The Vikings will host the New York Giants on Wild Card Weekend, and it is their first home playoff game since 2018. This Week 16 rematch should prove to be competitive again, so let us take a look at what the purple need to do to achieve victory.
Priority Number One: Defend The Middle Of The Field
Daniel Jones loves a slant route. He loves, even more, a short slant route. And, slant routes can beat pressure. The Vikings need to prevent the easy, over-the-middle completions on Sunday. Daniel Jones ranks 24th in net passing yards per play, and this speaks to his penchant for quick, short throws.
In the Week 16 matchup against the Giants, Daniel Jones was very efficient when throwing over the middle of the field. It did not matter if the Vikings had defenders in the area or not, either, as he was able to fit throws into tight windows. Conversely, he looked much less a threat when throwing deep or to the sidelines. My point is, then, that we need to force him to take deep shots until he proves he can beat us that way. I think the more likely scenario is that he will have to force the ball, and we get a couple of key interceptions.
Priority Number Two: Run The Ball Effectively
The Vikings only mustered 83 yards on the ground in their Week 16 matchup with the Giants, and this number has to go up if they are going to move on in the playoffs. I have been calling all year for the Vikings’ offense to commit more to the run, as I believe long drives are one of the best ways this team can help out its defense.
The Giants do not exactly have a great run defense – they rank 27th in yards allowed per game – but Dexter Lawrence is a force in the middle. He was effective against the Vikings as well, and he is capable of forcing the Vikings into the feared third-and-long situations. Dalvin Cook needs to be productive early, and needs to get more than 64 yards, his rushing total in Week 16.
Priority Number Three: Move Kirk Out Of The Pocket
The Vikings have some positives on the offensive line heading into Sunday’s game: Blake Brandel and Garrett Bradbury are going to start. They will be welcome returns to a protection unit that has struggled of late and lost Brian O’Neill for the year.
That being said, the Vikings have struggled all season with pressure up the middle. I would love to see Kirk Cousins strategically roll out of the pocket more to avoid the rush. Cousins has been effective this year in play-action, throwing for more than 1,200 yards, but I think we need to get him out of the pocket quicker at times. Kirk has proven in his career he can be effective outside of the pocket, and this year he has even shown a willingness to scramble when necessary. Kevin O’Connell can wait and see how the Giants’ pressure looks early on, but he should not hesitate to adjust and try to move Kirk away from the pressure if he can.
Priority Number Four: Avoid Third And Long
The Vikings rank 26th in average time of possession, and while I realize there is not a lot of time difference between the ranks, I would have guessed the Vikings were near the bottom of the league.
One of the flaws of the Vikings’ offense this season has been its untimely slumps. They have looked unstoppable at times on offense, but have also stalled out way too much. In keeping with the priority of running the ball, the Vikings need to avoid third-and-long to help them sustain drives. In Week 16, the time of possession (TOP) was basically equal, however, the Giants outgained the Vikings on offense. While I hope and expect a turnover (see below), it would be nice to win the TOP battle and outgain the Giants. This will be much more doable if we are facing third and three as opposed to third and nine.
Priority Number Five: Two Sacks And A Turnover
Daniel Jones has been a competitor this season. While his passing yards do not exactly stand out, he has run for over 700 yards as well. The Vikings do not want him to get too much on the ground, but if he is scrambling that should be a good sign we are getting pressure.
The Vikings need to get at least two sacks this game, in my opinion, and force at least one turnover. These are weirdly specific stats, but in my head, I feel like two sacks would mean we are getting consistent pressure. The turnover, I believe, would be a result of this pressure as well. As long as the Vikings protect the ball, these are not elaborate stats to ask for, because I do not think the Vikings need crazy stats to beat this team; they simply need to play smart and keep their composure, and the big plays will come.
What To Watch Out For
In addition to the Vikings’ top priorities for Sunday, here are several specific things the Vikings need to watch out for.
Daniel Jones’ scrambling ability. I mentioned his rushing yards on the season, and while I want him to be uncomfortable in the pocket, the Vikings need to make sure they do not let him scamper for a game-changing first down or touchdown.
Kayvon Thibodeaux’s playmaking ability. Thibodeaux almost single-handedly won a game for the Giants with his strip sack touchdown against the Commanders. He is a guy who may not be in on every play, but the Vikings need to make sure he doesn’t blow the game up.
Dexter Lawrence’s run-stopping prowess. As I mentioned earlier, the Vikings need to run the ball, and Lawrence was a big reason they struggled in Week 16. The Vikings need to find a way to neutralize him in the run game, as well as to avoid his pressures up the middle.
Saquon Barkley’s star power. Barkley is a stud. While this offense overall is not amazing, the Giants tend to win games in which Barkley is productive. He will get his numbers, no doubt, so the Vikings need to make him earn them and prevent the home run plays.
No X-Factors, Just Justin
When I remember this season I will first think of Justin Jefferson’s catch versus Buffalo. Remember it?
Justin Jefferson (@JJettas2) made this incredible catch to help the @Vikings pull off a vital win against the @BuffaloBills. He's the first @NFL player to have 20 career games with 100+ receiving yards in their first three seasons since 1950! pic.twitter.com/zmMuacgrX7 — NFL Football Operations (@NFLFootballOps) November 15, 2022
Of course you do. And after that, I’ll remember the rest of his ridiculous catches on the season. In the regular season I have always just assumed his production while hoping for other guys to step up as well. In the post-season, however, it’s all about JJ. Jefferson has been huge all year, has been clutch all year, and we will need him to have a big game against the Giants.
At this juncture I want the story each week to be about him making epic catches, lunging forward for key extra yards, and taking games over. It’s time for the last few chapters of this season to be written, and Jefferson should be the main character. Yes, we need a lot of other things to go right, but job number one remains getting the ball to 18.
The Vikings had three players listed as questionable on their final Wild Card injury report. Harrison Smith is expected to play, and Kene Nwangwu suffered an illness, so he may be a player to monitor into Saturday. Cam Dantzler was also listed as questionable, as he has been away from the team for a personal matter, so hopefully, he will be available and everything is okay.
For the Giants, their injury report is eight players long, but none of those eight players received a game designation. We will have to follow the news closely for any information that says any of these players will miss the game.
Win Or Go Home
Finally, the playoffs are here. It has been a foregone conclusion for a while now that the Vikings were a playoff team, and yet there are plenty of people who still think they are a fraudulent team.
I think in a “one-and-done” situation, this Vikings team will rely on their run-ins with adversity from earlier in the season. They will shore up their weaknesses and play hard. Also, I like to think that the coaching staff will have some fresh looks for the Giants to keep them on their toes. I’ve picked the Vikings every week this year, and I am 13-4. I’ll stick with the purple on Wild Card Weekend, and I think the Vikings take care of business with a 24-12 victory over the visiting Giants. SKOL!
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