By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com
Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, November 30, 2008: The most impressive thing about the way the Giants are playing right now is that for the last five weeks, they have defeated teams with winning records that were favored by many to provide the Giants with their second loss of the season. The vanquished were not only talented and more desperate, but they sought the national glory of defeating the Super Champions. For the most part, these have been tough, physical games, but the Giants have swatted away the Steelers, Cowboys, Eagles, Ravens, and Cardinals.
The biggest challenge for New York is to somehow maintain this high level of play. This will not be an easy task. Playing tough, competitive games week after week against playoff-caliber opponents takes a mental and physical toll. Most teams slip up and suffer a letdown. The Giants have only done this once this year (against Cleveland). Can they maintain the momentum yet another week?
The ultimate goal, obviously, is to win another NFL Championship. The intermediary goal is to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs and a post-season bye. The latter is particularly attractive as the Giants will need it. The Giants will need to mentally re-focus themselves after over two months of tough football against competitive teams without a break. They will also need to heal up. Injuries have been mounting. The Giants last had a break at the end of September. Another break in early January is very attractive.
As for the game against the Redskins, don’t expect a cakewalk. For one, division games seldom are. Remember last season when the Giants were heavily favored to defeat the Redskins at home in December? The Skins blasted the Giants. Secondly, the Redskins will be far more desperate. They have lost two of their last three games. A loss to the Giants may signal the end of Washington’s Wild Card hopes. In effect, this is almost a playoff game for the Skins. Lastly, Washington will be honoring former safety Sean Taylor, who was murdered last year. This will simply provide yet another emotional element into what figures to be a highly charged atmosphere. Can the Giants match the Redskins’ intensity? Talent matters. But so does desire.
Giants on Offense: Make no mistake about it – Washington is a defensive team. It’s their defense that makes them competitive and a dangerous threat to the Giants on Sunday. The Redskins are exceptionally well coached on defense. Lacking a strong defensive line and an ability to pressure the passer with their down four, Washington has nevertheless maintained its strong defensive capabilities. Washington is third in the NFL in defense (4th in pass defense, 7th in run defense).
The Giants will also be hampered by injuries. HB Brandon Jacobs (knee), WR Plaxico Burress (hamstring), WR HB Ahmad Bradshaw (neck), and WR Domenik Hixon (ankle) are not 100 percent. And TE Kevin Boss is coming off a concussion and painful contusions to both knees. Jacobs and Burress may not play. Somewhat offsetting this is that the Redskins’ defense is also banged up. RDE Andre Carter (foot), RDT Kedric Golston (ankle), LDT Cornelius Griffen (shoulder), MLB London Fletcher (foot), and SLB Marcus Washington (ankle) are all hurting. That’s five starters in the front seven. Considering that fact and the fact that the strength of the Redskins’ defense is their talented and deep secondary, the game plan is obvious. Run the football. Pound, maul, grind it out. Take the desire out of the defensive players and the life out of the crowd (except for the New York Giant diehards in the stands).
When the Giants do put the ball up, passes to the backs and tight ends may be more productive against a banged up linebacking corps. As mentioned, the secondary is tough. The Skins are four deep at corner with Shawn Springs, Carlos Rogers, Fred Smoot, and DeAngelo Hall. The safety combo of LaRon Landry and Chris Horton is among the best in the NFL. Moreover, if Plaxico Burress doesn’t play, Washington (like the Cardinals) won’t have to worry about double-teaming the split end and can concentrate on stopping the run. That said, if the Redskins can’t pressure Eli Manning, receivers should get open. A key match-up will be LT David Diehl versus DE Jason Taylor. If Carter doesn’t play, Taylor will likely shift over to his more natural weakside end spot and he could cause problems for Diehl.
As I’ve harped on in recent weeks…protect the football, keep negative yardage plays to a minimum, and finish drives in the red zone.
Giants on Defense: Washington can run the football, but they are not an impressive offensive team. The Skins rank 14th in the NFL in yards and 27th in scoring. The passing game is 21st in the NFL; the running game is 3rd.
Hmmm…obviously, even more than is normal, the focus is stop the run. Clinton Portis is the primary threat at running back (already over 1,200 yards, averaging 4.9 yards per carry). Portis is also beat up, including an issue with one of his knees. Backup Ladell Betts isn’t having a great year, but he is a physical back who has performed well in the past.
The Redskins will likely test Fred Robbins who has two injured hands and an injured shoulder. The Giants have played some tough and physical games in recent weeks and hopefully the front seven on the Giants can rise to the challenge of yet another physical opponent. Play tough and stout at the point of attack. Maintain gap responsibility and play with leverage. Out-physical and out-quick the Redskins up front. RT Jon Jansen is a player on the decline; he will line up over Justin Tuck . LT Chris Samuels has had some knee issues; he will face Mathias Kiwanuka. Kiwanuka may be looking for some payback given that Samuels took a cheap shot at the back of Kiwanuka’s knees in the opener. The guards (Pete Kendall and Randy Thomas) are savvy veterans, but older players who may struggle with quickness at times. (Kendall also has been battling a knee problem). The Giants’ defensive tackles need to play tough against these two and OC Casey Rabach.
When the Redskins are able to run, QB Jason Campbell has done a good job of protecting the football. Remarkably, he has thrown only three interceptions in 340 pass attempts. However, he will hold onto the football. If the Giants can stop the run, and get after the passer, they can get to Campbell and may force him to make some costly mistakes.
The primary receiving threats on the Redskins remain the usual suspects: Santana Moss at wide receiver and Chris Cooley at tight end. These two should be the focus of the coverage. Watch out for trick plays involving WR Antwaan Randle El who has attempted three passes this year, completing two of them. Skins’ Head Coach Jim Zorn is a West Coast Offense guy so the Redskins will also pass to the backs. Inside the red zone, the Skins like to throw to Cooley and FB Mike Sellers.
Stop the run. Focus on Moss and Cooley. Watch out for the trick play.
Giants on Special Teams: One of the few negatives on the Giants this year is the continued poor performance of the kickoff coverage units. This group needs to get better. The kickoff coverage unit continues to put the Giants’ defense at a disadvantage. Rock Cartwright is the primary kickoff returner. He does have a 58-yard return this year and is averaging a respectable 25 yards per return. Antwaan Randle El is the punt returner. In exceptional situations, the Redskins will use Moss to return punts and he does have an 80-yard return for a touchdown.
The Giants own kickoff return unit finally broke out of its funk last week with Domenik Hixon returning kickoffs. It will be interesting to see if he remains the primary returner (keep in mind his ankle is dinged).