The Giants take on the Vikings on Christmas Eve at 1 p.m. The Vikings are a confounding team. They have the second-best record in the NFC at 11-3 but have only outscored their opponents by a cumulative two points this season. Much like the Giants, they have excelled in close games, going 10-0 in one-possession contests. They are coming off the biggest comeback victory in NFL history, overcoming a 33-0 deficit to beat the Colts, 39-36, in overtime last Saturday afternoon.
When the Vikings have the ball…
Numbers to Know
-2.9%: Offensive DVOA – 20th in the NFL
The Vikings can best be described as a high-volume offense. Their efficiency stats, such as DVOA, aren't great, but they average 25.1 points per game, which ranks eighth in the NFL. No team has had more than the Vikings' 168 offensive possessions and they rank fifth in the NFL in first downs per game. They rank seventh in passing yards per game (259.7) but only 15th in passing yards per play (6.53).
63.5%: Red zone touchdown rate – 7th best in the NFL
This is a big reason why the Vikings' scoring numbers outdo their efficiency numbers. When they get the ball in the red zone they tend to score touchdowns more often than other teams. The Vikings have 52 red zone drives this season, which is tied for second in the NFL. The Vikings are eighth in scoring at 25.1 points per game.
35.4%: rush rate – 3rd lowest in NFL
The Vikings are a passing team ranking in the bottom quarter of the league in rush rate on first downs and in the first halves of games. They only average 95.4 rushing yards per game, which is the fifth-lowest in the NFL. Kirk Cousins ranks fourth in passing attempts.
5.29: yards per first down – 22nd in the NFL
40%: 3rd down conversion rate – 16th in the NFL
These two numbers are great examples of the middling efficiency numbers that the Vikings have that show why they have been unstoppable offensively at times, but also inconsistent. The Vikings are excellent on third downs between 4-6 yards, converting 51.4% of the time, which is sixth in the league. They struggle on 3rd- and 4th-and-1, converting just 60% of the time (22nd).
36.7%: Pressure rate allowed (28th in the NFL)
The Vikings' offensive line has allowed 41 sacks this year, which is the sixth-most in the NFL. Christian Darrisaw has been one of the best left tackles in football this year, and Brian O'Neill has been good at right tackle. Garrett Bradbury is undersized but solid at center. Guards Ezra Cleveland and rookie Ed Ingram have combined allowed 45 and 55 pressures each this season, to top the Vikings, according to Pro Football Focus. They have tracked Ingram with allowing nine sacks.
Players to Watch
Kirk Cousins: Cousins is putting together another productive season. His 3818 passing yards ranks sixth. He does most of his damage through the air, averaging only 4.56 yards after the catch per reception, which is the sixth-lowest rate among qualifying quarterbacks. He has 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions to go along with five fumbles.
The Vikings are tied for the 12th-most completions of 20+ yards in the league with 43. The Vikings have a 101.8 quarterback rating on pass attempts that travel 20+ yards in the air. The Vikings run play-action on 29.3% of their dropbacks (12th in the league according to PFF), to help set-up chunk plays down the field.
According to Pro Football Focus, Cousins has not fared well against the blitz this year. Amongst the 23 quarterbacks that have at least 100 dropbacks against the blitz this year, Cousins has the lowest quarterback rating (75.6) and third-lowest PFF passing grade (54.0). He ha completed 75 of 143 passes for six touchdowns, two interceptions and six turnover-worthy throws vs. four big-time throws.
Dalvin Cook: Cook already has eight rushing touchdowns and 1,045 yards on 4.54 yard per carry. He has 27 runs of 10+ yards, which is tied for ninth in the NFL, according to PFF. He also has 33 catches for 265 yards.
The Vikings are an extremely heavy zone run concept team. According to PFF, of their 331 rushing attempts this season, the Vikings have 192 using outside zone and inside zone. 134 of those are outside zone plays. Dalvin Cook has terrific speed and Alexander Mattison may be one of the best backup running backs in the league but has 52 carries this season.
Key Matchup: Justin Jefferson vs. Fabian Moureau and Darnay Holmes
Justin Jefferson has been the best wide receiver in football this season, leading then NFL in targets (158), receptions (111) and yards (1,623). He has a legitimate chance to go over 2,000 yards with three games remaining. He is tied for the seventh in receiving touchdowns with seven.
