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The Sports Xchange, Published October 21 2013

Freeman is focus of Giants in tonight's matchup with Vikings

If the New York Giants hope to get their first win of the season tonight against the Minnesota Vikings they must take care of the known and the unknown.

The unknown is quarterback Josh Freeman, signed by the Vikings two weeks ago after being cut by Tampa Bay. Vikings coach Leslie Frazier confirmed last Wednesday that he intends to start Freeman against the Giants.

The known is running back Adrian Peterson, and what the Giants know is he is not easy to stop.

If the Giants want film on Freeman, they will have to look at his games with Tampa Bay, where he was the No. 17 overall pick out of Kansas State 2009 and was the starter from 2010 through three games of this year.

Before Frazier confirmed Freeman would start, Giants coach Tom Coughlin said his team was preparing for all of the Vikings quarterbacks -- including Chistian Ponder and Matt Cassel.

"We've seen Ponder, we've seen Cassel, we saw Freeman a year ago." Coughlin said. "We prepared two different styles based on Cassel. The Vikings are going to do what is best for them. Leslie is going to make that call and obviously we'll tweak a little bit, what we do, based on it. You need to stop the run when you play the Vikings and they do have outstanding skill players as well. They do an outstanding job in the physical part of the game, both sides of the ball. You're going to have to be ready for that, no matter what."

And as for Freeman ...

" I do know he's a talented young man and we played against him when he was with Tampa a year ago and he played well," Coughlin added.

It is likely that the Vikings will simplify their demands on Freeman by asking him to get help from that known factor -- Peterson.

Since entering the NFL in 2007, Peterson has led the league with 9,332 rush yards and 81 rushing touchdowns.

"I think since he came into the league, he's had a chip on his shoulder," said Giants defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins on what makes Peterson such a unique running back.

"I had a chance to play against him a lot (in Green Bay), and you really see every year, every game, every time he's out on the field, he's determined," Jenkins added.

Middle linebacker Jon Beason agreed with his teammate's assessment.

"I always say he would have been a great defensive player -- a linebacker or a hard-hitting safety," Beason said. "He plays the game like you're supposed to, and makes it harder to contain him."

Where Peterson has been particularly difficult is in yards gained after contact. According to the website ProFootballFocus.com, 366 of Peterson's 483 rushing yards have come after contact, which is an NFL-best through six weeks.

Peterson has also been effective coming out of the backfield, catching 14 of 17 passes thrown his way for 73 yards, 69 of which have come after the catch.

With such a diverse threat in the Vikings backfield, the Giants know that it's going to take a collaborative effort to limit the damage that Peterson is capable of inflicting.

"You can control him," said Jenkins. "I've played against him and had some success against him before and I've also seen what happens if you don't. We've got to go in there, especially up front, (and) do a good job in trying to keep him from getting back to the second level."

The question is how does a defense try to control Peterson, who has rushed for an average of 138.7 yards and who has 15 touchdowns in his past 15 games.

"It's a big challenge on defense, but it has to be all 11 guys to the ball," Beason said. "He's so strong, so fast, and elusive that if you're not playing high-tempo, swarming to the ball, and gang tackling, that makes him tougher to contain."

SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. Vikings lead series, 13-9, and are 5-6 vs. New York on the road. This will be the fifth meeting between these two teams on Monday Night Football, with each team having won a pair of games. The last time these two teams met in the regular season was on Dec. 13, 2010, 17-3 Giants win at Ford Field in Detroit.

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NFL Team Report - New York Giants - NOTES, QUOTES

--Last week, the Giants running game turned to a familiar face in Brandon Jacobs to help provide the firepower in the wake of the neck injury suffered by starter David Wilson.

Jacobs rewarded the team's faith in him by recording the team's first 100-yard performance this season before suffering a hamstring strain that could potentially limit him in practice this week.

With the team having waived Da'Rel Scott injured -- Scott suffered a bad hamstring strain against the Bears last week -- the Giants' options for a change-of-pace back moving forward include newly signed Peyton Hillis, rookie Michael Cox, and fullback John Conner.

Cox, the team's seventh round draft pick this year, has not received any snaps on offense yet as he remains a work in progress, according to head coach Tom Coughlin.

"There are some things that I think right now we feel good about," Coughlin said of Cox. "There are other things not so (good), and we're working on the not so."

Coughlin wouldn't specify what the coaches' concerns were regarding Cox, but did hint that it has to do with pass protection.

"It's sophisticated and complex the things that are thrown at him, particularly in the protection area, so you've got to be careful," he said.

Cox admitted that there is a lot to be learned for a young running back in the Giants' offense, but he expressed confidence that he was on his way toward grasping enough of the basics to be effective.

"I feel like I'm ready to go, but obviously just working on everything, pass protection, just watching more film and the whole offense and everything," he said. "You have to be able to read the defensive fronts, the secondary, just everything kind of like a quarterback does."

