Bryant McKinnie/Phil Loadholt vs. Osi Umenyiora/Justin Tuck
When you come into a game with the recent history the Giants defensive front does, especially on the ends, they enter the fray with a relative simple concept – we have bad intentions and they are directed at your quarterback. Considering that either Brett Favre is going to be playing at much less than 100 percent or Tarvaris Jackson is going to get his first start since 2008, the top priority of the offense will be to protect them from the hard-charging defensive ends of the Giants – making the game-long battle between Bryant McKinnie and Phil Loadholt vs. Giants defensive ends Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck this week's key matchup.
The Vikings have been relegated to the role of playing spoiler for the NFL playoffs rather than being viewed as a legitimate playoff contender – if the Packers beat Detroit Sunday, the Vikings will be eliminated from playoff contention regardless of what they do. Instead of chasing down a playoff spot, the Vikings will face three teams that are currently either in first place by themselves (Chicago) or tied for first. All three of them need a win over the Vikings to solidify their place in the pecking order of the NFC, so each in their own way is going to try to establish what they do best. In the case of the Giants, it all starts up front with their pass rush.
Through 12 games, Umenyiora and Tuck have combined for 17.5 sacks – Umenyiora recording nine and Tuck registering 8.5 sacks. It is possible to chip one of them, but, unless a teams goes "max protect" and uses either double tight ends or a tight end and fullback used as a chipper on the single-covered DE, it will the responsibility of McKinnie and Loadholt to keep them in check. They will often be left on an island and can ill-afford to let either of them get a free run, especially if Favre is the QB Sunday.
The biggest problem they face is that the Giants have built a history of knocking quarterbacks out of games. The G-Men took out Jay Cutler after nine first-half sacks. Detroit backup Shaun Hill met a similar fate two weeks later. The following week, Tony Romo's season came to an end. The Giants defense has been a death-knell for QBs, much less those looking to ease into retirement.
McKinnie and Loadholt have struggled at times to contain persistent bull rushers. While the Vikings have averaged allowing just two sacks a game, it is sometimes the non-sack hit that can take Favre out of action. He got knocked out of the Buffalo game on a play in which he wasn't sacked. It has become clear that, although Favre's mind is still sharp, his body is beginning to betray him. He needs all the help he can get. If that means running Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart 35-40 times, if they can make it work, Favre would be more than willing to turn around and hand the ball off 70 percent of the time. Given Jackson's propensity for making critical mistakes when blitzed or heavily pressured, if he's in the game, the same applies. However, with Favre being a much more stationary target, it will be even more important for Big Mac and Big Load to hold their ground on every pass play, not just most.
One mistake and the Vikings could find themselves bidding a painful goodbye to Favre. Either Umenyiora or Tuck can get the hit that ends Favre's career and, given their penchant for putting QBs on the shelf, ending "The Streak" (if it continues) at 298 games makes this perhaps a historic matchup to watch.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
Key matchup: Vikings OTs vs. Giants DEs
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