For the second week in a row, the Giants play on their home turf of MetLife Stadium when they face the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. The Vikings are playing a second straight road game and are coming off a loss to Chicago, a game in which the Minnesota offense was shut down.
When the Vikings Have the Ball
The Spotlight: Running Back Dalvin Cook
2017 second round pick Dalvin Cook is Minnesota's feature back and his 410 rushing yards is only one behind league leader Christian McCaffrey of Carolina. Cook can do it all as a ball carrier. He has the strength to break tackles, the speed to take it to the house (he has a 75-yard touchdown run this year), and the quickness to make defenders miss in space. His 5.77 yards per carry is second behind Marc Ingram of Baltimore amongst running backs with at least 40 carries.
Cook does have a couple of drops and miscues in pass protection, but right now he is one of the most dangerous and complete backs in the NFL. Stopping him will be objective number one for the Giants on Sunday.
The Matchup: Wide Receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs vs Giants Cornerbacks
Thielen and Diggs form one of the best receiver tandems in the NFL. Their skill sets are nearly interchangeable, with Diggs checking in at 6-0, 191 pounds and Thielin at 6-2 and 200 pounds. Both are excellent route runners who have the speed to run deep and execute the entire route tree.
Due mostly to the Vikings' insistence on being a run-heavy team, Thielin and Diggs have depressed numbers this season. Both are averaging fewer than 55 receiving yards per game. Diggs is averaging 16.1 yards per catch but has a drop and two fumbles. Diggs missed practice on Wednesday for non-injury reasons, and would not deny that he is unhappy with his role and the offense.
Despite averaging fewer yards per catch than Diggs, Thielen is more of a downfield threat who has a higher average depth of target than Diggs, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). He is difficult to cover man-on-man and is considered one of the best route runners in the NFL. Thielen had only two catches for six yards against the Bears and was unhappy with the offense after the game.
"At some point, you're not going to be able to run the ball for 180 yards, even with the best running back in the NFL," Thielen said. "That's when you have to be able to throw the ball. You have to be able to hit the deep balls."
Quotebook -- Giants Safety Jabrill Peppers: "Well, we know they're going to take some shots this week. Kirk (Cousins) has already apologized to those guys, so we know he's going to look to get them the ball more. So, we definitely know we have a tall task ahead of us, especially with Dalvin Cook, who's one of the best backs in the league right now, running the way he's running, and it's opening up their bootleg game and play-action pass. So, we definitely have to be on our keys, lock in, alignment and assignment, and just execute the game plan, that's all it comes down to."
Scheme and Tendencies
* The Vikings are a run-first team; rushing attempts make up nearly 51% of their play selection. It is the second highest rate in the league. In the first two quarters, they run more frequently than anyone, a whopping 57.7% of the time, the highest rate in the league. Their 59% run frequency on second down also leads the league. Stacking men at the line of scrimmage will not deter them. According to PFF, 68 of their runs have come against eight-man boxes, the third most in the league. They run the ball on 59% of their 1st and 10 plays. They like to run Cook off-tackle and get him to the edge on toss plays within a zone blocking scheme.
* The Vikings use their fullback C.J. Ham as much as any team in the league. According to PFF, only two other teams, the Patriots and 49ers, have used formations with two or more running backs more than the Vikings. Ham has played 81 snaps and is a traditional battering ram lead blocker.
* The Vikings run game is also explosive. They lead the league in runs of 20 or more yards with seven, and are tied for the second most runs of 10 or more yards with 18.
* The Vikings will use the strength of their running game to set up their play action passing game. According to PFF, 28% of their dropbacks are play action passes, which is the 11th highest rate in the league. On those play action passes, Cousins is only 19 of 32 for 199 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
* Even though the Vikings do not pass deep often (11 completions of 20+ yards), they are effective down the field. On passes that travel more than 20 yards in the air, Cousins has a quarterback rating of 139.2, the highest rating in the league. Minnesota has only 14 completions that have gone for 15 or more yards. Despite playing well last week, no secondary has given up more than the Giants' 11 passes of 15 or more yards.
* Cousins is completing under 63% of his passes and is averaging only 184 passing yards per game. He only has a 3:2 touchdown to interception ratio and has been sacked eight times. Despite those numbers, Cousins flashes some impressive high-level throws. Against the Packers on a first and goal, he threw an interception on a virtual jump ball to a double-teamed receiver in the back of the end zone.
* The Vikings offensive line has struggled in pass protection. According to PFF, Cousins has been pressured on 38.5% of his dropbacks, which is the highest rate in the NFL. Rookie center Garrett Bradbury has allowed a sack, quarterback hit and 13 pressures through four games. Right tackle Riley Reiff is their most experienced offensive lineman with the best track record.
