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The Skinny Post: Vikings Look to Get Back on Track vs. Giants

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings have been here before.

Minnesota is 2-2 after the first quarter of the season, as the Vikings have alternated wins and losses to begin the 2019 campaign.

The Vikings also started 2-2 in 2015 and 2017, winning the NFC North in each of those seasons. And while those teams eventually made the playoffs, what helped jump-start the season was a perfect 4-0 record in the second quarter in both seasons.

Minnesota begins the second quarter of 2019 with Sunday's road game against the Giants. Kickoff is at noon (CT).

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer knows plenty of work lies ahead if his team wants to make the postseason. But with 13 players still in Purple who were on both of those teams — including nine defensive starters — Zimmer also knows his team has what it takes to make it happen.

"I know everybody jumped off the bandwagon this week [following the Chicago loss, but] two years ago we were 2-2 and we won 13 [games]," Zimmer said. "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," Zimmer added. "I tell the team all the time, the teams that I respect the most, are the teams that when they go out there, no matter what happens the week before, we put everything we have into this week. And whatever happens that week, we put everything we've got into next week. That's how you're going to maintain success."

Entering Week 5, the Vikings are one of five NFC teams that are 2-2. The Giants are included in that group.

There are 12 games left in the regular season. Wins can only come one at a time, and the Vikings get their chance to get back on track Sunday against New York.

Here are three areas to watch in Sunday's contest, plus some noteworthy stats on both teams:

Get a lead | By @Eric_L_Smith

The Vikings have found an easy recipe for success in their two wins so far in 2019.

Score first to get the lead, then sit back and run the ball while the defense goes to work. That scenario played out perfectly in home wins over Atlanta and Oakland when the Vikings scored touchdowns on their opening possessions.

But on the road, the Vikings have found themselves down by double digits to both Green Bay and Chicago, and were unable to muster a comeback in either game. In those games, Minnesota allowed opening-drive scores while punting to end its first possessions.

It may be a simple thought, but scoring first helps put everyone at ease, and allows the Vikings to turn to the formula they believe can help them get a victory.

The Giants have scored points on each of their first four opening-drive possessions in 2019, getting three touchdowns and a field goal in that span.

Minnesota is going up against rookie quarterback Daniel Jones in an offense that will be without star running back Saquon Barkley.

As the Vikings have found out so far in 2019, the best way to get their third win would be following the recipe for success that occurred in their first two victories.

What can be expected from the offensive game plan? | By @LindseyMNSports

The Vikings offense is looking to bounce back after facing a powerful Bears defense and struggling to find a rhythm in either the run or the pass, accruing just 222 net yards from scrimmage.

Over the first three games, the Vikings averaged 193.7 rushing yards and 164.7 passing yards per contest.

This week at New York, will Minnesota's offensive game plan be more ground-focused, look to revive the passing game or end up an even balance of both?

Vikings Head Coach Mike Zimmer told media members on Friday that he believes "it's a misnomer" that Minnesota hasn't been able to put up good numbers through the air because the four games have dictated different situations.

"I mean, in two games (Atlanta in Week 1 and Oakland in Week 3) we didn't throw the ball, and then the other two games (at Green Bay and at Chicago), we threw it some," Zimmer said during his Friday podium session. "We're going to try and have balance, but the passing game, there's a lot more to it than just throwing and catching.

"You've got to have a firm pocket, you've got to have protection in the right place," he continued. "We can't miss our blocks, and then we've got to throw it and catch it and get in the right place, be at the right depth, all kinds of things."

Covering the Giants | By @pcraigers

The Vikings will not have to contend with Barkley, but they will see a familiar face in a new place. Receiver Golden Tate is set to make his debut with the Giants.

Tate will join a squad that has been led in receiving by tight end Evan Engram (27 catches, 331 yards, 2 TDs) and Sterling Shepard (20, 218, 1).

"We'll just have to figure out where they're going to play Tate," Zimmer said Friday. "Shepard is a very explosive guy. They get a lot of production from him and Engram, so we'll have to do a good job on all of them."

In 10 games against the Vikings as a member of the Seahawks (2012-13) and (2014-17), Tate has caught 50 passes on 77 targets for a catch percentage of 64.9. He's totaled 422 yards and four touchdowns, including a game-winner in overtime in 2016.

Tate is a threat after the catch. According to SportRadar.com, he ranks 15th among qualifying receivers since 2010 with a career average of 6.4 yards after catch. More than 50 percent of his career yards (3,879 out of 7,214) have been gained after catches.

The Vikings have done slightly better against Tate than the league averages. He has gained 4.1 of his 8.4 yards per catch against the Vikings after the ball has landed in his hands.

Minnesota's secondary will be without nickel corner Mackensie Alexander, but Mike Hughes is available for his third game back from a torn ACL that ended his rookie season.

Substantial Stats

— Minnesota is averaging 8.0 penalties per game in 2019. That's the highest average during the Zimmer era (since 2014). The next-highest was 6.4 penalties per game in 2016. Minnesota had the fewest number of penalties per game (5.3) in 2015, and were third in 2018 with 5.8 penalties per game.

— The Giants tied for the best third-down percentage in Week 4 among all NFL teams at 61.54 (eight of 13 conversions). New York has converted on 14 of 26 attempts (53.8 percent) over its past two games. Minnesota's defense ranks fifth on third downs, as the Vikings have allowed 15 conversions on 50 attempts (30 percent).

— Dalvin Cook ranks second in the NFL with 410 rushing yards, one behind Carolina's Christian McCaffrey. The Vikings running back is tied for the league lead with five rushing touchdowns.

— The Vikings are 16-12 all-time against the Giants, which includes a 1-2 mark in the playoffs. Minnesota has had the upper hand of late by winning six of the past eight meetings. Minnesota is 2-0 under Zimmer, getting home wins in 2015 and 2016.

Quotable

"It's early in the year. We're still working. There's a lot of stuff ahead of us. A lot of ball ahead of us and a lot of wins in front of us. We're going to go back to work and find those wins."

— Cook on the state of the Vikings after four games.

A familiar foe

The Vikings return home in Week 6 for a matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. Kickoff is at noon (CT) from U.S. Bank Stadium.

This game marks the fourth straight season the teams have met, including the postseason. This will be the first game in Minnesota during that span.

The Vikings lost on the road in 2016 and in the 2017 NFC title game. But Minnesota got a road win in Week 5 of 2018, as the 23-21 victory was highlighted by Linval Joseph's 64-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

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