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Wild Card Scouting Report: So they meet again...

SCOUTING-REPORT

The Giants lost to the Vikings, 27-24, on Dec. 24 when Greg Joseph hit a 61-yard field goal as time expired. An extensive preview of the Vikings prior to that game is linked HERE.

Some things, however, have changed, mostly due to the health status of certain players. An understanding of what happened in the first matchup between these two teams is also critical to determining what the playoff matchup may look like. The Giants outgained the Vikings, 445-353, but lost a fumble, threw an interception and had a punt blocked, which ultimately cost them the game.

When the Vikings have the ball…

* The Vikings' offensive tackles played high-level football on Christmas Eve against the Giants' pass rush. According to PFF, left tackle Christian Darrisaw and right tackle Brian O'Neill only gave up two pressures, a sack and a quarterback hit, all game.

Since then, right tackle Brian O'Neill (calf) was placed on injured reserve and has been replaced by 2019 sixth-round pick Oli Udoh. He has played well in his 116 offensive snaps since the injury, allowing only two quarterback hurries, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). In 2021, however, he committed 17 penalties in 16 starts at right guard. Her only played 31 games at right tackle before this year.

The Vikings may also be getting backup tackle Blake Brandel for this game, who played well replacing Christian Darrisaw as a three-game starter at left tackle earlier in the year. According to PFF, Brandel, a 2020 sixth-round pick, has allowed seven sacks and 13 pressures in 193 pass blocking snaps. He has never taken a snap at right tackle in an NFL regular season game. His practice period has been activated on his return from injured reserve.

The Giants only had Azeez Ojulari on the field for 22 snaps against the Vikings (in which he logged a sack) before he was forced to leave the game with an injured ankle. He was limited at practice on Wednesday after not playing against the Eagles in Week 18 and playing just seven snaps in Week 17 against the Colts.

* The Giants were able to sustain consistent pass rush against the Vikings' interior offensive line. Dexter Lawrence did not manage a sack in the game, but he was dominant (seven pressures and one QB hit, tracked by PFF) against backup center Austin Schlottmann.

Schlottmann has only played five snaps since that game and been replaced by converted guard Chris Reed. Reed, an undrafted free agent in 2015, had never played center until this season. PFF has tracked him allowing two pressures in his two games at center against the Packers and Bears over the past two weeks. There is also a chance starter Garrett Bradbury returns from his back injury this week. He was limited in practice on Wednesday.

Leonard Williams had a sack, two quarterback hits, and PFF tracked him with five pressures on Christmas Eve. He was limited in practice on Sunday with a neck injury. Vikings guards Ed Engram (second-round rookie) and Ezra Cleveland (second round, 2020) combined to allow seven pressures against the Giants on Christmas Eve, according to PFF.

* The Vikings only ran the ball 19 times in the previous matchup. Dalvin Cook gained 64 yards on 14 carries, but they only run the ball 36% of their plays, which is the third-lowest rate in the NFL.

* According to PFF, the Giants blitzed on 51% of the Vikings' pass plays on Christmas Eve, a number that would lead the league and is 3% higher than the Giants' season-long rate. They finished the game with four sacks and 11 quarterback hits. PFF tracked them with a 34% pressure rate but only a 20% stunt rate. They were consistently winning their one-on-one matchups inside.

The Vikings tried to counter those blitz tendencies by running a lot of screen passes to their tight ends and wide receivers. According to PFF, Cousins completed six of those for 50 yards. Overall, against the blitz, Cousins completed 15 of 24 passes for 171 yards and two touchdowns, but was sacked three times. Against zero blitz looks, he did not complete a pass.

* The Giants mixed up their coverage in the secondary as much as they had in any game this season. According to PFF, they reduced the amount of Cover-1 they played (8.3% against the Vikings vs. 29% throughout the year) and played far more dual-safety zone looks that they have all year (59% vs. the Vikings but a 26% season average). They got the result they were looking for, with Cousins only completing one pass that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, and completing no passes that went for more than 30. Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale seemed to time up his zone calls well, often times catching the Vikings in plays that were designed to beat man defense.

