Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is certain his defense is going to get a real test when it goes against the Giants offense on Monday night, saying New York is talented “across the board.”

The biggest challenge will come from quarterback Eli Manning, even though the two-time Super Bowl winner has had tremendous struggles in his career against the Vikings.

Zimmer talked about what he sees from Manning in terms of his quick release and ability to move the ball.

“Well he’s very good,” Zimmer said. “I don’t rate guys or rank guys or anything like that. But I mean, the guy has won two Super Bowls. He knows where to go with the ball, he gets it out quick. He’s got good footwork. He’s always a big challenge to play.”

Zimmer said he believes Manning is not only good with his release, but his ability to read the defense, something the Vikings will certainly try to disguise against the Giants on Monday.

“Knowing where you’re going to go with the football is important,” Zimmer said. “Obviously if you go back there and you drop it or whatever, it gives the defenders a little bit more of a chance. He’s got a great release, obviously. He’s got pretty good stock, comes from pretty good stock. He’s good.”

Manning entered Week 4 eighth in the NFL with 925 passing yards, and two of his receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Sterling Shepard, were in the top 20 in receiving yards. In addition, Victor Cruz appears to have returned to form after injury problems sidelined him most of the past two seasons.

“These guys can all run,” Zimmer said of the Giants receivers. “Shepard in the slot is very, very dangerous. They’ve got a lot of double moves with him. Obviously Beckham has got a lot of double moves, he’s quick and great run after the catch. Cruz too, Cruz made a big catch against New Orleans to win the ballgame there at the end. All those guys are really stop-and-start guys, but they all have deep speed.”

Still, Zimmer believes the Vikings defense is up for any team, and he talked about what a great benefit it is that the players are in their third year under the same defensive scheme.

“I definitely think it helps,” he said. “The terminology stays the same, the communication stays the same. I think knowing where guys are going to be and understanding where their assignments are and things they do. I think all that stuff is important. From the first day that I came in here, we’ve always met together as a defense. So they hear the same things over and over for three years.”

Wary of Vikings ‘D’

The Giants are aware they are about to face a great defense, and Beckham told the New York Post that this weekend.

“I don’t know if they’re the best defense in the league, but they’re one of them,” said the third-year star out of LSU. “We’ve got to come out and execute our game plan better than we ever have.”

The Giants entered Week 4 with the NFL’s sixth-rated offense at 396.7 yards per game. The Vikings defense was also ranked sixth, giving up only 296.0 yards per game.

Manning talked this week about what he sees from the Vikings defense.

“They’ll have their biggest test this week against a good front,” Manning said. “[They have] a couple of really special players. Our receivers have to get open at times. We have to run the ball well and get in good down and distance. It’s a combination of a lot of things. They have a good third-down blitz package. We have to be prepared for a lot of things.”

U lost in third quarter

The Gophers looked like the far superior football team for most of their 29-26 overtime loss at Penn State, outscoring the Nittany Lions 23-6 between the first, second and fourth quarters. But it was their failure to score in the third quarter as Penn State racked up 17 points that led to their eventual loss.

Gophers coach Tracy Claeys said the team simply can’t take a quarter off in Big Ten play.

“It was a great game and our kids competed hard and you can pull out several plays along the game, and the bottom line is we didn’t play well in the third quarter and they end up outscoring us 17-0 in the third quarter,” Claeys said Sunday. “But when you play in the conference and play road games, you have to play the whole game and we just didn’t get that done.”

The biggest difference came in the play of Nittany Lions quarterback Trace McSorley, who threw for 335 yards, including an 80-yard score in the third quarter that changed the momentum of the game.

“Gave up some big plays, and at the end of the day you give up the points, but no matter what, in the third quarter we have to score some points, too,” Claeys said. “Both sides of the ball are responsible, as well as I am, and it’s my job to make sure it doesn’t happen. But you watch games all the time and when momentum shifts at points in the game it’s hard to get it back. I do give our kids credit, we came back and battled and took the lead, we just couldn’t get it finished off.”

Jottings

• Maybe the best free agent Rick Spielman has signed in his five years as Vikings general manager is defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who is facing his old team Monday. Last year, Joseph had 57 tackles and five sacks, doing a great job both on the pass rush and stopping the run. In three games this season he has 18 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble.

• Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner said quarterback Sam Bradford has done a great job of getting a feeling of how his new team’s offense works. An area Bradford has also grown in lately is comfort in making calls at the line of scrimmage.

• Second-year defensive lineman Danielle Hunter has consistently made big plays, defensive coordinator George Edwards said. Hunter has three sacks, a safety and a fumble return for a touchdown. “He seems to be getting better from week to week,” Edwards said. “Understanding the pass-rush game, understanding the different things as far as the run. So we’re excited where he is right now and look forward toward him continuing to progress.”

• Vikings special teams coach Mike Priefer spoke of the great job Marcus Sherels has done returning punts, after the former Gophers walk-on scored his fourth career punt return touchdown last week at Carolina. “I think he has taken every punt the past six years,” Priefer said. “He has been a guy who has been very reliable — he always has been out there. And he is willing to learn and is willing to listen. He is willing to study the opposing team’s punter, their gunners, how they cover and what our objectives are.”

 

Sid Hartman can be heard weekdays on 830-AM at 7:40 and 8:40 a.m. and on Sundays at 9:30 a.m. shartman@startribune.com