Approach to the Game – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, October 30, 2005: Without any previous context to draw from, it is difficult for me to project what kind of emotional state the New York Giants players will be in on Sunday afternoon. The romantic warrior scenario would be for the Giants to go out there and just “Win One More for the Duke,” but the real world does not often emulate the ideal.
It’s been a long week. Wellington passed away on Tuesday morning. His funeral is on Friday. The emotional equilibrium of the regular practice week, not to mention the routine, has been disrupted. For better or worse, Mara’s death has been a distraction. Will that take a toll on the playing field on Sunday? Or will the Giants use Wellington’s memory to help inspire them to play with renewed intensity and purpose?
We all may have opinions on this matter, but none of us will really know the answer until Sunday.
Giants on Offense: This will be one of the Giants’ most difficult defensive opponents this season. The Redskins’ defensive coordinator is arguably the best in football and he has an outstanding defensive staff supporting him. While the Redskins have some excellent personnel on defense, their total overall performance exceeds the sum of the individual parts. Where the Redskins have been somewhat vulnerable this year is giving up the big play. The Giants need to be patient and not get flustered. The offense production may come in fits and starts.
The Redskins’ defense is stingy, being fourth in the NFL in yards allowed and fourth in the NFL in passing yards allowed. “They’re a good defense,” said WR Plaxico Burress. “They get after it, try to confuse you which side the blitz is coming from. We just hope we can pick it up and make plays. They’ve got a lot of schemes.”
“Washington does a lot of different things you have to prepare for,” said HB Tiki Barber. “It’s all the same stuff, it’s just disguised well. We have to try to figure out a way to dissect it. They do hide it very well.”
On paper, the Redskins’ defensive line is not overly impressive. They are not as strong against the run as they were last year, but still most teams have had problems consistently moving the football on them. Their most imposing player up front is probably ex-Giant DT Cornelius Griffin, who will line-up over RG Chris Snee. Griffin has been bothered somewhat by a hip injury, but is expected to play. Fellow defensive tackle Joe Salave’a, a good run defender, has also had injury problems (his foot). The Giants should physically test these two repeatedly with the running game. The Giants’ offensive line needs to do a better job of blocking for Barber, but let’s be honest too, Tiki also needs to start breaking off some bigger runs (while at the same time not leaving his blocking up front in an attempt to hit the home run on every play). The Giants need consistent, positive production out of Tiki, with an occasional bigger run.
The ends on the Skins are ordinary and the Giants’ tackles should not struggle with them.
The most impressive linebacker on the team for the last couple of years has been Marcus Washington. He is a big, intense player who can do it all – play the run, blitz, and cover. Lavar Arrington was glued to the bench until last week and should continue to see more playing time as he emerges from the doghouse. He’s a big-play type who is guilty of making mental mistakes. Lavar is at his best when allowed to attack, moving forward, without thinking too much. The Giants should try to take advantage of his aggressiveness with misdirection.
Somewhat surprisingly, the secondary for Washington has remained a real strength despite the loss of Fred Smoot in the offseason. The right corner is now Shawn Springs who has had sort of a career rebirth since joining Washington last year. He’s a big, physical corner with good athleticism and he matches up well with Burress (who might not play or will probably be limited with a shoulder injury). When the Redskins go to their nickel package, rookie first rounder Carlos Roger – another big, physical, athletic corner – plays right corner and Springs moves inside to cover the slot receiver. The left corner is Walt Harris. The bad news for the Giants is that he is another big, physical guy who could give Amani Toomer problems. As you can see, the Washington corners are big and are one of the few secondaries that can match-up size-wise with the Giants. Making matters worse is the impact-ability of FS Sean Taylor, a freakishly big and athletic play-maker who hits like a truck and covers like a corner. Taylor has been bothered somewhat with an ankle injury. SS Matt Bowen is another physical player. He rarely makes mental mistakes.
What will be interesting to see is how the Redskins try to handle TE Jeremy Shockey. Shockey has a history of giving the Redskins problems, but Washington may consider shifting Taylor closer to the line to cover the athletic tight end.
In this game, the Giants may be better off passing underneath to Shockey and Barber. With all the blitzing Washington does, the screen pass could be a big weapon.
Giants on Defense: The Giants’ defense is not getting the job done and unless the coaches and players get this turned around quickly, New York will be sitting at home at playoff time. They have played two bad games against the run (San Diego, Denver) and have struggled in pass coverage all year.
Washington’s offensive explosion against the 49ers last week have dramatically inflated their overall offensive numbers, but the Redskins’ offense has played surprisingly well this year. Why? Because QB Mark Brunell and WR Santana Moss are playing exceptionally well. While Brunell hurt the Cowboys with the deep passing game, he really doesn’t have a strong arm and Washington’s passing game is really based on max-protection schemes that get the ball out to the wide receivers and tight ends quickly. Like Denver last week, Washington will employ a lot of play-action bootleg passes. Brunell is the highest-rated passer in the NFC. Let that sink in for a moment.
While Moss gets a lot of attention, the guy who often keeps the chains moving is TE/H-Back Chris Cooley. It seems like time and time again, Brunell will roll out looking for Cooley for a key reception. With Carlos Emmons (chest) ailing, Cooley could be a problem for the Giants. And watch the back-up tight ends/H-Backs in the red zone!!! While Cooley has two touchdowns on 25 receptions, four of Mike Sellers’ five receptions have gone for touchdowns and Robert Royal has another. All of the Giants’ linebackers need to play smart in coverage. Former Redskin MLB Antonio Pierce will be fired up to play his old teammates – the Redskins will likely try to take advantage of that (plus they saw Pierce get burned by the fullback for a touchdown last weekend).
Moss is having an exceptional year. While not big, he can get deep with his straight-ahead speed, or break a big play after a short reception with his quickness and moves. The Redskins like to throw quick screens to him in an effort to break a big run-after-the-catch play. Thus tackling will be a priority. I would think that Will Allen, who has experience against Moss both at the pro and collegiate level, would be better suited to cover him than the angular Curtis Deloatch. The other starting wide receiver is ex-Giant David Patten.
As always, the Giants must stop the run first. Portis has already rushed for 544 yards and is averaging 4.4 yards-per-carry on the ground. He’s a threat to break the big play and can catch the football out of the backfield. Back-up Ladell Betts is a bigger, more powerful back who has proven to be very productive. You can be sure that the Skins watched the Giants’ inability to stop the run last week with great interest and will test New York, especially on the right side of the defense.
Up front, DE Michael Strahan will face RT Jon Jansen, who has given Strahan problems in the past. LT Chris Samuels has never lived up to the hype, but he is a solid player and the Giants need DE Osi Umenyiora to step it up this weekend as both a run defender and pass rusher. Inside, LG Derrick Dockery, OC Casey Rabach, and RG Randy Thomas are very solid. Both defensive tackles William Joseph and Kendrick Clancy need to play the run far tougher than they did last week or it will be a long day. The Giants also need improved run defense from the linebackers, while at the same time not getting burned on the underneath passes off of play-action to the tight ends.
Giants on Special Teams: Divisional games often come down to special teams play. James Thrash has been averaging a respectable 11 yards per return on punt returns. The Redskins will also sometimes use Moss on returns. Washington has not been strong on kickoff returns, but the Giants must make sure that trend continues.
The Giants really need to get their own punt return game going with ex-Redskin Chad Morton.