Conner, the team's fullback, was signed to replace Henry Hynoski after he was placed on season-ending injured reserve with a fractured shoulder.

After two weeks of no snaps on offense, Conner made his debut as the team's lead blocker against the Bears and had a strong showing.

"I felt I was pretty productive as far as my role out there," Conner said. "There are always some things I can improve on, and I'm just watching film and correcting that in practice."

While the fullback doesn't get many opportunities to handle the ball in the Giants' offense, the concept isn't foreign to Conner.

In his two seasons with the New York Jets, the 5-11, 245-lb. Conner recorded 21 career rushes for 88 yards, a 4.2 average, and two rushing touchdowns. He also has four receptions for 18 yards.

"I've always been pretty versatile," Conner said. "People sometimes forget that me being a fullback, I actually can run a little bit."

The biggest thing, however, that Conner will need to show the coaches he can do in order to receive increased snaps is pass protect.

"The defense isn't just standing there-they're doing a whole bunch of stuff, so we have to pick up our keys on our side. That can be kind of difficult sometimes," he explained, adding, "After that, it comes down to technique."

The three-year veteran is hoping that his experience gives him the edge this week in practice.

"Once you've been around the league a little bit, you realize that everybody runs pretty much the same thing; it's just a different language," said Conner, who besides studying the Giants' playbook, has been doing extra film work to bring himself up to speed.

"I had some exposure to a similar system before, so it hasn't been too difficult for me to pick it up."

Hillis, the newcomer of the group, believes he can hit the ground running, no pun intended.

"From what I understand, a lot of the terminology is the same as it was in Tampa, and so it may be a quick process," Hillis said.

The reason for the similarities is that Mike Sullivan, the Bucs' offensive coordinator, used to be an assistant coach on the Giants staff.

"A lot of the plays are the same; it's just different terminology. As long as you get the terminology down, you'll be fine," Hillis added.

"Here though, it seems like it's the same as Tampa's, so it shouldn't be that big of a (transition)."

--With rumors swirling about the Giants reportedly looking to trade receiver Hakeem Nicks before the Oct. 29 deadline, Nicks said he's not worrying about the hearsay

"I ain't going to lie and say I haven't heard it, but I'm not buying into it," he said on Monday. "I'm more focused on what we're doing as a team right now to get this thing turned around."

Under current general manager Jerry Reese, the Giants have never traded away a player when the season was on progress. The last time the Giants are believed to have traded away a player was in 2007, when they sent running back Ryan Grant to the Green Bay Packers in exchange for a future sixth round draft pick just before the season started.

So would it make sense for the Giants, who at 0-6 are off to their worst start since 1976, to trade away perhaps their most valuable offensive asset outside of quarterback Eli Manning?

It might. The 25-year old Nicks, remember, is in the final year of his rookie contract.

While he is coming off an injury-filled 2012 season in which he had career lows in touchdowns (three), receiving yards (692), and receptions (53), some believe that Nicks has yet to reach his prime.

The Giants could decide to franchise Nicks next year, but they would have to devote upwards of $10 million to retain his rights for another season.

That's probably not a smart way to go for a team that has had trouble with its salary cap, and that has close to two dozen free agent contracts coming up after the season, including starting linebacker Jon Beason and starting defensive tackle Linval Joseph.

On the other hand, if the Giants did decide to part with Nicks before the trading deadline, a legitimate concern would be the ripple effect on the locker room.

Head coach Tom Coughlin, remember, is intent on winning every game, which is why in the 2007 regular season finale against the New England Patriots, he played his starters even though the game's outcome had no effect on their playoff seeding.

Because Coughlin wants to win, it would not be a stretch to say that he would be against subtracting the team's No. 1 receiver, who currently has 25 catches for 442 yards and no touchdowns.

Nicks, meanwhile, is going to go about his business and prepare for the Vikings, the Giants' next opponent.

"I'm sure they got enough respect for me to come and talk to me about a situation like that," Nicks says. "But as of right now, I'm a Giant. I'm going to continue to play for the Giants as long as I'm here."

BY THE NUMBERS: 6 -- Number of consecutive regular games in which the Giants have trailed at halftime.

QUOTE TO NOTE:"That hasn't crossed my mind at all." -- Giants head coach Tom Coughlin, when asked during a conference call with the Vikings media if he has considered benching struggling quarterback Eli Manning.

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NFL Team Report - New York Giants - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

With the depth at running back paper-thin--current starter Brandon Jacobs is nursing a hamstring strain that kept him out of Monday's practice while Da'Rel Scott was waived/injured--New York added veteran Peyton Hillis from a group that included ex-Giants Ryan Torain and Danny Ware.

Hillis, the Broncos' seventh round pick in 2008, was traded to the Browns after the 2009 season.

