FACING 'RESILIENT' VIKINGS
The Vikings went into halftime of their Week 15 game against the Colts down, 33-0. But head coach Kevin O'Connell seemed to spark a fire under his team in the second half as they stormed back and beat Indianapolis, 39-36. The 33-point comeback was the largest in NFL history.
"That was a great comeback. Unbelievable comeback. Pretty resilient team…" coach Brian Daboll told the media Tuesday. "I think that's a testament to Coach O'Connell, and the rest of the guys on that team."
Daboll and O'Connell are no strangers to each other. The latter is a former college quarterback who played four years at San Diego State. When he was coming out of college ahead of the 2008 draft, Daboll, then serving as the quarterbacks coach of the New York Jets, worked out O'Connell.
"Showing my age but he's done a really nice job with that team, they've won a lot of one-score games," said Daboll. "Give credit to the players, but give credit to him and his staff too. They've got a lot of good coaches on that staff and to be where they're at right now is a testament to him and his team. Smart player, really good guy, good family, he's done a nice job for that organization."
Saturday's game will be the 30th all-time meeting between the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings, with Minnesota holding a slight 17-12 edge in the series. This will be only the Giants' second game at U.S. Bank Stadium since it opened in 2016. The two teams met in the 2000 NFC Championship Game, which still serves as one of the Giants' most dominant victories in franchise history. They won that game 41-0, out-gained Minnesota 518 to 114 and forced five turnovers.
Out: CB Adoree' Jackson (knee), G Shane Lemieux (toe)
Out: C Garrett Bradbury (back)
Questionable: ILB Eric Kendricks (hip), CB Cameron Dantzler (ankle)
DJ'S LEADERSHIP, CONSISTENCY
For the third consecutive year, Daniel Jones was voted a team captain by his teammates before the season started. Jones has rewarded the team by making every start under center. In fact, with the fourth-year quarterback set to start Sunday's game in Minnesota, Jones will have started a career-high 15 games, with two more left on the schedule. Daboll has constantly praised the quarterback for his attitude and leadership.
"He's a true pro," the head coach said about Jones. "And he's a good leader. I know he's kind of a quiet guy. But in the huddle, he's a good leader with those guys. He knows everybody's responsibilities. He can get things lined up; he can correct mistakes. He's a problem solver. So, I think the guys have a lot of respect for him…
"He's a competitor and I think that's why his teammates respect him so much. I think he's just very levelheaded and that helps too when sometimes there's chaos in the game; whether that's in the pocket, whether you're down. I think he's really been the model of consistency with his attitude and his approach and that's what I appreciate about him."
In addition to setting a new mark in starts, Jones has also improved his ball security. Through 14 games, the 25-year-old has thrown just four interceptions and has a career-best 1.0 percent interception rate, the best mark in the league. Although there are likely several factors for the improvement, Daboll gave all of the credit to his young quarterback.
"We have certain reads and things in our offense that we teach. And he just goes out and executes well," Daboll said. "So, he's done everything that we've asked him to do in terms of the things that we need to do each game. Again, it's never going to be perfect. It's a hard position to play. I think he's got some confidence. We have confidence in him. We just put together a game plan that we think will work well for us as a team but (also will) work well for him, too, as a quarterback."
SAFETIES STEPPING UP
The Giants have been without starting safety Xavier McKinney since the Week 9 bye. McKinney's absence has led to a larger role for several players, including Jason Pinnock. The Giants claimed Pinnock off waivers from the Jets at the end of training camp, and over the past four weeks, the second-year safety has seen his playing time increase. Since Week 12, the 23-year-old has registered 26 total tackles, three pass breakups and a forced fumble while playing at least 84 percent of the team's defensive snaps in each game.
"I think Pinnock has done an excellent job of fitting into our defense," said Daboll. "I think the defensive coaches have used him the right way, whether it's in the deep part of the field, down in the box, blitzing. He's been a good addition for us."
Tony Jefferson and Landon Collins did not start the season with the Giants, but both have also made their impacts felt. Jefferson was signed to the practice squad on Sept. 1 and promoted to the active roster a month later. Collins signed to the practice squad on Oct. 6 and has been elevated to the active roster three times. Both veterans have left a good impression on their head coach.
