Pregame: Josh Freeman gets primetime debut in Vikings-Giants
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The Elias Sports Bureau confirmed to the St. Paul Pioneer Press that Monday night's matchup between the New York Giants (0-6) and the Minnesota Vikings (1-4) is the worst combined win percentage (0.09) at Week 7 or later of any two teams in the program's 44-year history.
That's what you'll see on the surface, but this game is really about the start of the Josh Freeman era for the Vikings and a chance to see where quarterback Eli Manning's basement lies if he continues his slump against arguably the worst secondary in football.
The Vikings have seven interceptions, two from a defensive back. That player, safety Harrison Smith, was placed on injured reserve-to return this week with a foot injury he suffered in a loss to the Carolina Panthers. Even with their best player in the lineup, the Vikings have allowed 308 passing yards per game (29th).
The Giants are coming off a mini-bye after losing 27-21 to the Chicago Bears almost two weeks ago on Thursday night football, while the Vikings are reeling from their worst home loss since former coach Brad Childress was fired after a 31-3 bludgeoning by the Green Bay Packers in 2010.
Both teams face the right recipe to potentially get a win and take a step in the right direction to turn their tumultuous seasons around. The Vikings' five passing touchdowns is the second-lowest in the NFL next to the Jacksonville Jaguars, while the Giants have allowed a league-leading 14 touchdown passes this season.
Manning's 15 interceptions are more than any other quarterback, but without Smith, the Vikings' remaining secondary members haven't combined to hit that mark in their careers, accounting for just 12 picks (six from newly added cornerback Jacob Lacey).
Let's take a look at the five key matchups heading into Monday night:
For the purple:
Josh Freeman vs. Giants defense - Under the Monday night lights, Freeman's first start for the Vikings will be up against a Giants defensive line that has forced a league-low five sacks in six games. Standing at 6-foot-6-inches in the pocket, Freeman should be able to withstand the pressure allowed by an unstable offensive line this season - even more so against the Giants' underwhelming front four pass rushers. Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul is questionable with an illness that forced him out of Friday's practice, while defensive tackle Shaun Rogers (knee) is questionable as well. Giants defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins will face the Vikings for the 14th time in his career, but for the first time since 2010, when he was a member of the Packers before departing after a seven-year stint. Jenkins has just 2.5 sacks in 13 games against the Vikings, including one on Monday night. Depending on the play calling, Freeman should get the adequate time and looks to stretch the field as the Giants secondary has just four interceptions to go with a NFL-leading 14 passing touchdowns allowed.
Defensive line vs. Eli - The Vikings defensive line has 11 pass deflections this season, with one player having no more than three (Jared Allen). From a collective effort, the line has forced at least three interceptions off deflections this season and could continue the trend against the turnover-prone Manning. The Vikings defensive line has more deflections than sacks (10) this season.
Adrian Peterson vs. Giants front seven -- Running back Adrian Peterson is coming off a season-low in carries (10) and yardage (61) as he didn't play in the fourth quarter against the Panthers. Peterson has played at MetLife Stadium just once, against the New York Jets in 2010, but in his most recent game against the Giants, he posted his third-lowest yards-per-carry average in his career. Three seasons ago, Peterson put up 26 yards on 14 carries (1.9ypc) in a 21-3 loss at the Metrodome. The Giants defense along with the Vikings offense doesn't resemble what both units looked like that season and Peterson should find more room to work with against a defense that allows 123 rushing yards per game this season.
For the blue:
Manning vs. Vikings secondary - Despite his struggles, Eli Manning is still a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback and is still facing the Vikings secondary in primetime. Manning's 220 career passing touchdowns ranks 23rd all-time among quarterbacks, fourth among active passers behind Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Oh, and he also still has receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz. Meanwhile, the Vikings secondary is on pace to break the franchise record of 4,225 yards surrendered in 2007. After allowing 13 touchdown passes through five games, the Vikings are last in the NFL in that category and are on pace to set the franchise mark with 41 passing touchdowns allowed. And those marks were with Smith anchoring the secondary. Cornerback Jacob Lacey was re-signed this week and has six career interceptions. Coach Leslie Frazier said Lacey will be active and 'ready to roll' as he took part in the team's offseason workouts and training camp before getting cut on Aug. 19.
Hillis/Jacobs vs. Vikings run D - The Giants signed once-Madden cover boy Peyton Hillis last week, but since running back Brandon Jacobs is questionable with a hamstring injury, it appears likely that Hillis will play. Jacobs appeared to fix the Giants rushing attack, which is likely missing starter David Wilson (neck) for the year, as he racked up 106 yards on 22 carries in the loss to the Bears. But as he's slowed by his hamstring, Hillis will likely get reps despite recently joining the team as former Giants assistant Mike Sullivan is the offensive coordinator at his former team Tampa Bay. Hillis is just three years removed from rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns as Cleveland's premiere back.
Doubtful - CB A.J. Jefferson (ankle)
Questionable - LT Matt Kalil (back), WR Rodney Smith (hip)
Probable - K Blair Walsh (hamstring), RB Adrian Peterson (hamstring), CB Xavier Rhodes (ankle), DT Kevin Williams (knee), WR Jarius Wright (ankle), TE Rhett Ellison (knee), QB Christian Ponder (ribs), C John Sullivan (hand), DE Jared Allen (ankle).
Out - CB Jayron Hosley, RB David Wilson
Questionable - RB Brandon Jacobs, DE Jason Pierre-Paul, TE Adrien Robinson, DT Shaun Rogers, S Cooper Taylor
Probable - C David Bass, CB Terrell Thomas, CB Corey Webster
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.