Dec 302016
 
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Eli Manning, New York Giants (September 25, 2016)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Washington Redskins, January 1, 2017

THE STORYLINE:
This is effectively a playoff game for the Washington Redskins. For the New York Giants, it’s a tune-up for the playoffs and a chance to hurt their long-time division rival. There is not a lot of playoff experience on the Giants roster and this game will provide a preview of the type of intensity the Giants will face next weekend. The stadium will be rocking. The Redskins will be desperate.

Ben McAdoo has said his starters will play the entire game. That remains to be seen. While keeping sharp and building momentum are important, so is not suffering injuries to key players in a relatively meaningless game.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • TE Will Tye (illness) – probable
  • TE Jerell Adams (shoulder) – questionable
  • RT Bobby Hart (forearm) – probable
  • DE Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) – out
  • LB B.J. Goodson (concussion) – questionable
  • CB Janoris Jenkins (back) – questionable
  • CB Coty Sensabaugh (ankle) – questionable
  • S Nat Berhe (concussion) – out

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
The good news is that the Giants running game is finally showing some signs of life. The bad news is that Eli Manning simply is not having the type of season hoped for and expected. The naysayers are pointing to his age and saying this is the beginning of the inevitable deterioration. Since Eli’s 400-yard game against the Ravens on October 16, he only has ONE 300+ yard game to his credit, and that came in his last game when he threw three killer interceptions against the Eagles. Back in September, Manning also threw two killer interceptions in a 29-27 loss to the Redskins. Proponents will point to “playoff Eli” (8-3 post-season record). The next two games will be very telling about how worried the Giants should be about the quarterback position heading into the new year.

Unless he dramatically ups his game in the playoffs, we probably are witnessing the end of Victor Cruz in a Giants uniform. Cruz simply isn’t producing. He has 37 catches and one touchdown this year, and that score came in the season opener. The last time Cruz was a consistent scoring threat was 2012. It would be nice for Cruz to finish up his Giants career on a high note, but that probably is not in the cards. The good news is that Cruz did have eight catches in the Philly game. Let’s see if he can build off of that.

What will be fascinating to see is if there is a “playoff” version of Odell Beckham, Jr.? Every sport has its superstars. But the real legends make their mark in the post-season.

As for the Redskins, they are a bit of an odd team defensively. They are 29th overall on defense (22nd in scoring defense). They are 25th in run defense and 28th in pass defense. But the Redskins can get after the quarterback and have two quality corners. Washington has 37 sacks on the year with a trio of pass-rushing threats at linebacker in their 3-4 scheme, including Ryan Kerrigan (11 sacks), Trent Murphy (9 sacks), and Preston Smith (4.5 sacks). Right defensive end Chris Baker is a solid player and Giants fans are very familiar with cornerback Josh Norman. He and fellow corner Bashaud Breeland are both coming off of 2-interception games against the Bears.

To the point, this is the weakest defense the Giants will see from here on out. Teams can run, pass, and score on the Redskins. But Washington can present problems for Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart. Eli Manning will be at some risk in this game. I would not be shocked to see him bail on some plays if he is about to get clobbered. Much attention will be given to the Beckham-Norman head-to-head match-up. My guess is will see a heavy dose of the ground game – both to continue to prime that aspect of the offense for the post-season run, but also to protect Eli.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Giants defense really struggled in the September game against Washington. The defense allowed 400 yards of offense, did not force a turnover, forced only two punts, gave up three leads, and allowed six plays of 20 yards or more.

Remarkably, the Redskins are 3rd in offense in the NFL, averaging 411 yards and almost 26 points per game. They are 14th in rushing, averaging 4.6 yards per rush, and 2nd in passing. While Washington’s skill positions get a lot of attention, the Redskins field one of the biggest and best offensive lines in the NFL. Left tackle Trent Williams and right guard Brandon Scherff are Pro Bowl players. The Redskins will count on Williams to erase New York’s best pass rusher, DE Olivier Vernon.

QB Kirk Cousins is within striking distance of a 5,000-yard season despite throwing the same number of passes as Eli Manning. His 24-to-10 touchdown-to-interception ratio is not as impressive. Cousins has a bit of Jekyll and Hyde in him. If you want to bring out the worst in Cousins, you have to take away his running game, which is easier said than done with that big offensive line and running backs Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson. Kelley is the pounder while Thompson provides the flash and catches the football out of the backfield (43 receptions).

Where the Redskins really hurt you is the big play. They are second in the NFL in plays over 20 yards with 74. While Cousins can do damage down the field with the vertical game, especially with WR DeSean Jackson (18.0 yards per catch), many of the big plays come from receivers doing damage after a short reception. Both Jackson and slot WR Jamison Crowder are very adept at this as well, as demonstrated by their punt return backgrounds. That said, Washington can threaten defenses in the passing game in all three levels. Jordan Reed is one of the most dangerous pass-receiving tight ends in football. TE Vernon Davis is nearing the end, but he is still a viable target with over 40 receptions. And then there is WR Pierre Garcon who leads the team with 75 catches.

The Giants must limit the damage Washington does on the ground or it will be a long day. So much of Washington’s offense is based off of play-action and the threat of the run. New York is not likely to get much heat on Cousins without blitzing.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Jamison Crowder is tied for first in the NFL averaging 13.1 yards per punt return, with one 85-yard touchdown return. He had a 50-yard return in the September game against the Giants. In that game, the Redskins also ran a fake punt that picked up 31 yards. The Giants blocked a punt against Washington (erased due to an unrelated unnecessary roughness penalty).

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Head Coach Ben McAdoo on Washington’s offense: “Offensively, Kirk’s playing at a high level. He’s seeing the field, moving in the pocket well, we know he can make all the throws. Their offensive line has gelled together nicely. Robert Kelley and Chris Thompson provide a strong one-two punch at the running back position and they’re loaded on the perimeter with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed and Jamison Crowder. Crowder is really playing well for them.”

THE FINAL WORD:
It’s strength on strength (Giants defense versus Redskins offense) and weakness on weakness (Giants offense versus Redskins defense) in this game. But it’s hard to see the Giants matching the Redskins intensity and sense of urgency since this is a de facto playoff game for Washington. We saw against Philadelphia (first half-quarter of the game) what happens when the other team plays with more of both.

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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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