Fabian Moureau has taken the other team's top wide receiver when he is lined up outside, but Jefferson spends anywhere from 12-25 snaps per game in the slot, where he would likely be covered by Darnay Holmes. Both cornerbacks, along with Nick McCloud will have their hands full with a receiver that has no obvious weaknesses. He has excellent hands, can win contested catches, is one of the best route runners in the league, and has the speed to run by defenders.
Keys for the Giants' defense
* Pressure Cousins up the middle
* Be gap-disciplined and set the edge vs. the outside zone to prevent big plays to Dalvin Cook
* Don't let Justin Jefferson wreck the game
View rare photos from the all-time series between the New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings
When the Giants have the ball…
Numbers to Know
399.2: Yards allowed per game by the Vikings defense – most in the NFL
The Vikings' defense gives up a lot of yards. Their 5.94 yards allowed per play is the second-highest in the league. They especially struggle against the pass, allowing the second-most passing yards per game (278.8 yards) and the third-most passing yards per play (7.49). No one has allowed more than the 190 first downs the Vikings have allowed via the pass.
53: 20+ yard completions allowed – 3rd most in the NFL
The Vikings have fallen victim to the big play often this season. Only one team has allowed more than their 62 overall plays of more than 20 yards. The Vikings have also allowed more scores to originate from outside the red zone than any other NFL team (129 points). Only one team has allowed more air yards on pass plays (1841). The Vikings plays two-high safety zone coverage about 50% of the time, with Cover-3 (single-high safety zone with three deep) sprinkled in just under 30% of the time, according to Pro Football Focus. They do not play man defense much, with just 15% of their snaps in Cover-one, Cover-0 or 2-man.
33.1%: Pressure rate – 18th in the NFL
The Vikings have 33 sacks this year, which is ranked 17 in the NFL. Their 21.6% blitz rate is the 22nd-most frequent in the NFL.
55.8%: Red zone touchdown rate allowed
38.3%: 3rd down conversion rate allowed
The Vikings are solid with their situational football, which is one reason they only allow 24.9 points per game, which ranks fifth. They struggle a bit more on first downs, where they allow 5.75 yards per carry (24th) and their 19% twist/stunt rate is the sixth-lowest in the NFL.
+4: Turnover ratio
The Vikings have 21 takeaways this season, which is tied for eighth-highest in the NFL.
Players to Watch
Za'Darius Smith: Za'Darius Smith lines up all over the field, so it will the job of the entire Giants' offensive line to slow him down. He will take snaps over the right tackle, left tackle, and they will even stand him up over the guard or center to rush the passer. Smith leads the team with 10 sacks, 21 quarterback hits, two forced fumbles and 15 tackles for loss. PFF has tracked Smith with 76 pressures this year, second to only Nick Bosa (77). Smith (6-4, 272) has the ability to win in a lot of different ways.
Danielle Hunter: Hunter will also play both sides of the defensive line. He is second on the team with 8.5 sacks, 16 quarterback hits, and 12 tackles for loss.
Patrick Peterson: At 32 years old, Peterson no longer has the 4.31 speed he flashed when he was drafted fifth overall in 2011, but he is having one of his best coverage seasons in years. He has three interceptions and a team-leading 13 pass break-ups. According to PFF, he has allowed 38 catches for 440 yards and two touchdowns. He plays almost exclusively at left cornerback.
Eric Kendricks and Jordan Hicks: Kendricks and Hicks lead the Vikings in tackles with 119 and 112, respectively. Kendricks has eight tackles for loss and five passes defended, while Hicks has nine passes defended, three sacks and two tackles for loss. They rarely leave the field as the two primary linebackers.
Key Matchup: Harrison Smith vs. Daniel Jones: A 2012 first round pick, Harrison Smith, now 33 years old, is still one of the smartest safeties and best ball hawks in the NFL. He leads the Vikings with five interceptions and is second with 10 passes defended. Smith will split his time between playing near the line of scrimmage and as the team's deep safety, but spends more time further away from the line of scrimmage.
Keys for the Giants' offense
* Generate big plays in the passing game
* Know where Za'Darius Smith is lined up at all times
* Be careful throwing in the direction of Patrick Peterson and Harrison Smith