When on the lookout to find reasons an NFL team struggles, you typically don't have to look too far. The critical elements that separate winning teams and losing teams can be narrowed down to clear deficiencies – be them a lack of talented personnel or injuries that have tested depth to the extreme.
As the Vikings prepare for the New York Giants Monday night, the teams have a combined record of 1-10. For a team that has won two Super Bowls in the last seven years, the Giants have put together an extraordinarily un-Giant-like performance this season.
Much of the blame has been placed on Eli Manning – some of it deserved, some of it undeserved. Manning has been admittedly brutal. His 64.0 passer rating is better only than what Josh Freeman had in his three starts with the winless Buccaneers and Blaine Gabbert of the winless Jaguars. He has thrown 15 interceptions through six games and is on pace to throw a whopping 40 picks this season. His teams have been behind often and he has been forced to take chances which have resulted in interceptions late in games, but is it all Manning's fault?
The running game has been a joke and a revolving door. The ground game was supposed to be a focal point behind the tandem of David Wilson and Andre Brown. Brown hasn't played since being placed on the injured-reserve/designated-for-return list and Wilson has struggled with both injuries and fumbling. Things got so bad that the Giants had to go out and dust off retired RB Brandon Jacobs to fill the void. Thanks to a 120-yard game last week, Jacobs leads the Giants in rushing with 154 yards, but, as a team, the Giants have 76 fewer rushing yards than Adrian Peterson by himself. They're averaging just 3.6 yards a carry and the only player averaging four yards or more is Manning. They've been a plodding running group that has forced the Giants to abandon the run for long stretches, which is why the Giants have more than twice as many passes than rushes this season.
The Giants have some receiving weapons capable of making big plays. All three of their primary wide receivers are averaging better than 15.5 yards per reception – Victor Cruz (35-541-4), Hakeem Nicks (25-442-0) and Rueben Randle (20-333-3). They can be dangerous with the ball in their hands, but can the offensive line give Manning the time to find them downfield? That has been a problem because there has been incredible inconsistency and a singular lack of continuity along the offensive line.
Just six games into the season, only offensive tackles Will Beatty and rookie Justin Pugh have started every game. Two different players have started at left guard and three different players have started at both center and right guard. A sure sign of success is when an offensive line starts all 16 games together as a unit. Last year when the Vikings made the playoffs, their five O-linemen started all 16 games. The Giants have had a turnstile at the interior line position and that could go a long way to explaining why they're 0-6 at this point of the season.
Just as the offensive line has seen players coming in and going out, the same is true on defense. Only two players on the defense have started all six games – cornerback Prince Amukamara and safety Ryan Mundy. Other than them, Giants fans have needed a program to keep the numbers straight.
The Giants depth has been tested along the defensive front, where defensive ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck have been limited with knee injuries. Four different players have started at defensive tackle, which has led to the lack on continuity and could go a long way to explaining why the Giants have allowed more than twice as many points (209) as they have scored (103).
This has been even more unsettled at linebacker. Things got so desperate that Giants made a rare in-season trade to acquire LB Jon Beason to help bolster their numbers. He is the fourth different player to start a game at middle linebacker and New York has been forced to mix and match its linebackers – often being forced to play nickel defense with a fifth defensive back rather than using three linebackers in the traditional 4-3 base defense the Giants run.
The downside of that is that the secondary for the Giants is arguably the weakest part of their defense. Opposing quarterbacks have picked them apart, completing more than 64 percent of their passes while throwing 14 touchdowns with just four interceptions – earning a passer rating of a lofty 97.4. New York has started four different players lined up opposite Amukamara as the starting left cornerback and none of them have been overly impressive. It's a problem area that has been exposed and exploited throughout the season.
When the Vikings met the Pittsburgh Steelers in London, the Steelers had startling similarities to the Giants. They were both winless, both had a relatively stationary pocket quarterback, problems on both lines and suspect players in the secondary. Against the Steelers, the Vikings were able to take advantage of all of those weaknesses to dictate the pace of the game. While New York is desperate for a win and the Vikings will be viewed as their best shot at achieving that dubious distinction seven weeks into the season, they have too many similarities to Pittsburgh to ignore. The Giants are better than their 0-6 record would indicate, but not by much.
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.
Preview: Battered Giants seeking consistency
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