Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 3, 2012: This is the biggest game in the NFC East this season. For the Redskins (5-6 overall, 2-1 in the division), it’s basically a playoff game. Washington must win this game to have a serious chance to win the NFC East. For the Giants (7-4 overall, 2-2 in the division), while this is not a “must” game, winning would give New York a commanding lead in the NFC East with four games left to play. And given the difficulty of the Giants’ schedule down the stretch, losing this game would once again put the Giants in a worrisome situation.
In other words, the Giants can make it easy or difficult on themselves by winning this game. The Giants are the better team, but New York has an annoying habit of making things more difficult than they should be. The good news for the Giants is that the Redskins are 5-6 for a reason. And they haven’t played in a game this big against the Giants since Jim Fassel was the head coach.
Giants on Offense: The Redskins’ defense always seems to give the Giants more problems than they do other teams. The Redskins are currently ranked 28th in the NFL in terms of yards allowed (390.5 per game) and 25th in points allowed (25.9 per game). And they are a terrible 31st in the NFL against the pass (301.4 yards per game). But they are a remarkable 3rd in the NFL in run defense (89.2 yards per game). Why that figure is so impressive is, that on paper, their defensive personnel doesn’t seem overly intimidating in the front seven, especially with the early-season losses of DE Adam Carriker and LB Brian Orakpo. But Washington’s 3-4 defense had been getting the job done up front against the run.
The man in the middle on the defensive line is our old friend Barry Cofield. He’s been a big asset for Washington and he gave OC David Baas problems in the first game. (Keep in mind the oft-injured Baas is hurting again, this time with a shoulder injury). Inside linebackers London Fletcher (88 tackles) and Perry Riley (85 tackles) are the top two tacklers on the defense – just the way you draw it up in a 3-4 defense. With Orakpo out, OLB Ryan Kerrigan is their best pass rusher (6.5 sacks) and a physical presence against the run.
While Washington is not one of the NFL’s best pass-rushing teams (20 sacks), they do a great job of creating turnovers. They have 14 interceptions and have returned three of those for touchdowns. They have also forced nine fumbles, recovering seven for two additional touchdowns.
The Redskins’ secondary is not as strong, but for some reason QB Eli Manning never seems to have his best games against Washington. CB DeAngelo Hall is a feast-or-famine-type of player. He leads the Redskins in interceptions and has a history of picking off Eli. But he also is vulnerable to double moves and getting beat deep. The other starting corner is Josh Wilson. The safeties – Reed Doughty and Madieu Williams – are not very strong against the pass.
Ball security is imperative. And Manning needs to elevate his game against the team and a defense not known for playing the pass very well. In the last three Giants-Redskins games, Eli has completed 60 percent of his passes, but he has only thrown one touchdown against six interceptions. If Eli plays like that again, the Giants will likely lose the game.
The real key question is can the Giants run on this defense? In the last three games, the Giants have rushed for 75, 91, and 64 yards against Washington. Earlier this season, Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown managed only 60 yards on 17 carries. That’s not going to get it done either. Should the Giants come out throwing or try to remain balanced from the start? If they try to remain balanced, they obviously need to run and block better. The loss of Brown due to injury will probably negatively impact the Giants in short-yardage situations. How much will that hurt in this game? On the other hand, David Wilson brings an added dimension with his explosiveness. He should get the most touches he has had all season. Obviously, the Giants need him to perform well in pass protection and hold onto the football. But his ability may surprise Washington.
Giants on Defense: Robert Griffin III is the real deal. He’s completing over 67 percent of his passes and has a 16-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio. He’s passed for almost 2,500 yards and rushed for 642 yards and six rushing touchdowns. Most impressively, he doesn’t seem to get flustered.
The Giants’ defense got torched in the first meeting between these two teams. Griffin completed 20-of-28 of his passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns. More troubling is the Giants gave up 248 rushing yards!!! If the Giants had not recovered three fumbles and picked off Griffin once, the game really would have been out of hand.
The Giants have to stop the run. The Giants did not seem prepared at all for the Pistol Offense in the first game. HB Alfred Morris ran for 120 yards on 22 carries (5.5 yards per carry) and Griffin ran for 89 yards on nine carries (almost 10 yards a pop). Even FB Darrel Young rushed for 26 yards on five carries. The problem for the Giants is that Griffin’s play-action out of the Pistol is so good, that when the linebackers step up, Griffin just lobs the ball over their heads for the easy completion over the middle. TE Logan Paulson hurt the Giants with four receptions for 76 yards and the Giants will have to keep an eye on the other two tight ends as well (Niles Paul and Chris Cooley).
I would be tempted to run the three- and four-safety packages a lot against Washington. On the surface, that doesn’t make much sense against the NFL’s #1 rushing team (163.5 yards per game), but the Giants have good safeties and the added athleticism will help against Griffin. Obviously, much depends on if S Kenny Phillips (knee) can play and stay on the field. In my mind, the keys are to adequately recognize the play (pass or run), not bite on play-action, and maintain great gap discipline. The Redskins will stretch a play out with their zone-blocking schemes and Morris is a good cut-back runner. Worse, if the backside end or linebacker doesn’t stay at home, Griffin can break a big play on rollout off play-action.
For the multiple safety package to work, Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, Osi Umenyiora, Mathias Kiwanuka, Chris Canty, Linval Joseph, and Rocky Bernard have to play their best game of the season in terms of run defense. The tackles inside must be stout.
The Giants will benefit from TE Fred Davis being out, but they will have to contend with WR Pierre Garcon – Washington’s best receiver – in this game. Garcon can get deep and make the big play. Josh Morgan is more of an intermediate threat, but Santana Moss continues to give the Giants fits, including scoring two touchdowns in the last game. Leonard Hankerson is a deep threat.
Mike Shanahan loves trickery. The Redskins will use a lot misdirection in this game. He has used Griffin as a receiver and he has run the flea flicker and other gadget plays against New York. Given this is Washington’s most important game of the season, the defense needs to play it smart.
The Giants need to play with a great combination of intelligence (in order to correctly read the plays) and toughness (in order to defense the run) on Monday night. I would mix things up and try to confuse Griffin. I would also hit him extremely hard every time you can. He’s not a big guy. Pound him.
Giants on Special Teams: Brandon Banks is an explosive kick and punt returner. The Giants must do a good job against him. Close division games often come down to special teams. This would be a great time for the Giants to block a punt or field goal.