"They're interchangeable," Daboll said about the two safeties. "They can play multiple spots. They're extremely smart, both of them. Tony's been in the system before. So, I think he's got a good understanding of how we do things defensively. And Landon is just an instinctive guy. He did a good job last week."
TRUST IN GANO
Graham Gano has easily been one of the Giants' most consistent players since he joined the team prior to the 2020 season. Over the last three years, Gano has connected on 91.3 percent of his field goal attempts (84 of 92), including a franchise-record 19 field goals from 50+ yards (the next highest is Joe Danelo with nine). Two of those came Sunday night, when Gano twice extended the Giants' lead to eight with kicks from 50.
Although successfully kicking a field goal from 50+ yards is an impressive feat, it comes with plenty of risk. If the kicker misses, the other team is set up with great field position close to midfield. Luckily for the Giants, they have a kicker they can trust to give them an honest assessment of the situation before they attempt a long field goal.
"That's the hardest thing because the kicker is going to always tell you I can make it," said special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey. "You have to be realistic in the moment and you got to be smart. Look at the situation. Where are we in the game? What's the score? Knowing that, okay if I miss this kick – the field position. You got to be smart in how you do it and we trust Graham. Graham knows. He knows his range and he knows the situations as they come up."
Gano has seven field goals from 50+ yards this season, tying the franchise record and his career high (2021). It also ranks fourth in the NFL, tied with Baltimore's Justin Tucker and Denver's Brandon McManus. Gano ranks within the top 10 in several kicking categories this year, which is even more impressive when considering the less than ideal kicking conditions he deals with playing at MetLife Stadium.
"His numbers speak for themselves, I think," McGaughey said. "He's been to the Pro Bowl before. If you look at him, he's 7-8 from 50 yards and that's hard to do kicking in the northeast. It's one thing to do it in a dome or in the south where it's 75-80 degrees or you got a controlled environment like a dome. It's a whole other thing to do it here in the northeast. It just takes a different animal. Graham is a hell of a player, he's a great pro, and if he doesn't make the Pro Bowl, he's not going to cry – he'll be alright. Obviously, you want your guys to do well, but if it doesn't happen, it is what it is but he'll continue to keep being great."
View rare photos from the all-time series between the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings
'FUN TO WATCH' HEALTHY DEFENSIVE FRONT
It's hard to believe but last weekend's game was the first of the year that the Giants had its entire starting defensive front. Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Kayvon Thibodeaux and Azeez Ojulari were available against the Commanders, and the results followed. The foursome combined for two sacks, six quarterback hits, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries, in addition to consistent pressure in the face of Taylor Heinicke. Having all four available seems to have unlocked a new level to Wink Martindale's pass rush.
"If Leo's not out there, there's four hands going on Dex all the time," said the defensive coordinator. "Now, they got to deal with Leo on the other side being a single block guy. I think that creates issues plus with what you said with the guys on the edges. The thing that's beautiful about the guys on the edges is the relationship they have with (OLB coach) Drew (Wilkins). And it's like they have a mindset that they're always trying to improve. That's exciting when you have two guys that are 22-years-old on the edge, and they're looking to get better every day. They have that growth mindset, if you will, those outside backers. And then the inside guys, they're having a lot of fun. When Dex and Leo are playing together, you can see they have fun playing together. And it's fun to watch."
While the front as a whole played at a high level, the star of the night was Thibodeaux. The rookie outside linebacker registered a career-high 12 tackles (nine solo), including three tackles for loss, and had the play of the day with his strip-sack of Heinicke which he recovered and ran into the end zone for a touchdown. His performance earned him the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award.
"It was fun to watch," Martindale said about the No. 5 overall pick. "I keep telling you all this: He's working on the little things. He's getting better every week. I think that was an accumulation of all the work that he's done. Like I said, it was a lot of fun to watch…
"Obviously the sack, strip, fumble for a touchdown, was a huge play for us. But an even bigger play, I thought, was when he was in coverage and came out of his coverage when the quarterback started scrambling. He tackled him on the 1-yard line down there. That was a huge play for us. We always talk about (how) there's going to be big plays in this game. Both sides of the football get paid. Just get him down to give us a chance to stand. There is no play more evident than that one that he gave us a place to stand, and we were able to come up with the stop."
