COMMENTARY | The Minnesota Vikings' bad season got worse in Week 6 as they were pounded by the Carolina Panthers 35-10 at Mall of America Field. The loss may have been considered surprising, but it really shouldn't have been since the other win for Carolina came against the Vikings' Week 7 opponent.
At 1-4, it seems like the Vikings would be grateful to face the 0-6 New York Giants. Like Minnesota, New York has not lived up to their preseason expectations. Many questions surround the long-term direction of each franchise and this Monday Night Football matchup will be crucial for both teams wanting to establish momentum.
A win for the Giants and they get off the six-game losing streak in order to try and make an improbable run in a weak NFC East. But, the Vikings may need the win more as they could try and make their own run with new quarterback Josh Freeman.
These factors will determine which slumping team will get the victory in Week 7.
Josh Freeman's Debut
Since he signed with the Vikings on October 6, Freeman's debut has been highly anticipated in the sense that the quarterback play in Minnesota has been that bad.
Freeman didn't light the world on fire in his first three games with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He completed 46.3 percent of his passes and was thrown into Greg Schiano's doghouse after missing several team meetings and losing all three games. Schiano would jettison Freeman in favor of rookie Mike Glennon and the Vikings swooped in to sign Freeman upon his release on October 3.
At age 25, there's a possibility that Freeman has some good football left in his powerful right arm. In the first 13 games of 2012, he threw for 25 touchdowns and eight interceptions before the wheels came off with nine picks in the final three games. He also threw for 4,000 yards in a season that put his career stats on par with Detroit's Matthew Stafford coming into this year.
The question the Vikings need to figure out is what happened to Freeman that caused him to fall out of favor with his old coaching staff. He has responded since coming to Minnesota as he's picked up the playbook fast enough to make his first start roughly two weeks after signing with the team, but it remains to be seen how that motivation will translate on the field.
If his sudden decline was a result of a toxic environment, the Vikings could have a steal and a new quarterback of the future. If his decline was a natural regression, they'll be looking in the 2014 NFL Draft for a solution.
Victor Cruz vs. Josh Robinson
Robinson has been one of the most abused cornerbacks in the league through the Vikings' first five games. Quarterbacks have completed 37 of 42 targets in his direction this season and Leslie Frazier tried to solve the problem by moving him into the slot during the loss to Carolina.
After giving up two touchdowns on four targets in that effort, Robinson faces another stiff test when he goes up against Cruz.
Tied for fifth in the league with 60 targets through six games, Cruz has evolved into one of the game's dangerous slot receivers after being undrafted out of Massachusetts. He already has struggling quarterback Eli Manning's trust, and that could extrapolate to a massive night if he's constantly running away from Robinson's shadow all night long.
The Vikings need to find a way to slow down Cruz if they want to win this game. If the matchup gets out of hand early, Frazier will need to pull the plug quickly and replace him with special teams dynamo Marcus Sherels before it's too late.
Bill Musgrave's Play Calling
There has been a lot of heat on the Vikings' offensive coordinator for the lack of efficiency in the early part of the season, but that flame grew into an inferno after his performance against the Panthers as Musgrave decided to roll out a 47-to-13 pass-to-run ratio in Week 6.
While a lot of that had to do with the Vikings playing from behind for a majority of the game, it doesn't excuse the fact that instead of using his All-World running back he decided to put the game in the hands of Matt Cassel, who predictably failed.
It's a troubling pattern for "Wild Bill" as he hasn't found a way to figure out the weapons he has on offense.
There's plenty of explosion in the team's receiving corps, a between-the-hashes receiving threat for a tight end and...oh, yeah...that really good running back in the backfield and Musgrave doesn't know how to make them hit their stride.
With a new quarterback at the helm, it's unlikely that we'll see the types of plays that make fans (and opposing defenses) go "What just happened?" But, Musgrave has to do something. His team is 1-4 and his job could be on the line if the weak Giants defense shuts the offense down for the second consecutive week.
The Defensive Line's Ability to Get Pressure on Eli Manning
One of the biggest reasons for the Vikings' 1-4 start has been the lack of quarterback pressure generated by the defensive line. A unit that ranked 5th in the NFL with 44 sacks a season ago has struggled to produce the same results with ten in their first five games.
What's surprising is that the unit, which ranks 28th so far in 2013, is full of guys playing out contract years. Even with that added incentive, there's no pressure on opposing quarterbacks and that's allowing the young secondary to get picked apart.
Against the Giants, the defensive line will face a similar test to the one they saw in Week 4 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In that game, the Vikings recorded five sacks against an offensive line that was decimated by injury and littered with mediocre talent.
The Giants are in the same position as they've suffered injuries to three starters over the course of the season. While David Diehl returned in Week 5 and David Bass is expected to be cleared for this game, the unit also lost Chris Snee for the season after hip surgery.
With two guys at less than 100 percent and one glaring hole at guard, there is no reason why the Vikings can't flex their muscles and put Manning on his back.
Which Team Wants It More?
It's no secret that both the Giants and Vikings are in the midst of disappointing seasons. If they want to use the slim chance that they can turn their season around, one team has to win this game. That's why there could be plenty of risks taken on Monday Night Football.
As previously mentioned, the Vikings are turning to their new quarterback in hopes that he can't possibly be worse than Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel. A favorable approach for Week 7 might be to throw the kitchen sink at the Giants and hope that they've been beaten enough this season that they'll quit.
But the Giants will be desperate too. Like the Cleveland Browns in their Week 3 victory over the Vikings, the Giants are thinking "What possibly could go wrong?" and may resort to fake field goals, punts and other crazy plays that might make the Viking coaching staff scratch their heads in amazement.
The Vikings need to prove that they want to save their season. They've had several opportunities in recent weeks, but the time to start producing wins is now. If they can get a win against the Giants, it's a chance to build momentum as they make trips to Dallas, Green Bay, Baltimore and Cincinnati in the second half.
If the Vikings produce another clunker, it's time to officially bury 2013.
Chris Schad is a lifelong Vikings follower that has seen triumph and heartbreak for the franchise over 27 seasons. His work has also been published on Bleacher Report and Pro Football Spot. You can follow him on Twitter @crishad.
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