The respect that is being afforded the Minnesota Vikings defense is starting to spread and, if you’re going to start spreading the news, there’s no better place for it spread than in New York.
As they returned to practice Friday in anticipation of Monday night’s game at U.S. Bank Stadium, the New York Giants are trying to devise a game plan to attack the Vikings defense.
But, as Giants offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said Friday, the problem with attacking the Vikings defense is that there is elite talent at all three levels – of particular interest to Sullivan being the Vikings defensive front four that has been wreaking havoc on opposing offenses early this season.
“It’s a very talented group, a very well-coached group,” Sullivan said. “You just start up front, playing at a high level. Everson Griffen is a heck of a pass rusher, a competitor. Of course, Linval Joseph, I remember his days here and what a dynamic player he was; he's playing at a Pro Bowl level. The linebackers are tremendous, at both run and pass. And the secondary, you’ve got a couple very good safeties. Harrison Smith is playing tremendous as well. We’re going to really have our hands full. We're excited, but we're eager for the challenge.”
Of particular concern is Griffen. In his two full seasons as a starter, Griffen had 22½ sacks and has developed into an elite talent who needs to be accounted for on every play.
A disruptive player who is tied for second in the league in sacks coming from the blind side of franchise player Eli Manning, Griffen is the focus of considerable offensive attention by the Giants because he has the ability to make the plays that change games and tackle Erick Flowers will have to be at the top of his game because Griffen is relentless.
“I think he has a great get-off,” Sullivan said. “He gets off, is very good at changing up his moves. He'll have speed to power. He has a spin move and is a relentless player. He puts great effort in both the run and the pass and he's a competitor. Even if, you see on film, there are times guys don't necessarily get the best of him and he might be blocked, but then you don't rest on it because he's going to come at you harder and he's definitely thrives in those third-down situations and the two-minute situations.”
The challenge for the Giants offensive coaching staff isn’t that much different than the other Vikings opponents have had, with one notable exception. Marcus Mariota, Aaron Rodgers and Cam Newton run by design. Manning runs for more life-saving reasons.
So how do you balance attacking a defense when you know that plays that take more than three seconds to accomplish could potentially put your quarterback at risk?
“I think a big part of that is going to be trying to stay in those third and manageable (situations) – trying to stay on schedule on first and second down,” Sullivan said. “It really starts with us, as everyone here knows. We've got to do a better job taking care of the football. Being able to stay out of those negative plays, whether it's penalties or the tackles for losses, etc., so that we can have versatility.”
The buzz phrase for the Giants will be to mix and match and try to confuse the Vikings with play calls they haven’t seen on tape or quick-hitters designed to get the ball out of Manning’s hand quickly before the Vikings’ front can get to him.
Sullivan knows the only way to accomplish that is to try to keep the Vikings off-balance and spreading the ball around to hot receivers in the passing game. He knows if the Vikings dictate the pace, the result may well be the same for Manning as what Rodgers and Newton experienced.
“We have to try to keep them guessing,” Sullivan said. “We want to try and put our best foot forward. We'll have schemes, designs, try to get various players the football. But, if we're doing things on their terms in their place with their great players, that's going to be an advantage for them. We’ve got to do things to try and keep them off balance and do things that are on our terms so that we can keep them off balance.”