NFL on Sling: Vikings Look to Sack the Giants

Oct 03, 2016 by Scott Ross

New York Giants (2-1) vs. Minnesota Vikings (3-0)
8:30pm ET Monday on ESPN

The Vikings’ punishing defense is going to spend much of tonight picking Eli Manning’s remains from its teeth, while the tandem of Sam Bradford and Stefon Diggs should prove to be enough to distract New York’s D from Minnesota’s deficiencies on offense.

Raise your hand if on the day it was announced that Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater was out for the season, you thought to yourself, those guys will start 3-0. If your hand is raised, you’re either a liar or a wizard. The Vikes stole a 25-16 win over Tennessee in Week 1, thanks to a pick-six by Eric Kendricks, and a 24-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Danielle Hunter. That bought them enough time to teach the newly acquired QB Sam Bradford the playbook in preparation for a Week 2 debut against Green Bay, during which they lost Adrian Peterson for 3 to 4 months to a torn meniscus. But Minnesota was undaunted, defeating the Packers behind a solid effort from Bradford, who outplayed Aaron Rodgers, hitting on 22 of 31 for 286 yards, 2 TDs and no interceptions. And in Week 3 Bradford outplayed reigning league MVP Cam Newton, connecting on 18 of 28 for 171 yards and a TD, as the VIkings won 22-10.

Stefon Diggs has made Bradford’s transition easy, hauling in 9 passes for 182 yards a TD against Green Bay, though he cooled significantly against Carolina, catching just 4 passes for 40 yards. The Vikings still have a huge hole in their running game with Peterson’s injury, as the whole team has rushed for just 153 yards on 74 carries.

But as good as Bradford and the offense have been, and he’s been very good, the Vikings’ defense has been phenomenal, anchored by three returning Pro Bowlers from the 2015 team, OLB Anthony Barr, FS Harrison Smith, and DE Everson Griffen. Last week against Carolina they picked off Newton 3 times and sacked him 8, for a league-leading 15 on the year. Heading into Week 4 they’ve allowed the third-fewest points, at 13.3 per game, fewest yards per play at 4.4, forced the second-most turnovers, have allowed the second-lowest percentage of drives ending in a score, and the highest percentage ending in a turnover. Griffin again leads the team in sacks with 4, but nipping at his heels are defensive tackle Linval Joseph and Hunter with 3 apiece. Hunter, who was promoted to starter after spending much of his rookie season last year on the bench, has added a fumble return for a touchdown and a safety.

Eli Manning and the New York Giants are lucky to 2-1, given that their three games this season have been decided by a total of 6 points. They twice had to come back from down 6 against Dallas before winning 20-19, kicked a field goal with no time left on the clock to beat New Orleans 20-19, and then against Washington blew a 12 point lead, then went back up, only to lose on a field goal with 1:51 to play. They’ve needed a lot of good fortune to do so well against teams with a combined record of 3-6.

The offense has been frustrating, racking up the sixth-most yards per game and per play, but averaging a below-average 21 points, thanks in large part to 7 turnovers, good for fifth-most in the league, and the second-highest percentage of drives ending in turnovers at 22.6%. Manning has been pretty good, completing 71% of his passes for 893 yards and 4 TDs, but the 3 INTs hurt. Odell Beckham Jr. remains a human highlight film, and Victor Cruz is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season since 2012, but Manning has a new target this year, rookie Sterling Shepard, who’s pulled in 16 passes for 233 yards and 2 TDs. The running game has been a problem, and looks to become a bigger one. Shane Vereen leads the team in rushing with 147 yards, but has also fumbled twice in just 31 carries, and was just placed on injured reserve with a torn triceps. Second leading rusher Rashad Jennings has just 102 yards on 31 carries, but missed last week and is doubtful for this week with a thumb injury. Third-year backup Orleans Darkwa gained 53 yards on 10 carries last week, but it seems unlikely he’ll maintain that rate.

On the other side of the ball, the Giants haven’t allowed many points, just 20 a game, but then they’ve yet to face a very good offense. Their pass rush is unusually weak for a franchise with such a rich history of quarterback hunters, as they’ve just 4 sacks this year. Even more damning, the Giants have forced just a single turnover all year, leaving them with a -6 turnover differential, second-worst in the league.

This one could get ugly.

Watch the New York Giants vs. the Minnesota Vikings 8:30pm Monday on ESPN by subscribing to Sling Orange

All stats courtest Pro Football Reference and ESPN

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