For teams that aren't in the same division, there has been a rivalry that has developed between the Vikings and New York Giants over recent years. While the signature game of the rivalry was the 41-0 blowout in January 2001, the Vikings and Giants had a streak of seven straight years in which they met snapped last year. Sunday's game will be the 12th time since 1993 that the teams have met – by far the most games against a non-division schedule that the Vikings have played.
That familiarity, combined with the experience head coach Brad Childress had facing the Giants twice a year while with Philadelphia, will be critical to the game planning. That plan will have as its hallmark to frustrate and knock down Eli Manning. Starting to emerge from the long shadow of his brother Peyton, Eli has developed into a solid passer that is becoming a team leader with Tiki Barber no longer the face of the offense. The knock on Manning is that he throws too many interceptions – he has 11 interceptions as opposed to 15 touchdowns. While still learning on the job, Manning is becoming more than just a game manager. He is beginning to show the signs of reading defenses that has made his brother the most dangerous passer in the game today. But, with the injuries to the Giants running game, there may be added pressure on Manning to come through Sunday.
The Giants running game, which primarily runs between the tackles, would seem to play into the Vikings' strength as a defense, but injuries have decimated the Giants running corps. The predictions on Brandon Jacobs, who some feared would crumble under the full workload with Tiki Barber off to retirement, have proved fatalistically accurate. Jacobs has been bothered by ankle and hamstring injuries all year and had managed just 115 carries through the first 10 games. He's out for Sunday's game, but that is just the half of it. Backup Derrick Ward, who has played well while Jacobs was down, isn't expected to play either due to ankle and groin injuries. That drops the depth chart to Reuben Droughns. Suddenly a journeyman after 1,000-yard seasons in Denver and Cleveland, Droughns is a between-the-tackles plow horse who leads the Giants with four touchdowns. Look for the Giants to try to run Droughns early and often to eat up clock. Because of the RB attrition, the change-of-pace back is now Ahmad Bradshaw, a seventh-round rookie out of Marshall who has yet to carry the ball in a regular-season game. The Vikings likely would have an edge in if the Giants were at full strength at this position, it certainly looks like a potential mismatch now. If that's the case, it will be up to Manning and his receivers to be the offensive difference-makers, and the G-Men have the weapons to accomplish that even without a running game to speak of.
Plaxico Burress has been one of the true anomalies of the 2007 season. Despite not practicing since mid-September with a high ankle sprain, Burress hasn't missed a game – catching 45 passes for 635 yards and a team-high eight touchdowns (one more than the rest of the team combined). It should be noted, however, that Burress' numbers have dropped off considerably in recent weeks. Six of his eight touchdowns came in the first four games of the season and his numbers have been dropping steadily as he plays through the injury. That said, he still has the height, moves and speed to make big plays – especially in the red zone. He's flanked by ageless veteran Amani Toomer. A former No.1 receiver, Toomer has made the transition smoothly to be more of a possession-type receiver. He has caught 37 passes for 431 yards and two touchdowns and, while not the deep threat he once was, he still has the ability to get behind a defense. A wild card could be former No. 1 pick Sinorice Moss. In his second year, Moss has yet to establish himself as a force. Through 10 games, he has caught just 11 passes for 105 yards and no touchdowns. But with Giants expected to use a lot of three-receiver formations because of the Vikings' ability to stop the run, Moss will likely be asked to do more than he has and will need to be watched as a sleeper candidate for the most offensive production among the backups. Depth is thin with fifth-year man David Tyree and rookie Steve Smith as the next in line for playing time.
At tight end, the Vikings again have to face one of the league's best in Jeremy Shockey. A true warrior on the field who plays with a lot of emotion, Shockey leads the Giants with 48 catches for 528 yards and three touchdowns. He will line up as a receiver or at a down-line position with equal ease. He will cause a lot of problems for outside linebackers Chad Greenway and Ben Leber.
