November 23, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version

Giants Must Slow Viking Run Attack

November 23, 2007




The well-worn adage says that you have to have a good backup quarterback to compete in the NFL. It's not said as often, but depth at the running back position is just as important. The Giants have demonstrated that this season, as injuries have forced them to use three different players to key their ground game. The Vikings demonstrated the significance of having an outstanding backup last week, when Chester Taylor took over for the injured rookie Adrian Peterson.

Minnesota runs the ball very well leading the league with an average of 178 yards per game and an astronomical 5.9 yards per carry. The Vikings also lead the league in run defense, but have struggled at both throwing the ball and stopping their opponents' passing games.

Head coach Brad Childress acknowledges that it's hard to win when you're so one-dimensional on both sides of the ball. Nevertheless, the Vikings could stay within shooting distance of the NFC's second wild card berth with a win in the Meadowlands. The Giants will look to solidify their hold on the top wild card spot.

VIKINGS (46) at GIANTS (73)
Sunday, 1 p.m., FOX

WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL Brandon Jacobs will sit out with a hamstring injury, and Derrick Ward practiced this week but isn't expected to play this Sunday. Reuben Droughns will start and get the bulk of the carries. His numbers this year aren't too impressive because he's been used mostly in short yardage situations. But when he was pressed into full-time duty in the Atlanta game, he had 14 for carries 90 yards and a touchdown. He doesn't have the same explosiveness as Ward or Jacobs, but he's a workhorse back who can grind it out between the tackles. Rookie Ahmad Bradshaw should see playing time as a third down back.

The Vikings have a dominating run defense that plays a very physical one-gap system. Pat Williams is the classic bulky run stuffer, while Kevin Williams is more versatile adept at penetrating and finding the ball. The other key run defender is middle linebacker E.J. Henderson, who covers a lot of ground and is a hard hitter.

Over the past two seasons, most teams have attacked the Vikings defense by spreading the field. This hasn't consistently weakened their run defense, but it has pushed the pass defense past its breaking point. The Vikings' haven't always been able to get pressure from the outside pass rush. When they can't get pressure on the quarterback, their secondary struggles in coverage. Starting cornerbacks Antoine Winfield and Cedric Griffin are both very physical. They play close to the line, hit hard, and are both great tacklers. Winfield is listed as doubtful on the injury report with a strained hamstring. If he can't play, rookie Marcus McCauley will take his place.

When you combine this weakness in the Minnesota secondary and their stifling run defense, it seems clear that the Giants will have to throw the ball to win. Eli Manning has done a good job of spreading the ball around to underneath receivers, but the team has lacked a deep threat in recent weeks. Plaxico Burress continues to be slowed by his ankle injury, and after catching eight touchdown passes in the first six games, he hasn't found his way into the end zone for four weeks. The Giants could solve this problem by getting the diminutive Sinorice Moss more involved as a slot receiver.

WHEN THE VIKINGS HAVE THE BALL The Vikings continue to play a run-first offense, despite the loss of rookie Adrian Peterson with a knee injury. Chester Taylor started in his place last week, pounding the Raiders last week for 164 yards and three touchdowns.

Part of the credit for Minnesota's success on the ground has to go to their offensive line, which is staffed by five great run blockers. The left side of their line is huge, with tackle Bryant McKinney (6-foot-8/345) and guard Steve Hutchinson (6-foot-5/315) leading the way.

The Vikings are more vulnerable on the other side. Right tackle Ryan Cook, a converted center, has struggled in pass protection. In order to contain the Giants 'league-leading pass rush, they'll have to use tight end Jim Kleinsasser or fullback Tony Richardson to help block on pass plays.

The Vikings hoped that second-year quarterback Tarvaris Jackson would take a step forward as the starter. That hasn't happened, at least in part because Jackson has missed several games with a variety of injuries. He made his best start as a pro last week, completing 17 of 22 passes. Jackson is mobile, but he's best suited to being a pocket passer. He has all of the physical skills including a strong arm but there's a steep learning curve for a quarterback out of a division 1-AA school.

To jump-start the passing game, the Vikings will run some gadget plays. Last week they ran an option pass with rookie receiver Sidney Rice, and gave the ball to receiver Troy Williamson on the reverse. Rice threw a 79-yard touchdown pass last week, and had another 13-yard completion.

KEYS TO THE GAME The recipe for beating the Vikings is simple: Stop the run. The Giants rank ninth in run defense, but each of their three losses came against teams that dominated them at the line of scrimmage. Big Blue needs to focus all of their energies on containing Chester Taylor, because the Vikings will never beat them with their passing game.

Lahman's Pick: Giants 2317

November 23, 2007 Edition > Section: Sports > Printer-Friendly Version