on from Christian Ponder and so they had to get Freeman in as soon as possible. This, however, was about as bad a start as either side could have imagined and had with little to do with the playbook issues that you would expect from a mid-season quarterback acquisition. Freeman’s -10.8 overall grade is the lowest single-game grade for a quarterback since we started grading games back in 2008.
Henderson and Sanford Lead the Charge on Defense
Having dealt with the elephant in the room, back to the positives and for the Vikings that came from a number of defensive players starting with Erin Henderson (+2.8) and Jamarca Sanford (+3.2) who led the team in defensive stops with six and four apiece. After a tough start to the season (-4.3 at Detroit, -4.5 vs Pittsburgh) this marks Henderson’s second strong performance on the belt end led by his run defense, earning a +4.0 grade over the last two weeks. Henderson has had his struggles in coverage, but the Giants failed to find and exploit him this week with Henderson’s only notable contribution being a third-down stop on Victor Cruz early in the fourth quarter to force a Giants’ field goal attempt. For Sanford, this was comfortably his best game of the season in both run defense and coverage, registering more stops than he had in his first four games of the season combined (three). Sanford registered two stops in run defense, both of which came when he was lined up more than eight yards off of the line of scrimmage at the snap.
Protection Problems to the Left
While Freeman’s performance is likely to steal many of the headlines, the protection in front of him wasn’t stellar with each starting lineman surrendering at least two pressures, and the two to his left (Matt Kalil and Charlie Johnson) surrendered seven each. Principally working against Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaun Rogers, the Vikings’ left side pairing struggled to deal with stunts and twists both in one-on-one matchups as well as when working in combination. Both players had particular struggles protecting their inside shoulder, with Johnson surrendering all but one of his pressures to his inside, while Kalil surrendered five of his seven to his inside. Still yet to surrender a sack this season, Kalil has surrendered seven quarterback hits now, matching his total for hits and sacks (3 Sk, 4 Ht) from the entirety of last season, including the Vikings’ playoff defeat. For Johnson this was a second rough outing of what has been an otherwise reasonable start to the season in pass protection. In his two worst performances (this and Week 3 vs Cleveland) he has surrendered 12 pressures (1 Sk, 4 Ht, 7 Hu), while surrendering eight in the other four games (2 Ht, 6 Hu).
New York – Three Performances of Note
Strong Displays Up Front
The Giants’ defensive line on paper at the start of the season had the potential to be a dominant unit, and some of their big name players put in strong performances against the Vikings last night. Justin Tuck, Shaun Rogers and Jason Pierre-Paul combined to register 20 quarterback pressures (1 Sk, 7 Ht, 12 Hu), with Rogers amassing six on only 19 pass rushes to record the highest Pass Rushing Productivity rating (23.7) for an interior defensive lineman this week. To go with this work getting after Freeman, the Giants got strong run defense from Tuck up front who recorded a tackle for loss along with his usual stout work diverting runs in his direction. He didn’t see much of the ground game (11 snaps in run defense) but made his mark when given the chance.
Manning Spared More Questions
How different might this game have been, how different might the headlines in New York have been this morning, if Marcus Sherels had held onto Eli Manning’s ill-advised pass to Victor Cruz little more than five minutes into the third quarter? Rather than throw a potential pick-six (if Sherels grabs that pass it’s on Eli and the O-line getting across to cut him off) the Giants go behind by 4 points (at worst the Vikings would be in position for a three-and-out and a field goal attempt to tie) and their ability to overcome mistakes comes into question again. The reality of the situation is that Sherels put the ball on the ground, and on the very next play fumbled a punt return which the Giants capitalized on to set up a 10-point lead that will have seemed unassailable to many observers even at the midway point in the third quarter. This one terrible decision by Manning was the real blip in an otherwise strong display that would have looked better statistically but for a trio of dropped passes by Hakeem Nicks. Pressured on more than half of his drop-backs Manning went 13 of 19 for 109 yards and a touchdown when the Vikings pressured him, for a passer rating of 100.5 — almost like the Eli Manning of 2011.
Williams and Rolle Shine in Coverage
When you have a quarterback missing receivers so often and, at times, by such a distance, it can be tough to shine as a coverage defender but Jacquian Williams and Antrel Rolle made the most of their opportunities. Both recorded their highest game grades of the season, with Rolle capping off his performance by collecting an interception on one of the many overthrows the Giants saw from Freeman. Both players got their hands to two passes, with Rolle adding two second-quarter stops against the run to his strong day in coverage where the only blot on his copybook was a penalty for a hit on a defenseless Jerome Simpson. Williams’ day was also marred by a penalty, called for holding in punt protection, though he made up for that somewhat with a fumble recovery on special teams after Sharrif Floyd coughed the ball up on a kick return. In his customary role as the Giants’ coverage linebacker (31 of 34 snaps in coverage), Williams was consistently where he needed to be and got his hands to two passes intended for Kyle Rudolph, who was 0 for 3 on passes targeted into Williams’ coverage.
– The Giants blitzed Freeman on 21 of his 54 drop-backs with little effect on his passer rating. Against a base pass rush, a 40.1 passer rating, against the blitz, a 42.4 passer rating.
– While others shone, Mathias Kiwanuka recorded only two pressures on 46 pass rushes for his fifth negatively graded pass rush game of the season.
– Kevin Williams (+2.4) recorded his highest single-game grade since Week 16 last season (+3.0 at Houston), grading above +1.0 in run defense and as a pass rusher for the first time since Week 5 of last season.
PFF Game Ball
Someone had to profit from Josh Freeman’s wild passing at some point, and Antrel Rolle was that man. His interception was the big play to cap off a solid night in coverage and run defense.
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Ben Stockwell | Director of Analysis
Ben joined Pro Football Focus in 2007, and has since been in charge of the company’s analysis process. He also contributes to PFF’s weekly NFL podcast.