Nov 272015
 
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New York Giants Defense (September 24, 2015)

New York Giants Defense – © USA TODAY Sports Images

New York Giants at Washington Redskins, November 29, 2015

THE STORYLINE:
It’s been a roller coaster season filled with ups and downs, bad injury news, and four heart-breaking defeats. But through 10 games with six to play, the Giants find themselves in first place in the NFC East, with two of their primary challengers all but officially dead. As unthinkable as it seemed only a week ago, the Giants can virtually lock up a playoff spot before December if they beat the Washington Redskins on Sunday.

These circumstances make this contest one of the most important the Giants will play in 2015. But as important as the game is to the Giants, it’s Washington’s season. If the Redskins lose, like the Cowboys and Eagles, they are all but officially done. Expect playoff-type intensity from the Redskins at Sunday – a team that is 4-1 at home this year, including wins over two teams (the Eagles and Saints) that have beaten the Giants. The Giants need to match or surpass that intensity to win.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • TE Larry Donnell (neck – out)
  • OC Weston Richburg (ankle – doubtful)
  • LG Justin Pugh (concussion – out)
  • RG Geoff Schwartz (ankle – probable)
  • LB J.T. Thomas (ankle – questionable)
  • LB Mark Herzlich (quad – out)
  • LB Uani ‘Unga (neck – probable)
  • DE Damontre Moore (hamstring – probable)
  • CB Prince Amukamara (pectoral – probable)
  • CB Leon McFadden (groin – probable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The Redskins are 22nd in overall defense (12th against the pass and 30th against the run). Those figures suggest the Giants should remain balanced. When the Giants defeated the Redskins at the Meadowlands back in September, the Giants passed the ball 32 times for 279 yards and ran it 31 times for 84 yards. But a few variables have changed since that first meeting. New York’s two best offensive linemen – center Weston Richburg and left guard Justin Pugh – are out. That will put a damper on an already moribund rushing game (26th in the NFL). A good running play is usually a well-choreographed affair where one breakdown can lead to failure. Take out two important cogs, especially two of the team’s best run blockers, and it’s not likely that the Giants will be able to generate much success against a defense that has struggled against the run lately.

The other factor that suggests more emphasis on the pass is that Redskins’ cornerback Chris Culliver tore his ACL and MCL in practice on Thanksgiving, making an already somewhat shaky secondary more vulnerable. That doesn’t mean the Giants should abandon the run, but I would emphasize the short-passing game early in lieu of the run – which is what Ben McAdoo often does anyways in some contests.

Washington only has 17 sacks on the season and outside linebacker Ryan Kerrigan (4.5 sacks) remains their best pass rusher. The Redskins will line him on both sides so he will likely battle both starting offensive tackles. Inside linebacker Perry Riley is athletic and flashes at times. 3-4 right defensive end Jason Hatcher has been bothered by a knee issue. Bashaud Breeland is now Washington’s best corner, and he is up and down. The safeties are ordinary at best, and Dashon Goldson has been battling a slew of injuries. Eli Manning and his receivers should be able to do some damage against this group if the injury-depleted offensive line can give him time. Look for Washington to blitz up the middle to test Dallas Reynolds and John Jerry.

This game is too important to get too cute with. Put the ball in the hands of your best play-makers: Eli Manning, Odell Beckham, and Shane Vereen. The week off should have helped Rueben Randle too and I could see him having a big day against Washington as they roll their coverage towards Beckham. Eli has played very well against the Redskins in recent games.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Kirk Cousins is coming on, but to date, he has really struggled against the Giants. Cousins was named “NFC Offensive Player of the Week” against the Buccaneers and had a perfect 158.3 QB rating against the Saints. He’s completing 68 percent of his passes, and as Tom Coughlin pointed out, 80 percent in his last two home games. Cousins brought his team back from a 24-0 deficit against the Buccaneers – a warning for a New York defense that has demonstrated a startling inability to hold leads.

Former Eagle and Giants-killer DeSean Jackson missed the first Giants-Redskins game with a hamstring injury. He’s an explosive deep threat who can put points on the board quickly. Fellow wideout Pierre Garcon is a savvy playmaker as is tight end Jordan Reed (6 touchdowns). Reed plays more like a wide receiver than tight end and is a match-up problem. Diminutive Jamison Crowder has 43 catches as the slot receiver. The Redskins are far more talented at the skill positions than a lot of fans realize. The Giants could focus more on Garcon and Reed in the first game with Jackson out, but they won’t have that luxury this time around. The good news for the Giants is that Prince Amukamara is back, but the Redskins surely have noticed the issues free safety Landon Collins has had in recent weeks.

The Redskins started off the season running the ball very well, but have struggled more of late. That said, this is big offensive line with quality, physical running backs who are sure to test a Giants’ defensive line missing Johnathan Hankins inside. Hankins wasn’t really missed against the Patriots, but this is a different style of opponent. The Giants will need a strong game from Cullen Jenkins, Jay Bromley, and Markus Kuhn. Trent Williams is one of the better left tackles in football, but Jason Pierre-Paul has given him trouble at times and Williams is battling a knee injury.

The Giants need to stop the run and make the Redskins one-dimensional. That will help take away the play-action pass and put pressure on Cousins to perform against a Giants team that he has turned the ball over against in the last three games between these two teams.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
The Redskins have returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, one against the Giants in Week 3 and the other last week against the Panthers. The Giants have also struggled lately on punt return coverage, with long returns by the Saints and Patriots possibly costing the Giants both games. The Redskins’ kicker has 30 kickoffs resulting in touchbacks and Washington is 2nd in the NFL in kickoff coverage so kickoff returns may be tough this week. Dwayne Harris has yet to break one on a punt return. Keep in mind the Giants blocked a punt against Washington in Week 3.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on Kirk Cousins: “I think he’s much more confident. I think the rhythm with which he goes about his business, particularly in the play-action pass game, is outstanding.”

THE FINAL WORD:
The Giants’ 97 wins versus Washington are the most for one team against another in pro football history. And the Giants are 5-0 against Washington in their last five contests. Much of that latter discrepancy has been due to the difference in play between Eli Manning and Kirk Cousins when these two teams have met. But don’t sleep on Washington. Cousins has a very talented group of targets who can present serious match-up issues for the Giants. This game is Washington’s season. Expect their best effort.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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