The New York Giants rank 25th in passing yards allowed and opposing quarterbacks have generated a season-long passer rating of 99.3 against them.
The Vikings passing attack is coming off a game in which it was grounded until the late stages of the 4th quarter. Adam Thielen was held to a pair of catches, Kyle Rudolph and Irv Smith, Jr. combined for two catches and Kirk Cousins was sacked six times.
With those two realities converging this Sunday at Met Life Stadium, some Vikings observers are suggesting this could be a “get-right” opportunity for the Vikings passing attack. It might not be that easy, though. And in fact, a thorough look at how the Vikings offense has found success under offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski would suggest simply showing up and throwing the ball around the yard against a subpar pass defense is not the optimal strategy.
Throwing last week’s disappointing showing out, the Vikings in the previous five games (all with Stefanski as the play caller) had a run-pass ratio of 186-145, and Dalvin Cook generated 100+ yards from scrimmage in four of the five games. The Vikings averaged 160.1 rushing yards per game over those five games and logged 10 rushing touchdowns. The productive ground game stressed opposing defenses and led to Cousins completing 63.4% of his passes and generating a touchdown-interception ratio of 9-3. That formula led to the Vikings scoring 26.0 points per game.
In fairness, it’s also not as easy as just showing up and handing it to the running back as much as possible. Chicago was ready for the Vikings rushing attack last week and their ability to slow it down wound up stifling the rest of the Vikings offense. In those instances, being able to drop back and shred an opposing pass defense can then open things up for the running game.
Ultimately, though, with how well the Vikings are performing on defense and special teams, leaning on a productive ground game that leads to ball control and time of possession advantage appears to be an attractive formula, particularly when going on the road and trying to win a game. Yes, the Vikings have a talented duo at receiver with Thielen and Stefon Diggs. And yes they have a quarterback who can make all the throws and a pair of tight ends who can challenge defenses. But they also have the NFL’s second-leading rusher (Dalvin Cook – 410 yards) and the NFL’s No. 3 rushing offense at 155.3 yards per game. Leaning on Cook and the running game has been Stefanski’s strategy in the six games he’s been calling the shots, and it’s been an effective strategy more times than not.
At the end of the day, it comes down to balance on offense. True balance is not calling a similar number of runs as passes in a given game. Balance is being able to run it if you need to run it and being able to pass it if you need to pass it.
The effort to achieve and demonstrate that balance continues this week in New York.
The Vikings ruled out cornerback Mackensie Alexander (elbow/groin) and linebacker Kentrell Brothers (wrist/hamstring) from Sunday’s game, but all others on the Vikings injury report are expected to play in the game.
The Giants ruled out three players, including running back Saquon Barkley (ankle). The other two who will not play on Sunday are linebacker Alec Ogletree (hamstring) and linebacker Tae Davis (concussion). Another linebacker, Lorenzo Carter, is questionable with a neck injury.
Does the team review the previous game and then put it out of their mind? Also, is our offensive line really better or are they only playing better against weaker defenses?
-- Mike Boswell
Even with games that are frustrating, such as the loss to Chicago last week, the team takes time to look at the tape and identify the successes and failures in an effort to learn and improve going forward. You can’t totally throw a game out and forget about it, but you also don’t want to let one bad game turn into two bad games because you are dwelling on it. As for the offensive line…yes, they are improved from last year. No question about it. Last week’s game in Chicago was proof of that, but the first three games of the season against Atlanta, Green Bay and Oakland showed improvement up front. Dalvin Cook was the NFL’s leading rusher through the first three games and we allowed only two sacks in those games. We weren’t able to run the ball in Chicago and we surrendered six sacks, so we’ll have to tip our cap to the Bears defense and personnel. But we won’t let one bad game against a very good defense spoil our appreciation for the amount of improvement we’ve seen from the boys up front.
“I think we can go back, and I know everybody jumped off the bandwagon this week, two years ago we were 2-2 and we won 13. Three years ago we were 5-0 and we won eight. This isn’t going to define us where we are right now. What’s going to define us is how we prepare for this game and the next and the next game.” – Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer
Wise words from coach Zimmer, a man who has coached for 41 years and has been through the peaks and valleys of a season in the NFL many times. Zimmer’s perspective within that quote speaks to the week-to-week nature of the NFL and is a good indication that he is doing everything in his power to not let last week’s disappointment cause more disappointment this week.
Stat of the Week – 1.03 points per drive
The Vikings defense has allowed only 1.03 points per possession going back to the 2nd quarter in Green Bay, a span of 29 series. In that same span, the Vikings defense is allowing a stingy 4.1 yards per play and has surrendered zero or one 1st down on 19 of those possessions. Opponents have punted or turned the ball over on 23 of those 29 possessions.
The weather appears to be a non-factor for Sunday’s game at Met Life Stadium in East Rutherford, NJ. The forecast for kickoff calls for cloudy weather and temperatures in the 64-69 degree range with only a 20% chance of precipitation and winds reaching a modest 10-15 miles per hour.
View photos from the Vikings practice on October 3 at TCO Performance Center.
National Television: FOX
Play-by-play: Sam Rosen
Analyst: Charles Davis
Sideline: Sam Oliver
National Radio: Compass Media Networks
Play-by-play: Chris Carrino
Analyst: Brian Baldinger
Local Radio: KFAN-FM 100.3/KTLK-AM 1130
Play-by-play: Paul Allen
Analyst: Pete Bercich
Sideline: Greg Coleman and Ben Leber
Pre-game show: Mike Mussman – 10:00 a.m. CT