By Curt Macysyn
Unfortunately for the New York Giants, the team will spend the majority of this week providing damage control for the Odell Beckham situation. Late Monday afternoon, the league announced that Beckham had received a one-game suspension for his actions that occurred in the team’s previous day loss to the Carolina Panthers 38-35. In a letter to Beckham, NFL vice president of operations Merton Hanks wrote, “At numerous times during yesterday’s game against the Carolina Panthers, your actions placed a fellow player at unnecessary risk…and clearly did not represent the high standards of sportsmanship expected.” Beckham will appeal the one-game banishment.
Meanwhile Beckham’s teammates must get ready for the playoff bound Minnesota Vikings, as the Giants’ own playoff chances still exist, but require a win against the Vikings, as well as some serendipity in the form of a loss by the Redskins. The Vikings boast the league’s leading rusher in Adrian Peterson, as the veteran running back has bounced back from his own banishment from the NFL last season.
The Vikings have been physically beat up particularly on defense the past few weeks, so the team would like to cement its playoff status and get healthy at the same time.
The Vikings come into this contest with a 9-5 record after dispatching division-rival, the Chicago Bears, at home on Sunday by a 38-17 score. Minnesota had dropped its previous two games to NFC heavyweights, the Arizona Cardinals (23-20) and the Seattle Seahawks (38-7), which threatened to derail the team after a stellar 8-3 start after 11 games. The Vikings last made the playoffs in 2012, when they were shown the door by their division rivals, the Green Bay Packers, 24-10 at Lambeau Field.
Minnesota Vikings on Offense
In 2014, the Vikings moved on from former first round draft pick Christian Ponder, when they moved up to select Teddy Bridgewater from the University of Louisville. Bridgewater’s draft stock had dropped because of a lack of accuracy at the NFL Combine, as well as concerns about his durability. In Sunday’s game against the Bears, Bridgewater went 17-20 for 231 yards and four touchdowns, so at this point it seems that the young signal caller is getting comfortable at the helm.
With start running back Adrian Peterson in the fold, Bridgewater can pick his spots. After the Vikings placed Peterson on the commissioner’s suspension list last season, no one knew what to expect from the former Oklahoma Sooner upon making his return at 30 years of age. The old man has done just fine, thank you, as he leads the NFL with 1,314 rushing yards. Peterson has nine TDs on the ground, as well as 28 catches from the backfield.
The Vikings receiving corps will not wow anyone, as rookie Stefon Diggs (5th round, Maryland) leads the team with 47 catches for 693 yards and four touchdowns. It seems that you can find NFL starting talent after the second round. Steelers’ castoff Mike Wallace has 36 catches for 440 receiving yards and two touchdowns, while veteran tight end Kyle Rudolph is tied for the team lead with 47 catches and four receiving touchdowns.
Minnesota Vikings on Defense
The Giants offense will be encountering a familiar face on Sunday, as defensive tackle Linval Joseph will be occupying the interior for the purple and gold. Joseph clogs the running lanes and has 54 total tackles this season. A couple star players missed Sunday’s game against the Bears, as Safety Harrison Smith (hamstring) and linebacker Anthony Barr (groin) were nursing injuries. Smith and Barr are two of the top tacklers for the Vikings.
Rookie middle linebacker Eric Kendricks (2nd round, UCLA) is the team’s leading tackler with 77 total, and he also has 4.0 quarterback sacks as well. The cornerbacks are solid with Terrence Newman and Xavier Rhodes as starters, with veteran Captain Munnerlyn and rookie first round draft pick Trae Waynes (Michigan State) in the mix as well.
Minnesota Vikings Players to Watch
The Giants are ranked dead last in the NFL in total defense, giving up a whopping 423 total yards per game to their opponents. The rush defense gives up 114.6 yards per game on the ground, so expect that total to rise if Adrian Peterson has anything to say about it. Peterson has twice had 29 carries in a game this season, and if his ankle holds out, he may surpass that mark against the Giants on Sunday night.
Without Beckham, the Giants can ill afford to get into a shootout with the Vikings, so expect an early heavy dosage of Rashad Jennings to grind out a ground attack. If the G-men can then maintain manageable third down situations, then Shane Vereen will become a very important player for Big Blue. If linebacker Anthony Barr cannot play this week, then who will have coverage responsibility for Vereen? This will be an important focal point.
The Vikings will be satisfied to ride the legs of Adrian Peterson to victory, and they will challenge the Giants to stop their ground game. Without Beckham, it is hard to imagine that the Giants will have much of an appetite for throwing the ball extensively, so look for many check downs to Shane Vereen, Dwayne Harris and Will Tye. Eli Manning may take a shot downfield to Rueben Randle, but when the Giants have needed Randle to come up big for them, he has not. If not for the injuries that the Vikings have on defense, this game would clearly be the Vikings’ contest to lose, but potentially without Smith and/or Barr, it becomes more complicated than that. But the Vikings under Mike Zimmer seem like they have a plan, while the Giants’ organization simply finds new ways to lose each week.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past four seasons for Examiner.com, and he is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Born and raised in New Jersey, Curt attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, N.J. and is a graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick. Follow him on Twitter @CurtMac23 for the latest NFL and New York Giants news.