Depleted linebacking corps could spell trouble for New York Giants

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 18: Linebacker Alec Ogletree #52 of the New York Giants made an interception and scores a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 18, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 18: Linebacker Alec Ogletree #52 of the New York Giants made an interception and scores a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the third quarter at MetLife Stadium on November 18, 2018 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) /

The New York Giants defense is going to have to dig deep in an effort to limit the explosive Minnesota Vikings offense with the barrage of injuries to its linebacking corps.

A great deal of attention has been focused on the injury status of super-human runningback Saquon Barkley, as he defies all odds working his way back from a severe ankle injury in record time. Despite the incredible progress, Barkley has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Vikings. That said, injuries to the linebacker group may prove to be the undoing of the Giants in what is a highly anticipated matchup against a playoff-contending Vikings team.

The Giants lost rookie linebacker Ryan Connelly to a season-ending ACL tear during last week’s game against the Washington Redskins. Connelly, the fifth-round draft pick by the Giants in last year’s draft, was shining as the Giants starting inside-linebacker this season. Through four gamed the former Wisconsin Badger had amassed 20 tackles, one sack, two pass deflections and two interceptions. His play in coverage was exceptional, as the Giants look to have found an absolute gem in the later rounds of the draft. Unfortunately, Big Blue will have to wait until next season to watch Connelly progress into a potential franchise middle linebacker.

In addition to the Giants lacking Connelly, Alec Ogletree will also miss the Minnesota game due to a hamstring injury. Through three games, Ogletree has 13 tackles  and 3 pass deflections. The starting inside-linebacker missed last week’s game against the Washington Redskins as well.  Ogletree supposedly excels in coverage at the linebacker position. While he has struggled-mightily this year, last year, Ogletree had five interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns. His presence against the Vikings could be sorely missed when you factor in who will be replacing him.

Tae Davis, the second-year undrafted free agent linebacker out of Chattanooga, will also miss the game against the Vikings with a concussion. Davis played in 14 games last year and three games this year, and has been a solid backup and contributor to the Giants linebacking corps.

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Adding insult to injury (pun intended), outside-linebacker Lorenzo Carter is questionable for Sunday’s game due to a neck injury. Carter has shown promise as a pass-rusher from the outside-linebacker position, tallying four and a half sacks since coming into the league last season. Carter, in his second season with the Giants, was drafted in the third-round out of Georgia in last year’s draft.  He, along with Oshane Ximines and Connelly, is expected to be a cornerstone of the Giants linebacker group moving forward.

With the noted injuries to all of these linebackers, the Giants will go with a combination of Markus Golden, Ximines, Tuzar Skipper and Josiah Tauaefa (who was promoted from the practice squad this week) as their starting linebacking group. David Mayo, Nate Stupar and Chris Peace (picked up off of waivers this week by the Giants) will round out the remaining available linebackers against the Vikings.

Playing any NFL team with a linebacking corps that is this depleted poses a challenge. However, given the recent turmoil surrounding Minnesota and its elite wide-receiving group and the proposed solution provided by Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer, the injuries could prove to be a death blow to the Giants chances to upset the Vikings this week. Following a Viking 16-6 loss to the Bears, Vikings receivers Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs expressed their extreme displeasure about a lack of targets in the offense this season. Diggs is reportedly demanding a trade and even went as far as referencing the great job  that former offensive coordinator and current Giants head coach, Pat Shurmur did assuring that all the wide-receivers got an adequate amount of touches when he was in Minnesota.

Following the reports that his wide- receivers were disgruntled about their offensive opportunities, Zimmer stated that they would be targeted much more against the Giants. This, coupled with the injuries at linebacker for the Giants, could spell disaster, as the passing game of the Vikings features a lot of short to intermediate passing to wide -receivers, as well as heavy reliance on tight ends across the middle. The big play potential of Thielen, Diggs and Kyle Rudolph does not bode well for a New York linebacking group missing its best coverage linebackers, and four linebackers in general.

Given the youth and inexperience of the Giants, who are in the midst of the first year of a roster rebuild, it was likely that New York was facing an uphill battle in their attempt to upset the Vikings this week as it was. Given the plethora of injuries to Barkley and the linebacking corps, this task became that much more difficult. With any luck, Wayne Gallman (dealing with a neck injury of his own) can continue to fill in admirably for Barkley and the return of Golden Tate from suspension will give the Giants an added boost on offense, allowing them to put up enough points on a stingy Vikings defense that they will have a chance at victory this week.