Vikings put the clamps on Giants in 24-10 win to sail to 4-0: 5 things to know

Four games into the 2016 season, it’s tough to say that any team has been definitively better than the Minnesota Vikings. There’s no need to beat around the bush. This team is a Super Bowl contender and we all know why: the defense.

Mike Zimmer’s crew has the look of a unit that, much like the 2015 Broncos, can carry a team on its back all season. Zimmer took over a team that the year prior to his hiring ranked 31st in yards allowed, 32nd in points allowed, and 27th in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA. The Vikings have been steadily moving up the rankings in each of those categories, and are finally near the top of the NFL in all three this season.

Note: DVOA ranking is current through Week 3, yards and points through Week 4.

2013 31 32 27
2014 14 11 23
2015 13 5 14
2016 3 1 3

The Vikings on Monday night held the Giants, who came into the game with the NFL’s second-ranked offense in yards per game, to 339 yards and an average of just 5.4 per play, nearly a full yard worse than their average entering the contest (6.3). The Minnesota pass defense, in particular, was smothering, holding Eli Manning to a brutal line 25 of 43 for 261 yards (5.8 per attempt) and an interception on a bad miscommunication with Odell Beckham, who was also held in check all night.

Manning’s game was even worse than it looked, as he got 67 of those passing yards via a screen pass to rookie running back Paul Perkins, who basically created the entire play from nothing after catching the ball two yards behind the line of scrimmage. New York’s wide receiver trio — Beckham, Victor Cruz, and Sterling Shephard — came into the game having racked up more receiving yards than all but one other top three in the league, but they were each held to 50 yards in the air or fewer in this one. Beckham was held to a career-low three catches for 23 yards.

New York never seriously threatened to score on any drive other than the one that included Perkins’ catch and run. Anthony Barr was everywhere. Rhodes, Captain Munnerlyn, Terence Newman, and Trae Waynes were excellent in coverage. Linval Joseph clogged up the middle. Eric Kendricks and Danielle Hunter continued their breakout campaigns. Zimmer has this unit firing on all cylinders, at all three levels. It’s difficult to imagine any defense playing better than these guys are right now.

2. Dreadlock Ness Monster

There was a Cordarrelle Patterson sighting in Minnesota on Monday night! Patterson was last heard from when he was being hyped as a potential star playmaker for the Vikes before the 2014 and 2015 seasons, but he never grabbed hold of a real role on Norv Turner’s offense. After playing just 13 snaps during the first three weeks of this season, Patterson was on the field for 36 of the Vikings’ 74 offensive snaps on Monday. He hauled in five passes for 38 yards and was targeted by Sam Bradford six times. He was also motioned into the backfield and given the ball on a toss sweep. Maybe Minnesota does have a plan for him after all.

3. Solid Sam

Sam Bradford arrived in Minnesota eight days before the Vikings’ season opener. He didn’t start in Week 1 but has been under center for all three games since. His season line: 66 of 95, 719 yards, four touchdowns and most importantly, no turnovers.

Minnesota has not necessarily been explosive offensively (although that wasn’t the case tonight — more on that in a minute), but it has been efficient, and with a defense as good as the Vikings have, that’s all it really needs to be most of the time. Bradford has shown excellent chemistry with Stefon Diggs, who is turning into a star in his second season. Bradford and Diggs connected five more times on Monday after hooking up for 20 catches and 285 yards the last two weeks.

Also, speaking of looking like a Super Bowl contender, just a reminder that the Eagles stand to benefit even more if Bradford leads the Vikings to Houston for Super Bowl 51.

4. A mistake-filled evening

The Giants did not make things easy on themselves in this one. The mistakes began with a muffed punt by Dwayne Harris in the first quarter, and that turnover led to the Vikings’ first touchdown of the night. Ben McAdoo’s team took seven penalties (after taking 11 during last week’s loss to Washington) and he made two clock management errors in the first half.

With 5:08 to go in the second quarter, the Giants faced fourth-and-1 at their own 40-yard line. They came to the line of scrimmage and looked like they were preparing to go for it, but instead just tried to draw the Vikes offside. Fine. Most coaches aren’t going for it in that situation, even if the likelihood of success is fairly high. But the Giants also unnecessarily burned a timeout there rather than just taking the 5-yard penalty that was pretty meaningless if they were going to punt anyway.

Later, while driving in the two-minute offense, Eli completed a pass to Victor Cruz at the 17-yard line with 25 seconds to go in the half. The Giants had a timeout left, but elected to hurry up to the line instead of calling it. By the time Eli missed Cruz with another pass, there were only six seconds left and the Giants had to take a field goal instead of having an additional shot at a touchdown that could have cut the lead to 14-7 instead of 14-3.

Eli was picked off by Xavier Rhodes deep down the field in the third quarter, and should have been pick-sixed by Eric Kendricks (who dropped a ball thrown right into his stomach) late in the fourth.

5. Where’s the Giants defense from Weeks 1 and 2?

After two weeks, the Giants’ offseason defensive spending spree looked like it had paid huge dividends. The G-Men haven’t done quite as well the last two weeks, yielding 53 points to Washington and Minnesota. The Vikings had seven plays of 15-plus yards in this one, five in the air and one on the ground. Jerick McKinnon ran for 85 yards on 18 carries, including a 25-yarder. Charles Johnson had two big catches down the field. Kyle Rudolph seemed like he was open all night. The Vikings converted eight of 16 third downs and turned all three of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns. The Giants have to clean some things up defensively, starting with the health of their secondary.