New York Giants starting safety Xavier McKinney put on his best poker face when speaking about his secondary’s upcoming matchup with Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson.
NJ Advance Media noted Mckinney was all smiles when asked about Jefferson ahead of the two teams’ Super Wild Card Weekend matchup on Sunday. He is confident the Giants can stop the league’s leading wide receiver after surrendering 133 receiving yards to him in a Week 16 loss to the Vikings.
“Yeah, he’s been shut down before,” McKinney told NJ Advance Media, adding that Jefferson has been brought down to earth at times this season.
“Just how he puts on all his [clothes], we do the same thing,” McKinney said. “We’ve got really good [defensive backs]. I’m not worried about it at all. He’s a good player. He’s going to make plays. But he’s not somebody that we haven’t seen be stopped before. We’ve seen it. I’ve seen it. So we’ll be all right. He’s human just how we’re human. So that’s how we treat it.”
Mckinney was out with a hand injury when the Giants fell 27-24 on Christmas Eve at U.S. Bank Stadium. New York was also missing their No. 1 cornerback, Adoree’ Jackson, who is expected to practice this week after missing the past seven weeks with a knee injury.
The bad news for the Giants is that 133-yard game by Jefferson isn’t as bad as it could get. It was a routine outing for the third-year start that ranks seventh-highest single-game total this season. Jefferson has gone for 223, 193, 184, 154, 147 and 139, while he’s been held under 50 yards six times this season.
Jackson was graded as the 12th-best outside cornerback in the NFL this season by Pro Football Focus (PFF), making his matchup with Jefferson one to watch on Sunday.
Giants’ Biggest Strength Could Bite Them vs. Vikings
No team has played more man coverage than the Giants this season, which led to their defense being too predictable to offenses.
But in Week 16, New York defensive coordinator Wink Martindale went away from his tendencies and deployed Cover 1 on only 8.5 percent of defensive snaps — well below their season average of 30.7 percent in all other games, per The Athletic. Jefferson still excelled, securing 12 catches for 133 yards and a touchdown on 16 targets, however, he’s been a cheat code when facing man coverage this season.
With the return of McKinney and Jackson, the Giants could go back to their old tendencies and play more man coverage to complement their defensive front that blitzes more than any team in the league at a 39.7% rate.
However, if Jefferson breaks away from man coverage, he’ll be an effective blitz beater and for easy gains throughout the game.
The Giants appear damned if they do and know they’re damned if they don’t after playing Jefferson soft last go-around. But if they can pressure Kirk Cousins behind a patchwork offensive line, they could force enough turnovers to swing a win in their favor.
Cousins getting the ball out quickly and precisely will be the biggest factor in avoiding that scenario.
Justin Jefferson Addresses ‘Disappointing’ End to Season
With two games remaining in the regular season, Jefferson was well in reach of both breaking Calvin Johnson‘s single-season receiving yards record and becoming the first player to surpass 2,000 receiving yards in a single season.
But an abysmal showing by the Vikings in their 41-17 loss to the Green Bay Packers effectively zapped Jefferson’s chances of reaching either goal. He was held to a career-low 15 receiving yards as the Packers sold out to stop him.
The Vikings played Jefferson for a half in their season finale against the Chicago Bears. He caught four passes for 48 yards, setting his season totals at 128 catches and 1,809 receiving yards — both career highs and NFL-leading marks this season.
However, Jefferson had his sights on the 2,000-yard milestone and admitted it was a disappointing finish to the season.
“It’s tough,” Jefferson said, per ESPN. “but I feel like I reached my main goal. My main goal was 1,800, coming off 1,600 last year. Of course I wanted to exceed that goal and get to 2,000. But it’s just another opportunity for next year, something to strive for. But as long as we’re in the playoffs, as long as we keep fighting and having extra games, it doesn’t really matter. I feel like I did a lot for this team this season, doing whatever I needed to do when the ball was in the air and touched my hands. It’s disappointing individually, but there’s so much more to fight for than this record.”