Justin Jefferson and TJ Hockenson still had big days. Jefferson finished with 12 catches for 133 yards with a long of 25. Hockenson had 13 catches for 109 yards. Early in the game, it was obvious Minnesota was trying to isolate Hockenson against possible mismatches. Adam Thielen had just one catch for five yards, and KJ Osborn had three catches for 17.

* The Giants did not have Xavier McKinney against the Vikings on Christmas Eve but he will start at safety this week. The Giants may also have Adoree' Jackson back, who has been slowly doing more each week returning from a knee injury. His return would aid in the coverage of Jefferson. Jackson was limited at practice on Wednesday. He has not played since Nov. 20.

The Giants' secondary had two opportunities for takeaways in the first matchup between these two teams. Cor'dale Flott dropped an interception after getting underneath a crossing route. Fabian Moureau grabbed an interception but was called for pass interference after turning Jefferson by putting an arm around his waist.

Keys for the Giants' defense

* Dominate the interior line play and take advantage of whichever backup starts at right tackle

* Don't let the Vikings' receivers, especially Justin Jefferson, get over the top to make back-breaking plays.

* Take advantage of any takeaway opportunities Kirk Cousins may present the defense

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

When the Giants have the ball…

* The Giants gained a season-hgh 445 yards of offense against the Vikings on Christmas Eve. Daniel Jones had his second-highest yardage total of the season (334) and Richie James and Isaiah Hodgins both set season-highs in receptions (8) and receiving yards (James, 90 ; Hodgins, 89). James played well in the slot against cornerback Chandon Sullivan, while Isaiah Hodgins had success outside against veteran Patrick Peterson, who had an interception on a long pass.

* According to Pro Football Focus, the Vikings played man coverage 29% of the time against the Giants on Christmas Eve, which is nearly double their season average. They also played some form of Cover-3 zone on nearly 40% of their plays. The Giants took advantage of those single-high looks by attacking the middle of the field with some quick slants and in-cuts, as well as crossing patterns that turned into big plays. According to PFF, on pass attempts between the numbers in the middle of the field from 0-20 yards from the line of scrimmage, Jones completed 17 of 22 passes for 207 yards and a touchdown.

Most of the Giants' passing attack was focused on the short and intermediate levels of the field, and featured a lot of quick throws early in the game to beat the Vikings pass rush. Jones completed some tight window throws on those short throws over the middle. They completed two passes that traveled at least 20 yards in the air, including one on a rub route that freed up Richie James.

The Giants ran play-action on 17 of their 52 dropbacks. On those plays they completed 10 of 14 passes for 111 yards and a touchdown.

* The Giants had 17 running plays in that game. Saquon Barkley only had 14 carries but rushed for 84 yards by utilizing a lot of inside zone runs. His 6.0-yard aveage was his highest of the season since the season opener against Tennessee (9.1). Barkley's 27-yard TD run in the fourth quarter on a 4th-and-2 helped tie the game at 24. He was also utilized in the short passing game, including some quick throws in the flat that were almost an extension of the run game. He finished with eight catches for 49 yards. As for Jones, he ran it four times for 34 yards – all coming on scrambles.

* Danielle Hunter was the most dominant player on the Vikings' defense when the teams met in Week 16. He finished the game with two sacks, four quarterback hits, and PFF tracked him for 12 pressures. Za'darius Smith, who will line up all across the line, had three quarterback hits. Most of the pressure came from the middle to the left side of the defense. Hunter had a strip-sack, but the Giants were able to recover the fumble. Khyiris Tonga and D.J. Wonnum each added a half-sack.

The Vikings only blitzed on 25% of the Giants' dropbacks and only had a 25% stunt rate and, according to PFF, the Giants allowed a 42% pressure rate.

*Harrison Smith did not play in the Vikings final regular season game but he is expected to play this Sunday. He was limited in practice on Wednesday.

Keys for the Giants' offense

* Dictate the style of play to the Vikings' defense

* Be wary of ball-hawking defensive backs Harrison Smith and Patrick Peterson

* Keep Za'darius Smith and Danielle Hunter away from Daniel Jones.

View rare photos of the Giants' history playing on Wild Card Weekend in the NFL Playoffs.

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