Defensive sets and film observations: Week 7 vs. Giants
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Welcome to another installment of 'Defensive sets and film observations,' this one brought to you for the Minnesota Vikings-New York Giants
Every Wednesday after a game, we'll take a look at what the Vikings defense looked like, bring you five key takeaways from film study and hand out a proverbial game ball and name the goat(s). Click here for the offensive analysis and breakdown from Vikings-Giants.
The Minnesota Vikings defense had its best performance of the season against a New York Giants offense that was only averaging around 17 points per game coming into Monday night. The defense forced seven three-and-outs, two in garbage time, but failed to capitalize on numerous Giants mistakes.
The defense missed four interception opportunities, including safety Andrew Sendejo and cornerback Marcus Sherels' dropped picks, as well as two Giants fumbles that ended up back into the arms of blue jerseys. The Vikings had no chance of winning on Monday night behind an inept offense despite the defense setting season-lows in yardage (257) and points (23) allowed. The Vikings defense now allows 391 yards/game (27th) and 30 points/game (29th).
Giants quarterback Eli Manning threw 39 times for a season-low 5.13 yards-per-completion average and his first game without an interception this season. After a 17-play, 68-yard drive to open the game, which ended with a 23-yard field goal after receiver Hakeem Nicks dropped a touchdown catch, the Vikings held the Giants to 17 plays across their next four drives. The defense was able to hold nine drives for just 10 points, but the Giants scored an additional 10 points off special teams fumbles by Sherels and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.
Overall, the Vikings defense held the Giants to three yards or less on 41 of 72 plays [57%], which includes Manning's 16 incompletions.
Base: 20/40 [50%]
Nickel: 20/40 [50%]
Base: 18/33 [55%]
Nickel: 14/33 [42%]
6-2: 1/33 [3%]
Base: 38/73 [52%]
Nickel: 34/73 [47%]
6-2: 1/73 [1%]
1) The Vikings secondary allowed a season-low one touchdown pass to Manning. After a 23-yard pass interference penalty on rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes, Manning hit receiver Reuben Randle for a 24-yard touchdown down the sideline. Cornerback Chris Cook was in position and watching the ball, but appears to duck as Randle comes flying over his back to catch the ball. Cook can't shrink in those positions as he could've made a play on the ball for a potential interception. Overall, the passing defense looked much better than against the Carolina Panthers as there were fewer apparent coverage breakdowns against a struggling Manning.
Defensive coordinator Alan Williams ran out of the nickel package less than half the plays as the Giants stayed committed to running the ball and a short passing game. Linebacker Marvin Mitchell played a season-high 38 snaps in base packages as he took part in six tackles, three for losses. On 32 rushing attempts, the Vikings forced five negative plays by Giants running backs Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox. Williams dialed up the blitz on 15 of Manning's 42 dropbacks, but got to him 22 times on the night for two sacks.
Defensive end Jared Allen's sack on Manning near the end of the first half was an instant classic. Allen drives Giants tackle Will Beatty back into Manning. Instead of going around the hulking lineman, Allen grabs Manning with one hand behind Beatty and ultimately drags him down with the help of defensive tackle Kevin Williams. Defensive tackle Fred Evans had his third pass deflection of the season, the Vikings' 12th as a defensive line. Defensive end Everson Griffen had one of his better outings, forcing six pressures on Manning as he worked mainly out of the interior one-technique as well as minimally spelling Allen and Brian Robison.
2) Missed opportunities plagued the Vikings defense as it had to consistently make up for poor offensive play. Sherels dropped a sure interception by Manning on a telegraphed throw to receiver Victor Cruz. He made a break on the ball as Manning finishes his release, but simply drops what would have likely been an interception for a touchdown. That play on third down forced the Giants to punt for the fifth consecutive drive. Sherels muffed the ensuing return that set up Hillis' one-yard touchdown run two plays later.
On the opening drive, Giants tight end Larry Donnell fell down as Manning targeted him on a seam route down the middle. Sendejo was in position for the interception, but dropped it.
The Vikings missed two other interception opportunities as cornerback Josh Robinson made a break as Manning targeted receiver Hakeem Nicks on a comeback route down the sideline. Robinson meets Nicks at the ball and gets both hands on it but can't come up with the play. Manning threw a low pass to tight end Bear Pascoe to start the second half and Mitchell made a diving play to get his hands on the ball, but dropped it.
