Last week, Daniel Jones became the first Giants rookie quarterback to win his first two starts since Phil Simms. The sixth overall pick will look to make it three in a row when the Minnesota Vikings, who own a matching 2-2 record, come to town.
Here are five storylines to follow this week:
1. “Tweaked” defense making strides. The Giants have allowed just six points in the past six quarters, including a 24-3 victory over the Washington Redskins in Week 4. In the first 10 quarters, they gave up 91. So what changed?
“I’ll let the team that has to scout us figure that out,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “We just made some tweaks, some things that I thought helped us, and those tweaks played out. Those tweaks worked [vs. Washington].”
For starters, cornerback Janoris Jenkins rebounded and recorded two of the defense’s four interceptions last week. He also tipped the pass that led to another pick, all of which resulted in him being named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. Meanwhile, safety Jabrill Peppers also made an impact with a pick-six, and the defense had three sacks.
2. Jones off to historic start. Eleven of the 15 winning clubs last week started a quarterback who has yet to see his 27th birthday. Quarterbacks aged 26 or younger have accounted for 39 wins so far, the most in NFL history through four weeks.
Jones is also one of three quarterbacks among the 20 taken within the top 10 selections of their respective drafts since 2010 to win their first two professional starts, joining Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz and Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes. It won’t be easy to get to 3-0. The Vikings have given up the second-fewest offensive touchdowns (one behind New England) and third-fewest yards since Mike Zimmer took over in 2014.
3. Golden Tate returns. The NFL leader in yards after catch since 2010 returned to the team this week after he served a four-game suspension for violating the league policy on performance-enhancing substances. Tate spent the month in San Diego, where he lives with his family, and he insisted it was no vacation.
“I have trainers, massage therapists, and rehab people there,” Tate said. “I just went back home and worked my tail off, tried to stay ready and get better and hang with the family. I tried to keep myself busy just to take my mind off of it.”
From afar, the veteran receiver saw the change at quarterback, running back Saquon Barkley go down, and Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram carry the load as the top two targets.
“I just want to come in and be a spark, an addition to what we’re doing, just help everybody around me get better and just be myself,” Tate said. “There is no secret that in the slot I’m pretty dangerous once I get the ball in my hands. I feel like I’m pretty dangerous on third down. Hopefully, I am utilized that way. Whatever it takes to win. These four weeks have been very long for me. I have just been thinking about football, ready to get back out here and the time is now. We just want to get another win, go 1-0 this week and keep this thing rolling. As you can probably see in this locker room, the vibe is great. When you win, it’s all great, so we’ll see.”
4. Defensive reinforcements coming vs. talented Vikings offense? Minnesota has yet to take off fully this season, but its offense includes Dalvin Cook, who is one yard off the NFL lead in rushing, and 1,000-yard receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. They are led by quarterback Kirk Cousins, the former Redskin who will make his ninth career start against the Giants. While Big Blue’s secondary stepped up last week, the linebacker corps took another hit when Ryan Connelly, a Minnesota native, suffered a torn ACL vs. Washington and was placed on injured reserve.
The Giants were already playing without defensive co-captain Alec Ogletree (hamstring) and Tae Davis (concussion). Shurmur said they were “much closer” than they were last week and there is a chance both could make it back for Sunday’s game. In the meantime, David Mayo and Nate Stupar are the next men up. Josiah Tauaefa was also recently promoted from the practice squad while the Giants released wideouts Bennie Fowler and TJ Jones.
5. Shurmur faces former team. Last week, Shurmur caught up with Redskins quarterback Case Keenum, whom he coached in Minnesota. This week, he will reunite with the entire team. Shurmur spent two seasons with the Vikings, the last 27 games as offensive coordinator. In 2017, he was named the NFL Assistant Coach of the Year by the Pro Football Writers Association.
“Yeah, it was a very meaningful part of my career being there for two years,” Shurmur said. “I am very fortunate to be a part of a 13-3 season. In fact, Case Keenum and I reminisced about that a little bit after the game. There are a lot of people there that I worked with intimately, a lot of people there that I care about, but after a few handshakes we get to the business of playing the game. I think they would probably answer the question the same way. We’ll just see what happens.”
Mike Remmers, currently the Giants’ right tackle, started 13 games for the Vikings that 13-3 season, which included the Minneapolis Miracle.
“They’re just big, strong, physical guys,” Remmers said of Minnesota’s defense. “They have a lot of speed on the edges. They just do a great job rushing, getting the edges on tackles and then getting penetration up front. Like I’ve been saying, it’s going to be a good challenge for us.”
Shurmur added: “Certainly, when we play the Vikings this week, I know all too well what they can do to an offense.”
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