Put Your Eyes on These Items for Vikings-Giants

The New York Giants come to Minnesota to play their first playoff game in six years. The last playoff game in U.S. Bank Stadium featured the most memorable play of the stadium, the ‘Minneapolis Miracle,’ one of the greatest plays in NFL history. Five years later, a new Vikings roster earned the right to host a playoff game. The contest has some interesting storylines to offer.

Legacy Game

Put Your Eyes on These
Jan 8, 2023; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Mandatory Credit: Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports.

Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins is entering the playoff matchup as a quarterback with one career playoff win. He could double that number. The narrative around him? He can’t win big games and shrinks in big moments, a narrative that has been proven wrong multiple times every year but somehow doesn’t disappear.

A loss in the game against the Giants would keep that perception alive, while a win, especially a convincing one with some excellent quarterback play, could change his reputation.

Put Your Eyes on These Items for Vikings-Giants

Cousins’ lone playoff win came because of an elite clutch play in overtime with a beautifully thrown deep ball to Adam Thielen, followed by a lob pass to Kyle Rudolph in the endzone. That game was on the road against a heavily favored New Orleans Saints team. No one gave the Vikings a chance entering the game. However, Cousins and the Vikings pulled off the upset, but the narrative of Cousins and the big games stayed.

Can Dalvin Cook?

The Vikings play a team with a suspect running defense. New York has given up the fourth-most rushing yards to running backs. Regarding rushing EPA/play, the team is the third-worst and, in DVOA, the worst. Running backs average over 5.2 yards per carry, an absurd number.

Blueprint to Beat the
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; New York Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (97) tackles Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

If Dalvin Cook is on his A-game, the running back can win the game by himself — something he was able to do in the past. However, he seems to have lost a step, and his advanced stats are just as bad as those of the Giants’ running defense. It’s his chance to prove that the Vikings would be wise to keep him, despite the opportunity to save almost $8 million in cap space by cutting him in the offseason.

Will the OL Hold Up?

The New York Giants employ multiple dangerous players in their defensive front. At defensive tackle, the Giants have Dexter Lawrence, according to PFF, the best player in the league at his position. Next to him is playing Leonard Williams, a player who is having a statistical down-year, partly because of injuries. However, he recorded 18 sacks from 2020 to 2021 and signed a huge contract that earns him about $21 million per year.

Nov 13, 2022; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce (31) stopped at the line by New York Giants defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence (97) and defensive end Henry Mondeaux (96) during the first half at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports.

Defensive coordinator “Wink” Martindale has multiple young edge rushers in his arsenal, including fifth-overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux. The rookie is inconsistent but showed in the past that he could single-handedly wreck games. Second-year player Azeez Ojulari recorded 5.5 sacks in only seven games.

Another wrinkle is the high blitz percentage of the Giants. Martindale sends five or more rushers on a ridiculous 39.7% of plays. For comparison, the Cardinals are second with 34.4%, and the Vikings are 24th with 18.9%.

The Vikings will have at least three of their usual starters up front. Left tackle Christian Darrisaw and the two guards Ezra Cleveland and Ed Ingram will be available. At right tackle, the purple team will likely start fourth-year player Oli Udoh in place of injured star tackle Brian O’Neill. Center Garrett Bradbury is returning to the field after missing the last five games.

Defense Needs To Step Up

Minnesota’s defense has been a disaster for most parts of the season. Multiple opposing quarterbacks had their best games of the season against the purple team. Only the Lions gave up more yards in the regular season, and only the Cardinals and Bears gave up more points. DVOA has the Vikings’ defense among the bottom six teams.

Giants Are Just as
Dec 24, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator Ed Donatell. Mandatory Credit: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports.

Ed Donatell’s ‘bend don’t break’ approach doesn’t work if the team can’t generate any takeaways. Winning the turnover battle will be the most crucial statistic in the game.

In the first matchup in Week 16 on Christmas Eve, the Vikings didn’t turn the ball over, and the Giants did twice.

Giants head coach Brain Daboll helped Daniel Jones develop into a solid quarterback. He is one of the best runners from the quarterback position in the game. Running back Saquon Barkley is one of the most dynamic players in the league. The Vikings must account for the two best players on the Giants’ offense.

Rookie Head Coaches

Both head coaches, Daboll and O’Connell, are in their first year in the head coaching position. O’Connell joined the staff of Sean McVay in 2020 and won the Super Bowl as offensive coordinator in 2021. Working under McVay seems to be the blueprint to becoming a good head coach, the league is full of former McVay pals, and everyone wants to hire one. The Vikings hired him right after his Super Bowl victory.

The Vikings Players Are in
Dec 4, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell. Mandatory Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports.

Daboll was the offensive coordinator of Josh Allen in Buffalo and was essential for his development. He worked in the NFL as an assistant coach since 2000, with the exception of 2017 when he was the offensive coordinator for Nick Saban’s Alabama. Daboll has a lot of playoff experience, including some years in New England, where people learn how to win. However, neither Daboll nor O’Connell were the final decision-makers in a game this important.

Janik Eckardt is a football fan who likes numbers and stats. The Vikings became his favorite team despite their quarterback at the time, Christian Ponder. He is a walking soccer encyclopedia, loves watching sitcoms, and Classic rock is his music genre of choice. Follow him on Twitter if you like the Vikings: @JanikEckardt