The Giants have a solid front line that is anchored by right guard Chris Snee. In his fourth year, Snee has evolved into one of the top guards in the NFC and is good at both pass protection and run blocking. The rest of the line is solid, but not at the top level among O-linemen. It is a veteran group with seven-year man Kareem McKenzie at right tackle and fifth-year player David Diehl at left tackle, seven-year man Rich Seubert at left guard and eight-year vet Shaun O'Hara at center. Four of the five started 15 games together last year and all five have been intact this season. They have helped the Giants average a respectable 4.4 yards a carry and have allowed just 16 sacks of Manning through 10 games. They will provide the defensive front with a strong challenge and rarely make the big mistakes that give linemen a free shot at their quarterback.
Manning, Burress and Shockey may steal some of the headlines, but the Giants success this year should be credited largely to their defense. After allowing 80 points in their first two games to start the season 0-2, the Giants have gone 7-1 since – holding six of the next eight opponents to 17 points or less. The strength of the Giants is up front and, to be more specific, at defensive end. Michael Strahan is in his 15th season, but still looks like a young power rusher and is tied for the team lead with eight sacks. On the other side, Osi Umenyiora also has eight sacks, although six of them came in one game against the Eagles. He is a strong bull rusher who gets stronger as the game goes on. Justin Tuck is a designated pass rusher in his third season and he has recorded seven sacks, giving the Giants 23 sacks from their DE rotation. On the inside, former Viking Fred Robbins has found a home at the nose tackle position, providing the Giants with a poor man's version of Pat Williams. The weak link of the line as at the other tackle position, where Barry Cofield has started all 26 games in his short career but is clearly still a work in progress. Also in the mix at defensive tackle is former No. 1 pick William Joseph. A fifth-year player with a great pedigree coming out of college, he has been a huge disappointment and may never live up to the pre-draft hype that made him a lottery pick.
A strength of the Giants defense has always been at linebacker and, while the names have changed over recent years, the quality has remained the same. In the middle, Antonio Pierce was a huge free-agent signing in 2005 and hasn't disappointed. Able to fill running lanes and produce in coverage, Pierce has become a defensive leader and is always around the ball. On the outside, second-year man and first-round pick Mathias Kiwanuka is out with an injury, giving way to Reggie Tobor. On the other side, Kiwika Mitchell was a free-agent signing that is a converted middle linebacker. While immensely talented, he will get caught of position at times.
The secondary has been something of a bugaboo for the Giants. The team has allowed 17 touchdown passes and has been beaten over the top often this season. At the corners, first-round rookie Aaron Ross has won the starting left corner job over incumbent R.W. McQuarters. He has excellent cover skills, but, as a rookie, will bite on playfakes and get burned occasionally for the big play. On the other side, Sam Madison is playing more on reputation than ability in his 11th season. Much like Jason Sehorn in previous years, Madison is too often showing up on highlight films with his No. 29 chasing in vain to catch a receiver that has burned him on a deep route. He has lost a step and can be exploited. The Giants have decent depth with McQuarters, former starter Corey Webster and former Viking Dovonte Edwards providing backup help. Safety is another situation completely. The only quality safety on the team is Gibril Wilson, but he's injured and might miss the game. James Butler is a third-year man that was an undrafted free agent in 2005 and is starting for the first time this season at strong safety. If Wilson can't go, rookie Michael Johnson, a seventh-round rookie who was viewed as a long shot to make the team in training camp, would start at free safety. This is a matchup the Vikings must try to exploit. Their combined inexperience leaves a big hole for the Vikings offensive playcallers to attack.
The Vikings and Giants have had some memorable games and it's a safe bet that Zygi Wilf will be more than hoping for a win on his home turf in New Jersey. Stranger things have happened – like the 2005 game in which the Vikings offense didn't score a touchdown and managed just 125 yards of offense yet won 24-21. The Giants, as Denny Green would say, are who we thought they are. They're a 7-3 team with dominant players on both sides of the ball, but clear weaknesses that good teams can exploit. Playing at the Meadowlands could mean the Vikings will have to play mistake-free football all day to win, but if they can, there are areas that make the Giants vulnerable and potentially beatable.
Preview: Giants Solid, But Have Weaknesses
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