The Giants also had two fumbles that ended up back in their possession. Sanford's hit on Hillis in the second quarter jarred the ball loose, but Hillis was able to recover it after a gain of three yards. Cox fumbled a handoff late in the third quarter and the Vikings failed to come up with that as well.
3) Every week, we'll breakdown a sequence in the game that helped decide the outcome. Since the Vikings offense didn't score, there weren't many suspenseful moments. However, the Giants opening drive, once again, kept the Vikings defense on the field for nearly 10 minutes.
Last week, the Panthers had a 15-play, 62-yard drive that opened with a touchdown. This week, the Vikings allowed five first downs, including three third-down conversions, en route to the Giants' 17-play, 68-yard drive that ended through the arms of Nicks as he dropped a would-be touchdown pass from Manning over rookie cornerback Xavier Rhodes.
Williams appeared to be trying to prevent Manning from stretching the field as it looked like he called multiple zone schemes early on, which allowed the quarterback's six-yard scramble on 3rd-and-5, as well as a checkdown to Hillis for 12 yards on 2nd-and-9 to start. Mitchell made a series of good plays, getting in on five of his six tackles on this first drive as he stuffed Cox for a one-yard gain and then fell on the running back for a two-yard loss plays later. However, linebackers Chad Greenway and Erin Henderson whiff on consecutive plays, which allow a nine-yard pass to receiver Rueben Randle and a seven-yard run by Cox, respectively.
After Cox's run, Manning's receiver fell down and Sendejo dropped the would-be interception. The Vikings blitzed on the next play with Manning in a 3rd-and-3, but a quick dump-off pass to tight end Brandon Myers was just enough for the first down. Sanford had to come down in coverage and despite getting there quickly, could only wrap up the tackle for the first-down catch.
To start, Vikings defensive tackles Letroy Guion and Kevin Williams had little-to-no push and were blanketed by double-teams in the run game. Henderson exploded through the line to tackle Hillis for a gain of two on 1st-and-10, but Cox was able to squeeze up the middle for five yards on the following play. Rhodes played uncharacteristically soft as Nicks blew by him and dropped the would-be touchdown catch that forced the Giants to settle for three points.
4) Since topping the Cleveland Browns with more than 31 minutes in time of possession, the Vikings defense has been on the field for 36 minutes or more the past three games. On Monday night, the Giants had the ball for 36:22-of-60:00 despite seven three-and-outs on the game. They now average 25:49 minutes with the ball, which is the worst in the NFL. The Vikings defense allowed a nine-of-17 conversion rate on third down on Monday night as they allowed two drives of 16-or-more plays.
5) The Vikings started Sendejo in place of the injured Harrison Smith (foot), but also rotated safety Mistral Raymond into the position. Neither Sendejo (51) nor Raymond (23) provided much of a downgrade from Smith in terms of coverage, though it's a fair argument that Smith wouldn't have dropped the interception like Sendejo. However, with Smith out of the run game, Sanford has stepped up as the eighth man in the box. Sanford's 10 tackles were second-most on the team as he made multiple plays, including a forced fumble, to force minimal gains for the Giants.
Sherels (12) also split time with Robinson (61) at nickel cornerback. Robinson remains a starter in base defense, but Sherels was able to see double-digit snaps in nickel packages in place of Robinson. Both had pass deflections, including Sherels' dropped interception. The coaching staff has verbally stuck by Robinson as their answer in the slot, but with Sherels still seeing reps, it's obvious they want to get a look at other players in that position as well.
Game ball: Erin Henderson. Seven of Henderson's 12 tackles went for three yards or less as he put together his best game at the middle linebacker position. He whiffed on a few tackles in the run game, but appeared to slow down and set his feet better before making a tackle - as opposed to previous outings where he would put himself out of position by getting deeper than the ball. Henderson accounted for one of the two sacks on Manning. He leads the team in tackles with 54 combined and is second on the team with three sacks. He's also tied for the team lead with two interceptions next to Greenway and Smith.
Goat(s): Chris Cook. From game ball to goat, Cook allowed receptions on three of the four passes thrown his way, including the 24-yard touchdown to Randle. What made the touchdown so egregious was Cook's position. He deserves credit for putting himself in the right spot, but he shrinks as soon as Randle leaps for the ball. Cook also whiffed on a tackle of Cox, who was forced out of bounds by Sanford for a gain of two yards later in the game. He missed a tackle plays later as he hit Hillis with his shoulder, but the running back rolled off him for a gain of nine yards.