He had his breakout season in 2010, rushing for 1,177 yards on 270 carries and 11 touchdowns, while adding another 477 yards on 61 receptions for two more touchdowns.

Since then, Hillis has been unable to come anywhere close to matching that production. He left the Browns as a free agent after the 2011 season, spending a year with the Chiefs.

This year, he was briefly with the Bucs, but did not appear in any games.

"I firmly believe I never had too much of an opportunity after I left Cleveland," Hillis said in a statement released by the team. "I was behind Jamaal Charles at Kansas City. I didn't get too much playing time.

"I'm just here to do whatever I can to help the team win. I think that this is a good team that can turn it around."

PLAYER NOTES

--DT Markus Kuhn, who has been on the physical unable to perform (PUP) list while recovering from ACL surgery from last November, began a three-week window in which he can practice with the team. At the end of those three weeks, the Giants must leave Kuhn on PUP, activate him to the 53-man roster, or waive him.

--RB Andre Brown, who is currently on Injured Reserve/Designated to Return, began to work out with the team on Thursday. Brown will be eligible to return to the 53-man roster on Nov. 10 vs. Oakland, when the Giants return from their bye week.

--RB Peyton Hillis, who signed with the team on Wednesday, should be ready to go for New York on Monday night when they host the Minnesota Vikings.

"I think he can contribute right away," said head coach Tom Coughlin. "He's a veteran player and we expect that of him. Getting him ready and the opportunity to use him, that's two different things, but I think we can get him ready."

--RB David Wilson, who is out indefinitely with a neck ailment, is being brought along slowly to allow him the maximum time to recover.

"We just have to allow the time that's necessary for the complete and total medical analysis and evaluation," Coughlin said. "I don't know when that would be. There's been no magic number told to me. They're going to look at it continuously."

--QB Eli Manning is in no danger of being handed a seat on the bench, even if it's for a series.

"He's the guy," Coughlin said, addressing a follow up question that as first raised during his conference call with the Vikings media on Wednesday. "We're going to win again with Eli."

INJURY IMPATCT

--C David Baas (neck) was cleared to return to practice, and worked on a limited schedule. Baas is hoping to be in the starting lineup on Monday night.

--CB Jayron Hosley (hamstring) was limited in Thursday's practice. Hosley said that he's been taking things slowly so as to avoid any setbacks. He is most likely still a game or two away from returning.

--RB Brandon Jacobs (hamstring) was limited on Thursday. Jacobs expressed confidence that he'll be on the field playing against the Vikings on Monday night.

--TE Adrien Robinson (foot) was limited in Thursday's practice. Robinson is probably still a week or two away from getting on the field.

--S Cooper Taylor (shoulder) was limited. Taylor is currently the last safety on the Giants' four-man depth chart, and most likely won't play on Monday night even if he makes it through the entire week.

--CB Terrell Thomas (knee) did not practice on Thursday. Thomas remains on a managed practice schedule.

--CB Corey Webster (groin) returned to practice after missing the last four games. Webster's status for Monday night is still up in the air, pending how he comes through the rest of the week. Head coach Tom Coughlin said that Webster would be brought along "real slowly."

GAME PLAN: Although the Vikings have announced that Josh Freeman will be the starting quarterback on Monday night, the Giants defense will need to give everything they have to contain future Hall of Fame running back Adrian Peterson.

Peterson, who is averaging 4.7 yards per carry, presents a nice challenge for a Giants run defense that has allowed opponents an average of 3.9 yards per carry.

To ensure that Peterson doesn't deflate their collective will, the defensive ends need to do a much better job at protecting the edges, which they didn't always do last week against Matt Forte of the Bears.

On the offensive side, things start with quarterback Eli Manning, who is averaging one interception per 15.2 pass attempts. According to Pro Football Focus, six of his league-leading 15 interceptions were intended for receiver Rueben Randle, the second-year receiver.

With the Giants passing offense requiring numerous sight adjustments by both the receivers and quarterback, it might behoove the coaching staff to simplify things to help cut down on some of the guesswork that apparently isn't falling into place for Manning or his receivers.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Giants LT Will Beatty vs. Vikings RDE Jared Allen -- Allen, a five-time Pro Bowler, leads the Vikings with 3.5 sacks this season, and has 2.0 career sacks in three games against the Giants. Beatty has had a tough start to his 2013 season, giving up 4.0 sacks, 4 quarterback hits, and 19 pressures. Over the last two weeks, however, he's has played better, limiting his mistakes in the passing game to just three quarterback hurries.

Giants linebackers vs. Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph -- Rudolph's 21 receptions are just two behind team-leader receiver Jerome Simpson's 23, but the big tight end is tied for the team lead with two touchdowns. Opposing tight ends are averaging 9.9 yards per reception (34 catches for 337 yards) against the Giants linebackers in 2013, who have to do a better job in not leaving the middle of the field so wide open.