SAQUON SAVED HIS BEST FOR LAST
Saquon Barkley went into last weekend's game in a bit of a rough patch. After rushing for 152 yards against the Texans in Week 10, Barkley totaled 152 yards on the ground in Weeks 11-14. But going up against the Commanders' talented defensive line, the fifth-year running back got back on track with a solid outing. Barkley carried the ball 18 times for 87 yards, good for an average of 4.8 yards per carry, and a touchdown while adding five receptions for 33 yards.
The talented running back saved his best for when it mattered most. After the Giants took over on their own 14- up five with 6:06 left in the fourth quarter, Barkley broke out for runs of 12, 15 and 14 yards to open the drive. Within two minutes, the Giants were on Washington's side of the field to set up Gano's second 50-yard field goal, which brought the lead back to eight.
"Saquon, he played hard," said offensive coordinator Mike Kafka. "He did a nice job and I think those are all things we can learn from and grow from. I hate living in the past on that type of stuff, but he did a really nice job and gave us an opportunity to win the game. We've got to find a way to get back to that again this week and have another good week of practice."
JUSTIN JEFFERSON 'A PROBLEM' FOR DEFENSES
The Vikings have several talented playmakers in their offense, but the discussion about the unit must start with Justin Jefferson. The 23-year-old has gotten his career off to a stellar start with at least 1,400 yards and seven touchdowns in each of his first two seasons. However, his dominance has risen to a new level in his third NFL season.
Through 14 games, Jefferson has already set new career-high marks with a whopping 111 receptions for 1,623 yards, which are also the most in the league, along with seven touchdowns. After being named Second-Team All-Pro (and trips to the Pro Bowl) in each of his first two seasons, Jefferson has solidified his spot among the NFL's elite playmakers with his extraordinary 2022 campaign.
"He's extremely talented," Daboll said Tuesday. "He's got good quickness, good body control, can run any route. They line him up all over the place. I think they do a great job with him. He's hard to cover in man. He's got great awareness in zone. He's good after the catch. He can make contested catches. He's a problem."
Jefferson caught 12 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown against the Colts last week, his fifth game this season with double-digit receptions and the ninth time he's topped 100 yards. Adoree' Jackson (knee) was listed as a nonparticipant in Tuesday's walkthrough practice. If he is unable to make it back for Saturday's game, it will be up to Fabian Moreau, Cor'Dale Flott and Nick McCloud to slow down the Vikings' star receiver.
"I told the defense that he's one of the top two receivers in this league, and he's not No. 2," Martindale added. "He's had a phenomenal year – their whole offense has. It's one of those things that they throw the ball, and he could be in double or triple coverage, and he still catches it. I know it's fun for the fan to watch. It's not very fun for defensive coordinators."
CLOSER LOOK AT REST OF VIKINGS OFFENSE
The Vikings enter Week 16 as a Top-10 scoring offense. Leading the unit is three-time Pro Bowl quarterback Kirk Cousins, who has thrown for 3,818 yards, 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions this season. While Cousins' favorite target among a talented group is certainly Jefferson, the unit contains several other talented playmakers.
Veteran Adam Thielen ranks second on the team with 66 receptions for 686 yards and five touchdowns. Not far behind is third-year receiver K.J. Osborn, who is third with 45 receptions for 457 yards and four touchdowns. Osborn is coming off his best game of the season last week when he caught 10 passes for 157 yards and a score. Martindale noted that the defense must get in the face of Cousins throughout the game and can't give him time in the pocket to find his receivers.
"I think that you got to have the right time to hit the pressure, and you got to keep them guessing," Martindale said. "Like I said, if we just let him sit back there and they block up our front four, we'll be in for a long day because you can only cover them for so long – especially 18 (Justin Jefferson). Let's not forget about Thielen, either. They got three receivers (including Osborn) playing at a very high level."
The Vikings' passing game is rounded out by T.J. Hockenson. The fourth-year tight end was acquired by Minnesota before the trade deadline. In his seven games (five starts) with the Vikings, he has registered 39 receptions for 335 yards and a touchdown. Additionally, while their run game has struggled overall, Dalvin Cook hit 1,000 yards for the fourth consecutive season. He's averaged 4.5 yards per carry on his way to gaining 1,045 yards with eight touchdowns to go with 33 receptions for 265 yards and two scores.