Sep 082011
 
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By Eric from BigBlueInteractive.com

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, September 11, 2011: Most of the pundits are once again writing off the New York Giants. There have been prominent free agent losses and not many free agent additions of note.  There have been injuries to key players.  And – for whatever reason that I can’t fathom – many in the media simply enjoy putting down the team.

So the Giants head into 2011 as an underdog.  The Packers, Eagles, and Saints will be considered by many as the favorites in the NFC.  And the Giants wouldn’t want it any other way.  For years, this team has done better when flying under the radar.

But we can’t just wear blue-colored glasses and ignore some of the storm clouds on the horizon.  I know many fans don’t agree with me, but this has the feeling of a transition year.  The rocks of stability are the coaching staff and Eli Manning.  And the running backs corps is largely unchanged.  But there is significant change at most other positions, including most importantly, both lines – the foundation of any football team.  In addition, there are talent/experience concerns at TE, FB, 3rd WR, MLB, and 3rd CB (the 3rd WR and 3rd CB are de facto starters).  Who is Eli’s security blanket on 3rd down?  How badly will the TE and FB talent/experience issues negatively impact the running game?  Do the Giants have the talent in the secondary to compete with the Packers, Eagles, and Saints?

Some of the injuries that hit the team in the preseason were not all that important.  But three were.  Cornerback was supposed to be a strength of the team.  The Giants were going to be four deep at the position with Webster, Thomas, Ross, and Amukamara.  Thomas is now out for the season and who knows how effective Amukamara will be when he returns.  The loss of Jon Goff also hurts and the Giants are very inexperienced behind him.  But as Tom Coughlin says, you move forward.  You play with the card you’ve been dealt.

If the Giants are going to make the playoffs, they need to get off to a fast start and they need to win division games.  There are too many good teams in the NFC to count on a wild card spot.  That brings us to the season opener against the Redskins.  I normally don’t call the first game of the year a must-win, and if the Giants do in fact lose this game, it won’t be the end of the world.  But the Giants really need to start off 1-0 in the NFC East against a division opponent that is very beatable.  My chief concern is weathering the early storm.  It’s the season-opener for the Redskins’ faithful who haven’t had their hopes smashed yet again.  They will be loud and the Redskins will be fired up to perform well.  The best thing the Giants can do is to strike early and take the crowd out of the game.

Giants on Offense: The Giants had problems scoring in the preseason.  Was that because it was simply preseason or are there larger issues?  The two big questions marks on offense are how will the blocking be up front and which receiver(s) will become Eli’s security blanket?  The new offensive line is still gaining cohesion.  Will Beatty played well in the preseason, but now the games count.  How much of a liability will the tight ends and fullback be in the running game?  Can all the new parts function well when other teams throw more complicated blitz schemes and stunts at New York?

And I hate to keep beating a dead horse, but the Giants have Nicks and they have Manningham, but who else is going to step up and prove that Eli can trust throwing him the football in big situations?  Victor Cruz and Domenik Hixon were up and down in the preseason.  We still don’t know if Travis Beckum is going to pan out.  Will the Giants use their running backs more?  I would keep an eye on D.J. Ware as an option on 3rd down.  Manning looked his way a lot in the preseason.

The Redskins transitioned to a 3-4 defense last season.  They do have talented defensive football players.  Our old friend Barry Cofield anchors the middle and he will be inspired to play his very best against his old teammates.  Still, I’m not sure Barry is the ideal nose-tackle type in a 3-4 so you can be sure the Giants will test him with double-team blocks.  The heart of the Washington defense is their linebacking corps.  Outside linebacker Brian Orakpo is easily the most talented player on the team – he’s a force when rushing the passer.  The Redskins also invested a first-round draft pick in the other outside linebacking position in Ryan Kerrigan.  Both Beatty and Kareem McKenzie, as well as the backs and tight ends, will be on the spot when Orakpo and Kerrigan bring it.  Inside the Redskins have two very solid linebackers in the ageless London Fletcher and underrated Rocky McIntosh.

In recent years, the Giants have been able to run on Washington with fairly good – and sometimes outstanding – success.  Given that history, the Giants should play smash-mouth football and attempt to pound the ball against the Redskins.  I’d give them a heavy dose of Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs.  In addition to the offensive line, the key is the ability of guys like TE Jake Ballard, H-Back Travis Beckum, and FB Henry Hynoski to block well.

Washington’s secondary is overrated and Eli Manning has had good success in torching them in recent years.  Other than the Jets preseason game, Manning has been better at protecting the football, throwing it away when nothing is there or, better yet, dumping it off to guys like Ware.  Hopefully that will continue.  Manning has to be a little wary of DeAngelo Hall, an overrated corner who does have a knack for returning interceptions for touchdowns.  I’d use play-action and double-moves on Hall a lot.

The real keys?  You’ll hear me preach them all year.  Protect the football, convert on 3rd down, score touchdowns in the red zone.

Giants on Defense: Mike Shanahan’s offense is so predictable but opposing teams fall victim to it over and over again.  The Redskins will run the stretch play, allowing Tim Hightower to pick and choose his cutback lane.  And just when the defense starts over-pursuing, the Skins will run a quarterback rollout pass in the opposite direction, often with a pass to the tight end.  This misdirection regularly hurts teams.  The Giants’ defense needs to do two things: (1) maintain gap integrity in order to prevent cutback lanes on the stretch play, and (2) the backside pursuit must not over-pursue and anticipate the misdirection rollout off of play-action.  Do those two things, and the Skins should be forced out of sync.

Hightower didn’t do much with the Cardinals in Arizona, but I was impressed with his aggressive and instinctive running in the preseason for the Redskins.  Don’t underestimate him.  Stop the run first and foremost and force Rex Grossman to beat you.  The pressure will be on green players such as Linval Joseph, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Greg Jones.  Will they be up to the task?  The Redskins offensive line is not very good.  If the Giants’ vaunted defensive line is truly going to carry the team, this is an opponent that it should cause all kinds of problems for.  But the proof is in the pudding and the Giants have to get it done when it matters most.

When the Redskins put the ball up, the key is to prevent Santana Moss from doing damage after the catch.  And back-up receiver Anthony Armstrong is a dangerous deep receiver.  If I’m Washington, I test the Giants’ nickel and dime defense.  Who will the Giants’ third corner be in this game?  And can that third corner perform well?  Greg Jones has to be careful he isn’t too aggressive and fall victim to play-action.

Again, you’ll hear me preach it all year.  Stop the run.  Get after the quarterback.  Get off the field on third down.  Create turnovers.

Giants on Special Teams: Brandon Banks…Brandon Banks…Brandon Banks.  He may be the most dynamic returner in football now.  Though he’s been limited in practice with a knee injury, Banks is very scary and obviously one of the keys to this entire game is the ability of the Giants’ punt and kickoff return coverage units to keep him under wraps.  This is where Steve Weatherford’s directional kicking must come into play.  Also, the Giants need a strong game from Lawrence Tynes on kickoffs – not just distance but also hangtime.  Speaking of Tynes, how well will he perform after missing most of the preseason (and preseason practices) with a thigh injury?  Though he is an 80+% field goal kicker, he has his ugly moments.  Domenik Hixon should be the punt returner for the Giants in this game, but he may be rusty after no reps as a return man in the preseason.

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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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