Saturday, November 24, 2007

A Look at the Giants Game

Earlier this year, I thought that the Vikings game against the Giants would be one of their more winnable games. The team seemed to be in full meltdown mode coming into the season, exchanging barbs with the now retired Tiki Barber and playing for a coach they didn't like who was in the final year of his contract. Looking at the Giants now, however, shows a team that should be good enough to beat the Vikings, but may actually be a good matchup for the Purple.

Despite having a big name quarterback and a big name receiver, the Giants' offense has mainly come on the ground. They're currently averaging only 5.77 yards per passing attempt, which is well below average at 20th in the NFL. In fact, it's only a little better than the Vikings 5.52 YPA. Football Outsiders also has a low opinion of the Giants air attack, as their passing DVOA is 0.0%, 20th overall, though much better than the Vikings' -11.0% DVOA. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Eli Manning has not played well at all. He has an 81.3 QB rating, which is 18th overall, and has 19.9 DPAR, which is 20th overall, .6 DPAR behind Philip Rivers. He doesn't really add any value, as his 0.5% DVOA (25th overall) shows. This is partly due to the fact that his best receiver has been hobbled with injuries for most of the season and partly due to the fact that he's not much better than an average quarterback. Of course, as the Vikings have demonstrated many times this season, you don't have to have an above average quarterback to be successful through the air against the Purple. It doesn't help that Antoine Winfield is still having hamstring issues and is listed as doubtful for the game.

Winfield's injury will also hurt the Vikings ability to stop the Giants' running game, which is among the best in the NFL and the key to stopping the Giants offense. The Giants' are fifth in yard per carry with 4.38 YPC and fifth in rushing DVOA. Of course, there's nothing the Vikings like more than facing a team that relies on its rushing game. Not all that surprising, considering the Purple are holding their opponents to 2.88 YPC, second best in the NFL and have the best DVOA against the run with a -29.6% DVOA. I'm also sure that Pat Williams, E.J. Henderson and company are looking forward to facing the Giants third string running back, one Rubeun Droughns, since Brandon Jacobs is out and Derrick Ward is doubtful.

The Vikings' offense also matches up pretty well against the Giants' defense. New York allows 4.0 yards per carry, 19th in the NFL. This is a team that can be run against, whether or not the Purple Jesus plays (make no mistake about it-he should not play. There is no reason to rush him, and letting him play on Sunday is definitely rushing him). Where the Giants' defense excels, however, is in creating negative pass plays, a statistic they lead the league in. 12.27% of the time that a quarterback drops back to pass against the Giants, something bad happens, which makes a lot of sense, considering they lead the league in sacks and have three players in the top 15 in sacks (Michael Strahan-8.0, Osi Umenyiora-8.0 and Justin Tuck-7.0). They are missing one of their defensive stars, however, Mathias Kiwanuka, which will have a significant effect on their defense. Kiwanuka moved to outside linebacker this year from defensive end and has been a dominant force for the Giants. He had 4.5 sacks and 46 tackles, both the 4th best on the Giants and he was an important part of their pass rush and their run defense. He won't be on the field, however, as he broke his leg against the Lions last week.

As you can see, the Vikings are facing a beat up Giants team that they match up well with. Whether that will be enough will depend largely on whether the defense can shut down Eli Manning and Jeremy Shockey the same way they shut down Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates and whether the offense can keep the Giants pass rush off of Tarvaris Jackson long enough to allow him to be an average quarterback. If they can do both of those things, they should win. If not, the Purple will come up just short, just like they have 5 times already this season. My guess? They come up short, falling 27-20.

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