Well, it’s still, technically, football on Monday night in New York as the 1-4 Minnesota Vikings face the 0-6 New York Giants.
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported this week the combined 1-10 record will be the worst winning percentage for a “Monday Night Football” game in history this deep into the season, a stretch that dates back to the debut of “Monday Night Football” in 1970 and includes 684 games.
When this matchup was announced in the offseason, Minnesota was coming off a playoff appearance and New York was one game behind the Wild Card Vikings last year, with two recent Super Bowl championships to its credit.
Minnesota and the Giants aren’t thinking of this game as a clunker. The Vikings and Giants need wins and don’t want their seasons to devolve any further. Here’s five things to watch as the Vikings begin a string of three games in four weeks in primetime:
1. Freeman and the future?
For Minnesota, all eyes will be on quarterback Josh Freeman. Signed just two weeks ago, Freeman will start Monday night and has the chance to secure the starting spot the rest of the season. The Vikings signed Freeman to give him a trial run as the starter and see if he can offer some stability at the position. He’s the third starting quarterback for Minnesota in four games. Christian Ponder, who entered the season as the undisputed starter, will be the backup. Matt Cassel, who started the past two games, is the third quarterback and likely will be inactive.
Freeman is trying to re-establish himself in the league and help the Vikings solve the quarterback position. Freeman was once believed to be the Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise quarterback. He’s 6-foot-6, 248 pounds and has a big, strong arm. Maybe Freeman can help Minnesota’s passing game, which ranks 21st in the NFL, and get more out of the team’s improved receivers. Freeman likes to attack downfield. There was a reason Freeman was available though, after run-ins with the Tampa Bay staff and coach Greg Schiano. Freeman had started 59 of 60 possible games for the Buccaneers before being benched prior to Week 4. He had 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions last season before throwing nine interceptions and two touchdowns in the final three weeks. He now has four touchdowns and 12 interceptions over his last six starts.
2. Keeping Peterson in the game
While the focus is on Freeman, the best thing for Minnesota and the new quarterback will be getting Adrian Peterson going. Peterson was taken out of the game last week because of the big deficit and backup Toby Gerhart played more in the second half with the Vikings sticking mostly to the passing game. Peterson finished with just 10 carries for 62 yards, the fewest carries he’s had in a game since a 42-20 loss on Dec. 18, 2011.
Peterson, listed as probable with a hamstring injury, is ahead of his pace through five games from last year as he was returning from knee surgery. He had 23 carries for 140 yards two games ago in Minnesota’s lone win. The Vikings will need Peterson to control Monday night’s game, as well. The Giants are 26th in the league against the run, allowing 123.3 rushing yards a game. More Peterson would go a long way to help Minnesota improve its efficiency.
3. Where are the sacks
The Vikings and Giants have been known over the years for their defense and ability to pressure the quarterback. New York has had several top pass rushers breakthrough for big seasons, and still has Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka. Yet, the Giants are last in the NFL with just five sacks this season. Kiwanuka leads the team with 1.5 sacks.
Meanwhile, Minnesota has also struggled to get opposing quarterbacks on the ground with Jared Allen, Brian Robison and Everson Griffen. The Vikings are tied for the fourth-fewest sacks in the league this season with 10. Allen has a team-leading 3.5 sacks through five games.
The onus will be on two offensive lines who have struggled, respectively. New York has allowed 16 sacks, tied for the 12th most in the league. Minnesota’s offensive line has not met expectations in pass or run blocking and is tied for 18th with 14 sacks allowed. Left tackle Matt Kalil also missed the last two days of practice with a back injury and is listed as questionable.
4. Always the turnovers
The Vikings always point to turnover-margin and this season is no different. Minnesota has been better at getting takeaways than it has been in recent seasons, but the success has been undone with the amount of turnovers on offense. The Vikings are even in turnover-margin this season, tied for eighth in the league with 12 takeaways, but tied for sixth with 12 turnovers. Minnesota has lost two games in which it has had four takeaways. The only game the Vikings have avoided turnovers was the season’s lone win against Pittsburgh.
New York’s season has been defined by its turnovers. The Giants have a league-high 23 turnovers, eight more than the closest team. Quarterback Eli Manning has thrown a league-high 15 interceptions, four more than Carson Palmer. Minnesota, without safety Harrison Smith, doesn’t have an interception this season from any defensive back on the active roster. New York has lost seven fumbles as well. The Giants have generated just seven takeaways for a league-worst minus-16 turnover margin.
5. Manning without the support
While Freeman has Peterson to take pressure off him, Manning doesn’t have the same support from his running game. Brandon Jacobs, who surprised with 106 yards and two touchdowns last week, suffered a hamstring injury and didn’t finish last week’s game. Jacobs was a limited participant in practice earlier this week before missing the final day of practice with a reported setback and he’s now listed as questionable.
New York is already without No. 1 running back David Wilson, who has a neck injury. If Jacobs isn’t able to play, the Giants only have Peyton Hillis, signed this week, and rookie Michael Cox, a seventh-round draft pick. New York’s running game ranks 30th in the NFL in this year.