EAGAN — Since Mike Zimmer took over the Minnesota Vikings in 2014, they have matched up twice with the New York Giants.
Both times Zimmer’s defense gave Eli Manning fits. Combined, Manning went 0-2 vs. Zimmer with 40-for-74 passing, one touchdown, four interceptions and a 57.0 rating. But this time around Zimmer and the Vikings’ defense will be facing rookie quarterback Daniel Jones, who has gotten off to a strong start with back-to-back wins in his first two games.
Overall the former Duke quarterback has a 69.0% completion, 8.1 yards per attempt, three touchdowns, two interceptions and a 95.9 rating. He led an 18-point comeback against the Tampa Bay Bucs in his first start and handily defeated Washington last week.
Zimmer has been impressed.
“Daniel Jones, obviously, is a very, very talented kid, I think he’s a really good player,” Zimmer said. “I think he’s going to be a great player. He’s got an outstanding arm. He’s got good feet in the pocket. He moves well, he scrambles, and right now it looks like he’s playing pretty free, that nothing really affects him. He’s turned the ball over a couple times, but it hasn’t affected him. Fourth-and-5 to win the ballgame against Tampa Bay, he scrambled in for the touchdown, and they were playing a double-double coverage.”
“He scrambled several times to get out of an issue,” Zimmer added. “There was one time he got pressure from the right side and avoided to the left and threw a pass down to about the 3-yard line. He’s really accurate, too. He threw some great balls in the preseason. I really like what this kid’s doing.”
Daniel Jones ➡️ CLUTCH! 📈#NYGvsTB
— PFF (@PFF) September 22, 2019
Jones has largely succeeded on the back of quick throws. He’s gone 1-for-7 throwing downfield more than 20 yards, which makes up 9.9% of his attempts (29th of 34 QBs according to PFF).
Giants head coach Pat Shurmur said the trend is likely to continue against the Vikings, who sport one of the NFL’s most impressive pass rushes with Danielle Hunter tied for the NFL lead in pressures with Khalil Mack and Everson Griffen ranking fifth.
“When he drops back to pass he’s going to face a pass rush that you don’t always face,” Shurmur said. “These guys are outstanding. I’ve seen it first hand and if you hold the ball you get yourself in trouble. [Jones] is young and aggressive but the important thing is that we have to present him with clean progressions so he can make quick decisions and get the ball out of his hands.”
Jones hasn’t faced anything like the Vikings defense thus far. The two teams that he defeated rank 31st and 19th in passing yards allowed.
Neither Zimmer or Shurmur would suggest that they have an advantage from their time together in Minnesota but the Giants’ head coach was lauded for the Vikings’ success in 2017 when they reached the NFC Championship with backup quarterback Case Keenum at the helm. Last year Shurmur’s Giants finished the year 11th in passing yards and tied for 11th in yards per attempt.
If Jones benefits from the same type of offensive efficiency, New York could bounce back from a slow start to the season.
“You’re always looking for the things…your quarterback can execute the best, depending on what type of guy you have, you try to tailor your offense for those things,” Shurmur said. “You just can’t say: ‘here are my 100 favorite plays’ and make everybody do it. You have to maximize and use the talent.”
While Shurmur has maximized the talents of quarterbacks in the past, rookies facing Zimmer’s defenses rarely have success. Per Pro-Football Reference, rookies are 3-10 against the Vikings since 2014. Only one first-year QB has gained over 250 yards passing vs. the Vikings under Zimmer and that was Tennessee’s Marcus Mariota, who posted just 16 points in the 2016 opener.
“The first thing I always remember is a rookie quarterback has won a lot of games,” Zimmer said. “Typically all these guys have won. We treat them with the utmost of respect. And I feel like this guy is no different. We have to treat him with the utmost of respect and treat him like he’s an All-Pro guy.”
It might not be easy for the rookie on Sunday but Shurmur believes Jones has the mental makeup to be successful in the NFL.
“I think he has toughness and poise,” the former Vikings OC said. “That’s primary in our sport especially when you’re playing a position like quarterback which is a position of authority on the field. He’s got it.”