* Their lack of pass plays is depressing all the Vikings volume based passing stats. Even though they average the second fewest pass yards per game in the league (169), they are 16th in the league in pass yards per play. When they do throw the football, the Vikings are effective.
* Veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph has just five catches for 32 yards. He is a solid two-way player. Rookie tight end Irv Smith has five catches for 64 yards and is an explosive receiver.
Giants Keys on Defense
- Stop the run on early downs
- Get pressure on Kirk Cousins without blitzing
- Prevent chunk plays in the run and pass game
Keep an eye on these five players when the Giants host the Vikings in Week 5.
When the Giants Have the Ball
The Spotlight: Safety Harrison Smith
Smith is a key to what the Vikings do on defense. He can play deep, close to the line of scrimmage, and cover man to man against tight ends. His versatility allows the Vikings to move him all over the formation, sometimes right before the snap, to disguise whatever defense they are trying to run.
When he plays close to the line of scrimmage, Smith is a willing tackler in run support and will blitz the quarterback off the edge. According to PFF, he's played about half of his snaps as a deep safety and a quarter of his snaps near the line of scrimmage. Smith has 21 career interceptions, 12 career sacks, five forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries, and four touchdowns. He is only one of two players with 20 tackles, a forced fumble, and three passes defended this season.
The Matchup: Defensive Ends Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter versus Giants Offensive Tackles
Both Everson Griffen and Danielle Hunter are off to great starts in 2019. According to PFF, Griffen, who will line up primarily at right end over Nate Solder, has two sacks, six quarterback hits and 17 hurries. He flashed a nasty inside spin move against Raiders left tackle Kolton Miller in Week Three. At 6-3 and 273 pounds, he has the length and strength to rush with power or speed.
Hunter will line up mostly at left end over right tackle Mike Remmers. According to PFF, he has three sacks to go along with five quarterback hits and 19 hurries. Hunter is 6-3 and 252 pounds and is a relentless rusher who can win in a variety of ways. Hunter is also strong against the run.
According to PFF's metrics, Hunter is tied with Khalil Mack for most total pressures so far this season with 27. Griffen is tied for fourth with 23. Griffen's six quarterback hits are tied for second most in the NFL.
Scheme and Tendencies
* According to PFF, the Vikings get pressure on the quarterback on 38% of opposing team's drop backs, which ranks seventh in the league. In addition to their two edge rushers, defensive tackle Linval Joseph has two sacks and a quarterback hit. According to PFF, the Vikings have blitzed just 33 times this year, which ranks 24th in the league. They will blitz and use stunts and twists on third down and in obvious passing situations. When the Vikings blitz, opposing quarterbacks have a quarterback rating of 67.8, which is the sixth lowest in the league.
* The Vikings use a variety of coverages. According to PFF, they don't run any coverage more than 25% of time, but will run cover-one, cover-two, cover-three and cover-four at least 13% of the time each. They disguise their coverages by moving safeties Harrison Smith and Anthony Harris either right before or after the snap in order to confuse the quarterback. They show a lot of two deep-safety looks pre-snap. They will also line up their linebackers in inside gaps, faking blitzes before dropping into coverage. Diagnosing what they are doing in the defensive backfield from play to play will be Daniel Jones' biggest challenge so far in his NFL career.
* The Vikings third down defense is one of the best in the league, allowing a 30% conversion rate, which ranks fifth in the NFL. On third and less than four yards, opposing teams are only converting 29% of their plays, which ranks third in the league. On third down and 10 or more yards, teams are converting only 7% of the time.
* The Vikings do a great job of preventing big plays in the passing game. They have allowed only 10 passes of 20 or more yards this year, tied for the fifth fewest in the NFL. They have not allowed any rushing plays of 20 or more yards. The Vikings have held opponents to under 250 passing yards in seven of their last eight games.
* If the Vikings defense has a weakness, it's their pass defense on first down. Opposing quarterbacks have a passer rating of 106.2 on first down, which ranks 22nd in the league.
* The Vikings are sound tacklers. They have only allowed an average of 3.8 yards after the catch per completion, according to PFF, which ranks first in the league.
Quotebook -- Offensive Coordinator Mike Shula: "We all want to be aware of the kind of defense we're facing. They're talented across the board. They have a really good scheme. They feed off of mistakes made by the offense. As most defenses are, they're even better in long yardage. I think the biggest thing, the point of emphasis, is getting the ball out on time, making good decisions, don't think you have to make big plays and don't think you have to win the game on every play."
Giants Keys on offense
- Protect Daniel Jones
- Properly diagnose Vikings' coverage schemes
- Have success on early downs
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