5 Key Matchups the Vikings Need to Win vs. the Giants
The Minnesota Vikings get their first playoff run since 2019 started with a home Wild Card game against the No. 6 seeded New York Giants. The matchup is one we saw just a few weeks ago, with the Vikings narrowly emerging victorious, 27-24, after a Greg Joseph 61-yard field goal sealed the victory. This time, we could very well see a repeat of that close contest, and here are 5 matchups that the Vikings need to win in order to earn another win.
Oli Udoh vs. Kayvon Thibodeaux
Oli Udoh is in a tough spot where he has to replace Pro Bowl level production after Brian O’Neill’s season came to an abrupt end after suffering a partially torn Achilles tendon in Week 17 against the Packers. Udoh infamously was penalty-prone in 2021 when he primarily played right guard, leaving a bad taste in the mouths of Vikings fans.
However, he was very much out of position at that spot. He played tackle during his college days, and he’s much more effective as a right tackle than as a guard. Over the past two weeks, he’s shown that, and in 131 snaps this season, he’s been penalized just once.
In the Vikings first playoff game since 2019, Udoh will play a massive role. He’s going to draw a number of snaps facing off with star Giants pass rusher and 2022’s fifth overall draft pick, Kayvon Thibodeaux.
The rookie has come on strong in recent weeks, recording 3.0 sacks in his last five games. He had a limited impact as a pass rusher because of O’Neill’s abilities in New York’s first game against the Vikings, and for Minnesota to get another win against this team, Udoh needs to replicate his protection.
Chris Reed vs. Dexter Lawrence
The second key matchup again involves the Vikings offensive line. Unless things drastically change in the coming days, it seems that Garrett Bradbury will be unable to go this Sunday against the Giants. Unlike O’Neill, though, the Vikings starting center did not play in the first game against them, either.
Instead, it was Austin Schlottmann who got the start against New York, and Dexter Lawrence wreaked havoc in the middle of New York’s defensive line. He didn’t get a sack, but Lawrence piled up 6 tackles, a TFL, a QB hit, and a pass defense. He played a big role in limiting Dalvin Cook’s impact in the running game.
Once again, though, the Vikings find themselves in a position where they are digging deeper into the depth chart to find production at center. Schlottmann is done for the year with a broken leg, and it is veteran Chris Reed who has taken snaps in his place.
Reed was atrocious in Week 17 against the Packers after having to jump in as an emergency center, but his performance against the Chicago Bears in Week 18 was much better. Chicago doesn’t have any stars on the interior of their defensive line, though, so Reed has a huge test in front of him this weekend.
Duke Shelley vs. Isaiah Hodgins/Darius Slayton
At the beginning of the season, if anyone said that Duke Shelley would not only be a starting CB for the Vikings, but one of the better players at the position in the entire league, they wouldn’t be taken seriously. Now, though, it’s a very real scenario that Shelley is playing some terrific football at outside CB for the Vikings.
Shelley was a practice squad addition after the Chicago Bears cut him, and after injuries knocked out the likes of Andrew Booth Jr., Cam Dantzler, and Akayleb Evans, Shelley has stepped up to play a crucial CB2 role in Minnesota.
Now, he’s appearing in his first career playoff game, and he, along with Patrick Peterson, will be assigned a wide receiver duo of Isaiah Hodgins and Darius Slayton for much of this game. In the first game, those two receivers caught a combined 12 of 18 targets for 168 yards and a touchdown.
Of course, not all this production lies on the shoulders of Shelley as the defense had multiple miscues across the board in this game. However, the Vikings need their new starting CB to shine when the lights are at their brightest this weekend.
Danielle Hunter vs. Evan Neal
When these two teams first matched up a few weeks ago, Danielle Hunter got the better of rookie right tackle Evan Neal a number of times. Hunter finished the day with 2.0 sacks, including a strip sack, and 5 tackles overall. He also had 4 QB hits in the game, constantly pressuring Daniel Jones.
The pressure that Jones faced needs to be replicated in this game if the Vikings hope to win. Minnesota recorded two of their three sacks in the first half of the game, and New York was limited to just seven points in that half.
Za’Darius Smith has clearly been hampered by injuries down the stretch of this season as his final 10 games do not come close to replicating his first seven. In the first game against New York, Smith had zero tackles but 3 QB hits. This left much of the actual production up to Hunter for the Vikings EDGE rushers, and that may be the case again this week.
Kevin O’Connell vs. Brian Daboll
This weekend is the battle of two first-year head coaches making their first appearances in the playoffs. It has unequivocally been a successful first campaign for both coaches no matter what happens on Sunday. However, if the Vikings want to win, they need their new leader to have a top-tier gameplan.
These two coaches have been the yin and yang to each other on the offensive side of the ball. Daboll’s Giants rank 26th in passing this year and 4th in rushing. Meanwhile, O’Connell’s Vikings rank 6th in passing and 27th in rushing.
The two teams have had very different philosophies all season long, and as a result, this game very well could come down to another nailbiter at U.S. Bank Stadium. For the Vikings to win, O’Connell needs to figure out how to get his offense rolling for three quarters and avoid the sputters that have often plagued Minnesota this season.
Josh Frey is a Class of 2020 graduate of The College of Idaho with a bachelor’s degree in Creative Writing. He also earned minors in History, Human Biology, and Journalism. When he’s not writing about the NFL, Josh enjoys marathon training, playing video games, or rooting for the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks. For more of his opinions, check out his Twitter account: @Freyed_Chicken.