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What Vikings coach Kevin O'Connell is saying about Giants


While the Giants started their playoff preparations in East Rutherford, N.J., the Vikings did the same at their training facility in Eagan, Minn. Their respective head coaches also met with local media to kick off Wild Card Week. You can find out what Brian Daboll had to say about the Giants here. Below is all you need to know from Kevin O'Connell, another first-time head coach who led his team to the postseason in Year 1:

🔹 On their first matchup, O'Connell said the Vikings "needed everything we had to win that one and no reason in the world that the expectation won't be the same."

🔹 The Vikings are "going to have to play really, really good against this team. All three phases will need to show up and play well."

🔹 O'Connell said playing at home will be "huge" for the Vikings, who went 8-1 at U.S. Bank Stadium in the regular season. The Vikings are 40-18 at U.S. Bank Stadium since it opened in 2016, including 1-0 in the postseason ("Minneapolis Miracle"). The Giants lost both their trips to the venue in 2016 and earlier this season. "The environment there, expecting it to be super energized on Sunday."

🔹 O'Connell said it's "really important" to try to break tendencies when facing an opponent for the second time in a season.

"Just with 17 games of inventory in addition to just recently playing this team. We tend to see some different things defensively than what sometimes show up in the breakdowns leaving the game, so to have that game of inventory and try to play the game within the game of what moves are they going to make. They're getting a little more healthy on the defensive side of the ball and in secondary, so I'm sure we'll see a variety of different things new. Playing off of what we did in that game and how they defended us in that game and then ultimately what they think is best to try to defend us in a one game deal where you're moving on or you're not. I think it's important that we look at our scheme in all three phases. What we've done and trying to identify where we're vulnerable, but then also the things we've done well and can we take things to another level and can we do some new things and use different personnel. That's the beauty of getting a guy like Irv back and getting Alexander some more carries the other day because now we truly confirmed everything we already knew about our depth especially at the skill positions that hopefully we can make come to life."

🔹 Vikings tight end Irv Smith Jr., a former second-round draft choice, returned in the regular-season finale after a 10-week absence due to a high ankle sprain. He started, played 32 snaps, and caught three passes for 14 yards. "To say he needed to knock the rust off, absolutely not. His ability to just fit right in with how we envisioned using him. Snap count wise, kind of saw it going that way and he ended up playing 32 snaps in the game and did his job across the board in the run game and was able to spell T.J. [Hockenson] in some of those 11 personnel snaps. Fits in really, really well with Jonny [Mundt] and T.J. as far as having those three guys up and available. Really helps our team and gives us a versatile option who is really good with the ball in his hands after the catch. Showed that again yesterday, making a great catch on a keeper. Great to get Irv back out there and the expectation is that he's going to play a role for us here in however many opportunities we have left."

🔹 On what the Vikings need to do better this time around against the Giants: "There were some missed tackles in there. Every time we had a chance to get momentum and keep it they were able to put a drive together and get points. Defense turned the ball over a couple of times with some timely interceptions, but you'd like to limit some of those explosive plays. First and second down explosive plays that tend to sometimes stack together a little bit and give offenses momentum. We want to get people to third down and see if we can activate a rush and tie the coverage into it. Whether we're sending pressure or not, it's a matter of wanting to get to those downs and I thought we could've done a better job of last time we played them of doing that."

🔹 O'Connell said the Giants are "a real challenge to defend" with their run game, including the Daniel Jones "factor" on the ground. "Mike [Kafka] is calling it and then Dab[oll] is running the show, so it's going to be a challenge for our defense and they've got to show up and the expectation is that they will play well."

🔹 Running back Dalvin Cook took a cleat to the knee in Week 18, but O'Connell is not concerned "at all." He'll be full-go this week. Cook never missed a game for the first time in his career and recorded his fourth consecutive 1,000-yard season on the ground.

🔹 O'Connell said they may tweak some things in practice this week in terms of ramping up players' workloads. "Having rested some guys and guys being somewhere between 40-50 percent of their normal snap count from a starter standpoint, I think we can push a little harder early in the week. We'll have the ability to get three full-speed sessions in and then hopefully have our guys flying around on Sunday."

🔹 O'Connell joined the Vikings after serving as the offensive coordinator for the defending Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams. He was asked what he learned from coach Sean McVay heading into the playoffs. "I think that having to overcome the adversity that hit us in November last year, we had already kind of started talking about, through the month of December, how we needed to prepare, how important it was for every single guy to try to do their one percent and help improve. There is nothing to be said, just like last week we talked, our team can improve. We can continue getting better. We are far from what hopefully will be the final product when we get opportunities that we can't take for granted from the standpoint of our preparation. I just think the things that I look back on is the razor thin margin of error. These games can go, like our season has in a lot of ways, it can go down to the wire and every little thing matters. A play in the first quarter might affect your ability to win it in the fourth quarter, and that's why I hope our experience in close games this year and being at our best in the final four minutes and finding ways to gain our point deferential when it mattered was to win football games in the end. So, I hope our team really relies on that, the experience, the feeling of when this game ends up being close, we feel like our guys should have confidence and the quiet of mind to do what we need to do to win."

🔹 O'Connell said a major factor in the playoffs that goes unnoticed is how you do in the red zone earlier in the game, not just the fourth quarter. "Can you finish with touchdowns, as opposed to field goals, and help generate the points that you need to not only keep it close, and make it close in the end, but try to get yourself a lead."

🔹 On the plan for starting center Garrett Bradbury, who hasn't played since Week 13 because of a back injury: "First and foremost, I thought Chris [Reed] took a big step forward, having a week of practice to really get under his belt and that communication and dialogue with Kirk [Cousins]. I thought we were much more smooth being on the road again, and although as the game went on, we had some false starts and things by guys that just hadn't played a whole lot, but as far as Chris with Kirk in that first group, it was much, much smoother so that's a real positive. In regard to Garrett, the hope is that we can get him practicing this week. The hope is that we can have him out there, more than likely limited, on Wednesday and then we'll see if we can build his work in throughout the week and see how he feels. Ultimately, I just want Garrett to give it a go and see if he can turn the corner and possibly help us, but at the same time, I don't want to put him in a position where he may not be the best or feel like he's held back at all. So that experience for Chris with that first group yesterday was huge.

🔹 The Vikings will open the window on Blake Brandel, who started three consecutive games at left tackle before going on injured reserve with a torn MCL.

View rare photos from the all-time series between the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings


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