There are times when you find things that jump out at you on game film that are hard to deny. While the New York Giants have several strengths to their team, one of their glaring weaknesses has been limiting tight ends from doing a lot of damage, making the battle between Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph and the outside linebackers and safeties of the Giants this week’s key matchup.
Rudolph hasn’t been the consistent downfield threat he has been in previous seasons – averaging just 9.4 yards per catch and having just one game in which he had a reception of 20 yards or more. In fact, through 14 games, he doesn’t have a reception of more than 10 yards in six of them and hasn’t had a catch of more than 13 yards in nine of 14 games.
There have been unique circumstances that have led to the Vikings use of Rudolph. Despite having decent, but not spectacular, numbers – 47 catches (which ties for the team lead) for 442 yards and two touchdowns – his role has been such that he isn’t asked to be a regular downfield receiving target.
He has been asked to be much more of a classic blocking tight end for two reasons. First, the Vikings are one of the few teams that identify themselves as a run-first team. Ideally, Minnesota plays a ball-control style focused on Adrian Peterson, not firing the ball around the field through the air. Second, the Vikings’ revamped offensive line has required tight ends to often remain behind the line of scrimmage as blockers – both in opening holes for the run game and protecting Teddy Bridgewater in the pass game.
As a result, when Rudolph watches game tape of what other teams have done to exploit tight ends, he doesn’t always see it equating to his role in the Vikings offense.
“It’s hard for me to watch what other tight ends are doing because they don’t necessarily do what we do,” Rudolph said. “They usually don’t have the responsibilities we have in the run game and/or the pass protection. We’re just going to do what we do. If that means me making plays in the pass game, that’s great. If not, it’s not because of something we saw on tape.”
When offensive coordinators look at game tape, it’s almost impossible to deny that the Giants have been abysmal. It would be one thing if one tight end or two exploited New York’s defensive deficiencies, but this has been a problem that has been plaguing the Giants all year.
Jason Witten of the Cowboys in two games this season caught 14 passes for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Buffalo’s Charles Clay caught nine passes for 111 yards. Benjamin Watson of the Saints caught nine passes for 147 yards and a TD. In two games, Washington’s Jordan Reed caught 14 passes for 189 yards. New England’s Rob Gronkowski caught five passes for 113 yards and a touchdown. Last week, Carolina’s Greg Olsen caught six passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.
There have been too many tight ends taking advantage of the Giants’ defensive weaknesses in coverage for Norv Turner not to notice and to likely dial up plays that will get Rudolph in space. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Rudolph as a primary receiver in the offense Sunday night. When something works for other teams, it tends to become a trend in a copycat league, making this matchup one that could be critical for the Vikings offense.