The Vikings defense clearly set the tone for the entire game and its outcome. They didn’t shut down the run completely but allowed just 75 yards on the ground in 19 attempts (3.9 avg.). Their much maligned pass defense confused quarterback Eli Manning and the Giants offense all day, however, picking off four passes (three returned for touchdowns) and a lowly passer rating of just 33.8.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier dialed up several different looks that consistently had the Giants out of rhythm. But clever formations don’t work unless players do their part, and the Viking defenders executed nicely this week.
Left end Kenechi Udeze turned in a solid, workmanlike effort against Kareem McKenzie and later rookie Guy Whimper. Udeze was officially in on 2 tackles, including one for a 1-yard loss. He was also credited with a quarterback hurry on two Manning incompletions.
Pat Williams was once again disruptive in the middle of the defense and forced any success at all against the run to be off tackle on the edge of the defense. Williams finished with 6 tackles, sharing one tackle-for-loss with Udeze, and was very active throughout the game. He showed impressive range and pursuit for a big man, chasing a couple plays down from the backside.
Kevin Williams continues to draw excessive double-team blocking but still makes his presence felt. Williams finished with 3 tackles, 1 quarterback hurry that forced an incomplete pass and 1 pass deflection at the line of scrimmage that he almost held onto for an interception.
Ray Edwards must draw more uncalled holding penalties on the pass rush as anyone in the league. Edwards was credited with 3 tackles on the afternoon.
Erasmus James got the most reps in any single game so far this season. He appears to be getting his wheels underneath him a bit, but did not record any official stats.
Brian Robison got some reps and applied some pressure. He also retreated into pass coverage on occasion as part of Fraizier’s mix-and-match schemes to bring the heat. Like James, he did not register anything on the official stat sheet.
Fred Evans also got a few reps and made an impact on a couple plays. Evans was in on one stuff at the point of attack, earned a quarterback hurry and registered his first sack of the season when he dropped Manning for an 8-yard loss in the fourth quarter.
Spencer Johnson took some turns in the second wave along the front and picked up his third sack of the season with his relentless tenacity. Johnson was credited with 4 tackles, 1 sack and 1 quarterback hurry in limited duty.
DE Jayme Mitchell was inactive.
The team’s entire starting linebacking trio played key roles in creating big plays on defense.
Ben Leber made the key nail-in-the-coffin play of the game when he tipped a Manning pass in the red zone that resulted in a quick six the other way. He also collected a two-hand touch sack on Manning that resulted in a huge 26-yard loss late in the game. Leber recorded just 2 official tackles, but was much more involved than that. He also had 2 pass breakups (one a potential interception that he couldn’t hold onto), the sack and another quarterback hurry.
Chad Greenway keep the momentum going the Vikings way with his brilliantly timed pick that he returned 37 yards for a score. Greenway finished with 3 tackles, 1 interception and 1 pass defensed.
E.J. Henderson continues to play at or near a Pro Bowl level this season. He was active against the run, laid on some solid hits and led a front seven that always appeared to be heading in the right direction this week. Henderson tied for the team lead in tackles this week with 6.
Marcus McCauley started once again at left cornerback in place of an injured Antoine Winfield (hamstring), who was inactive. The often-tested rookie gave up a couple plays, but initially had excellent coverage on one of those plays and generally held his own nicely for the most part. He finished with 5 tackles and one pass breakup in coverage.
Cedric Griffin was once again up and down at right corner. He was in on 3 tackles and had one pass breakup. He made some nice plays at times but continues to struggle reacting to balls thrown over his head at times and he dropped one would-be interception that was clarified upon a challenge by the Giants. Because of his physical nature and the fact that he appears to react better to the action in front of him, Griffin might be better suited in the long run inside at safety.
Darren Sharper really energized the defense early with his interception and subsequent return for a touchdown to keep the Vikings out front in this game. There has been criticism that the team’s scheme doesn’t play to Sharper’s strengths this season, but he was not quiet this week. He recorded just 2 tackles, but his early-game pick set the tone and he also broke up another pass play.
Dwight Smith was also very active on the highlight reel with two big picks, one returned 93 yards for a touchdown, the other for 19 yards. He also was in on 4 tackles and had 3 other passes defensed. Smith’s performance earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Charles Gordon saw action as the nickel corner and turned in a solid performance. He had 4 tackles, 1 quarterback hurry coming off the edge on the blitz and 2 pass breakups.
The varied schemes by Frazier that feature more blitz packages in the mold of his mentor from his days with the Philadelphia Eagles – Jim Johnson – appear to be the key to improvement against the pass the past two weeks, as opposed to the pure Tampa-2 scheme that expects pressure from the front four. It will be interesting to see if the trend continues in upcoming weeks.
Coming soon: Offense