By Curt Macysyn
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The easiest way to understand the shortcomings of the Minnesota Vikings is to point out that the team has started eleven different quarterbacks since the Giants drafted Eli Manning in 2004. This year, the Vikings are already onto their second quarterback in Matt Cassel, who performed well in the team’s victory against the Pittsburgh Steelers (34-27) in London. Cassel got the start across the pond because incumbent quarterback Christian Ponder was nursing sore ribs. Ponder was active on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers and watched Cassel perform poorly in a 35-10 loss in Minneapolis but does not appear likely to get his old job back anytime soon.
Cassel threw an interception on the opening drive, and added another in the fourth quarter as he was unable to lead the Vikings on a touchdown drive until late in the final period, when he hit tight end Kyle Rudolph from 23 yards out after the outcome was already decided. Since neither Cassel nor Ponder has won the quarterback competition, the Vikings brass signed recently deposed Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman this week. Vikings head coach Leslie Frazier has not named a starter for the Giants game, and he hinted that Freeman may be in the mix to get the nod in New York.
Minnesota still has steady Adrian Peterson, who played on Sunday with a heavy heart because his two-year old son died of injuries from a domestic violence incident in South Dakota late last week. Peterson returned to the team on Sunday and carried the ball 10 times for 62 yards. Peterson remains fourth in the NFL in rushing with 483 yards on the ground and five touchdowns. Despite the presence of Peterson, the Vikings rank only 13th in rushing in the NFL.
The Vikings jettisoned oft-injured receiver Percy Harvin to Seattle in exchange for three draft picks, and because of another trade with New England, Minnesota actually had three first round picks in the 2013 NFL draft. Unfortunately, none of the three players they selected, Sharrif Floyd, Xavier Rhodes and Cordarrelle Patterson, have cracked the starting lineup. Patterson is the Vikings kick return specialist and averages a gaudy 33.8 yards per kick. He has a 105-yard return for a touchdown this season.
To take Harvin’s place, the Vikings signed former Green Bay Packer Greg Jennings. Jennings has 20 catches and two touchdowns on the season. Jerome Simpson has the most receptions on the team with 23 but with no touchdown catches. Steady tight end Kyle Rudolph has 21 catches and two scores this year.
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Defensively, the Vikings rely on veteran linebackers Erin Henderson and Chad Greenway. Henderson has 40 tackles on the season, while Greenway has accumulated 43 tackles this year. Both players have two interceptions and lead the team. Safety Harrison Smith also has two interceptions, but injured his foot on Sunday and is questionable against the Giants.
Veteran defensive end Jared Allen leads the Vikings with 3.5 sacks. Allen did not record a quarterback sack against the Panthers after collecting 2.5 sacks against the Steelers in Minnesota’s previous game. Immovable force Kevin Williams patrols the inside for the Vikings, and the 11-year veteran from Oklahoma State has an interception to his name this year.
Rookie Jeff Locke replaced the vocal Chris Kluwe as punter this year. The former UCLA Bruin averages 46.6 yards per punt, and Locke’s net average of 42.2 yards per punt is sixth in the NFL. Blair Walsh is a hidden gem in Minnesota, the former Georgia Bulldog has missed only one field goal attempt this year, in 10 tries, and he has never missed an extra point in his two-year NFL career.
Last week, the Vikings signed former Giants defensive end Justin Trattou. Trattou was an undrafted free agent in 2011 who made the Giants 53-man roster out of training camp this year and performed mostly on special teams. He was waived on October 8 to make room for running back Da’Rel Scott.
Multiple reports indicate that the Giants are looking at former Cleveland Browns running back Peyton Hillis. Starter David Wilson is out with a neck injury, while Brandon Jacobs injured a hamstring against the Bears last week. Backup running back Da’Rel Scott also injured his hamstring against Chicago on Thursday, leaving rookie Michael Cox as the only healthy running back. Cox was a seventh round draft pick out of the University of Massachusetts.
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Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past two seasons for Examiner.com. Born and raised in northern New Jersey, Curt has followed and covered the New York Metropolitan sports scene for 35 years. He attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, NJ and is a graduate of Rutgers University, New Brunswick. His work can be found on Examiner.com.