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9/2/2008

By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – Washington Redskins at New York Giants, September 4, 2008: For the last couple of months, leading up to the start of the 2008 NFL season, the national media and many fans around the country have seemed to forget something kind of important – the Giants are the defending NFL Champions.  The Giants knocked off three NFC division winners in their home parks, knocked off the NFC’s two best teams, and then knocked off what supposedly had been billed as the best team in NFL history.  The Cowboys, Packers, and Patriots had a combined record of 45-6 before the Giants beat them. The Giants did not luck into anything.  They won the NFL title because they earned it.  They were the best football team in the playoffs.

You want to take the Giants lightly again?  Great!  Ignore the fact that the offense returns all 11 starters from the Super Bowl.  Ignore the fact that the offensive line is one of the best in football.  Ignore that the Giants are deep and talented at running back and wide receiver.  Ignore the fact that Eli Manning, the proud owner of a Super Bowl ring and MVP trophy, is just entering the prime of career.  Ignore the still dangerous pass rush.  Ignore the much improved secondary.  Ignore a coaching staff that did not lose one single coach and a front office that is now considered one of the best in the business.  Ignore it.  Please.

Overall, the game against the Redskins is not critical.  Obviously, division games are always important and it would be far better to win than lose.  But fans should not get too ecstatic if the Giants win or too disappointed if the Giants lose.  The key is to start off 3-1.  The season is a marathon, not a sprint.

Giants on Offense: The game plan seems fairly obvious to me – run the football. For all the toys that Eli Manning has now at hand in the receiving department, the strength of this offensive team is still its running game.  And the Giants have the horses (offensive line and backs) to pound the Redskins into submission.  Don’t get cute.  The Giants are the better team.  Feed the football to Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw.  Let the still underrated offensive line and sledgehammer at fullback open up deep gashes in a Redskins’ first-team defense that did not defend the run particularly well in the preseason.

Up front, DE Jason Taylor (knee) is still hurting.  He may play or not, but even if he does, RT Kareem McKenzie should maul him (or his replacement) in the run game.  Same story with LT David Diehl on RDE Andre Carter.  Inside, the Giants should have little problem blocking LDT Cornelius Griffin (Chris Snee’s opponent) and RDT Kedric Golston (Rich Seubert’s opponent).  The Redskins’ defensive line is the weakness of their team.   The Giants’ offensive line is a team strength.  Hmmm.   Pound the football.

The Redskins’ trio of starting linebackers is solid – Marcus Washington, London Fletcher, and Rocky McIntosh.  But they won’t look forward to a heavy dose of Brandon Jacobs crashing into them repeatedly.  With the linebackers most likely having to crowd the line of scrimmage as well as a safety, the Giants may want to cross the Skins up by sneaking TE Kevin Boss in behind them.  Boss isn’t the blocker Jeremy Shockey is, but he can do some damage in the passing game.

When the Giants do throw the football farther down the field, Eli will finally have Plaxico Burress back almost 100 percent healthy.  Plaxico started off very strong last year in the season opener against the Cowboys and I could see a repeat performance in this game.  He will face Carlos Rogers and this is a match-up the Giants can exploit if the Redskins don’t double-team Burress (which they probably will).  The Redskins will likely count on LCB Shawn Springs being able to handle Amani Toomer by himself.  Where the Giants could really do some damage is throwing the football to Steve Smith against the nickel back.  And if the Giants go four wide, and if Domenik Hixon plays, the Skins will face some severe match-up problems here as well.

Giants on Defense: The big question here is how will the Skins attack the Giants? Given Washington’s injury situation at wide receiver, the strength of the Giants’ pass rush, and the defense’s untested starters at weakside end (Mathias Kiwanuka) and weakside linebacker (Gerris Wilkinson), I would tend to think the Redskins would attempt to pound the football to their left.  However, new Redskins’ coach Jim Zorn is a West Coast Offense guy who likes to throw the football.  I hope the Redskins attempt the latter as I think it will work into the Giants’ hands.  That said, the Giants don’t really know what to expect from Zorn.  If there is confusion, big plays and cheap points could be the result.  The key to beating the West Coast Offense is getting heat on the passer and disrupting the routes of the receivers at the line of scrimmage.  If you break up the timing, you really hamper that style of offense.  The Giants back seven needs to play aggressive, tight coverage.  Zorn will likely preach to QB Jason Campbell to get rid of the ball quickly.  Don’t allow the tight ends and receivers a free release.  And watch the backs out of the backfield.

The good news for the Giants is that Campbell does have a tendency to hold the football.  They should be able to get some heat on him.  RT Jon Jansen has been benched in favor of RT Stephon Heyer.  Tuck may abuse him.  Kiwanuka will face a tougher time against LT Chris Samuels.  Inside, Fred Robbins and Barry Cofield looked primed for big seasons.  Washington guards Pete Kendall (over Cofield) and Randy Thomas (over Robbins) are savvy, experienced veterans, but they are on the downsides of their careers.  Robbins and Cofield may be disruptive here both against the pass and run.

One of concerns will be linebacker coverage.  In the West Coast Offense, the backs often become featured receivers.  The Redskins will likely test all three starting linebackers in coverage with their backs and tight ends.  Wilkinson is athletic but still learning and may be easily confused.  Clark and Pierce are better moving forward than backward.  Be careful here.

Despite spending two high picks at wide receiver, the Redskins are in a bit of mess at that position.  Malcom Kelly won’t play and Devin Thomas has been a disappointment.  Santana Moss remains dangerous.  The other starter, Antwaan Randle El is more of a third receiver, plus he will be playing with a broken hand.  The corners need to watch the quick throws to Moss and tackle well so he doesn’t break a big play.

Giants on Special Teams: John Carney should be OK on field goals, but there is a concern that his short kickoffs could cause problems for a kickoff coverage unit that struggled in the preseason.  Rock Cartwright is an aggressive, up-field kickoff returner.  Randle El is a dangerous punt returner so punt coverage will also be important.  This is where Domenik Hixon really shined last year as a gunner.

According to the Giants’ official depth chart, R.W. McQuarters remains the primary punt returner and Domenik Hixon the primary kickoff returner.  Hixon is obviously a threat to break one.

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Eric Kennedy

Founder and owner of BigBlueInteractive.com, which is now entering its 20th season. Follow Eric on Twitter @BigBlueInteract.

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