Eric Kennedy

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

Dec 052022
 
Daniel Bellinger, New York Giants (December 4, 2022)

Daniel Bellinger – © USA TODAY Sports

DECEMBER 5, 2022 BRIAN DABOLL PRESS CONFERENCE…
New York Giants Head Coach Brian Daboll addressed the media on Monday to discuss his team’s 20-20 tie against the Washington Commanders (VIDEO):

Q: Now that things have settled down, what is the math telling you about the tie? And what are the analytics people telling you about what this means going forward? I’m sure they’re probably a little more excited about it than the players and the coaches.

A: I’ve talked to those guys, I would say, Saturday and Friday relative to certain strategies as the season ends. So, that’s when I’ll sit down with those guys. We tied the game. We obviously would like to win the game. But we move on, and we get ready for Philly.

Q: I was just curious on how Leo (defensive lineman Leonard Williams) is doing and if you guys had any other injuries from yesterday.

A: I’d say he’s sore. Leo’s sore; that’s really all I got right now. We’ll see how it goes throughout the week after I meet with (general manager) Joe (Schoen) and the training staff. The rest of the guys made it through pretty clean.

Q: With a night to sleep on it, I know you go back on all your decisions and things like that. At the end of the first half and the end of the overtime, (is there) anything that gave you more clarity? Do you still like what you did then? And (are there) any other things that came up that kind of better to explain it now?

A: I’d say status quo from last night. We certainly talk about everything after a game. We talked about yesterday’s game today, and we talked about the decision making processes, the analytics part of it and a bunch of things. Those are conversations we have each week.

Q: How much did the (wide receiver) Richie James not getting the first down and you wanting the spot really affect what happened next there?

A: I’m not going to get too involved into the particulars. It just played out how it played out.

Q: I’m wondering when you went back and looked, what you saw. What was the difference, offensively, between the first half and the second half. The second half, you really kind of struggled to move the ball consistently – and overtime, I guess.

A: They played and coached better than we did.

Q: That’s all you saw? In what ways?

A: Pretty much in every way.

Q: It sounds like you’re blaming yourself for the loss then.

A: I blame myself for every loss. That’s part of the job.

Q: And with (safety) Xavier McKinney, any expectation for him to return to practice this week?

A: I’d say too early to tell.

Q: So, there’s a possibility at least, it sounds like.

A: I would say too early to tell. That’s the best I got for you.

Q: Are you considering taking over play calling on offense? Not to put words in your mouth, but just given how the offense struggled.

A: No. I have a lot of confidence in (offensive coordinator) Mike Kafka.

Q: A couple of your defensive players appeared to be lobbying for more playing time on social media last night. How do you handle when guys like (linebacker) Tae Crowder and (cornerback) Rodarius Williams kind of go public in that way?

A: Private conversations.

Q: Do you fine guys for that? Or no?

A: I would just say private conversations.

Q: The timeout that you took with 1:23 left there, I’ve been asked by a few a people why you took that timeout because it looked like the clock was stopped when the ball went out of bounds. Can you explain that?

A: The clock was going to run. The ball got knocked out of the ball carrier’s hands, so they would have started winding the clock.

Q: So, you wanted the timeout there?

A: And then they ran it on third down and bled the clock. If they throw it and it’s incomplete, maybe got some more time on the clock.

Q: Since we haven’t hit on the injury front, specifically (cornerback) Adoree’ (Jackson), do you expect Adoree’ to be back or have a chance to be on the practice field this week?

A: I think he’s getting better. I think it’s too early to tell today, Monday. (He’s) making progress. How much progress? Yet to be determined.

Q: Anything different with (cornerback) Darnay (Holmes) or (wide receiver) Kenny (Golladay) from yesterday? They were the two guys that were kind of surprise inactives. I know you said Darnay was the shoulder. Are either of those guys getting back into the mix this week?

A: Kenny was in today with a mask on; his temperature is down a little bit. But he had a pretty high temperature. Now it’s worked its way down. Hopefully, he’ll be ready to go. Darnay, we’ll see how his shoulder is.

Q: I know you don’t like looking at big pictures, but the final five games, you’ve got Philly twice, Washington, Minnesota. You’ve got the two top seeds in the East. Do you approach this any differently because you got to say to the guys, ‘We really have out backs up against the wall,’ or anything?

A: No. I think you just got to get ready to play the next week and the next team. For us, it’s the best team in the NFL right now; one loss. They lost to Washington. They have a star-studded roster. I think (Philadelphia Eagles general manager) Howie (Roseman) has done a great job of putting together a bunch of talent there on that team. (Philadelphia Eagles quarterback) Jalen (Hurts) is playing phenomenal. Those receivers are, they’re exceptional (as is the) O-line, defensive line, corners. They’ve got a star-studded cast.

Q: Is clubbing it up (Xavier McKinney’s hand) an option for him?

A: Right now, no, I would say.

Q: Kind of a bigger-picture question: The way you guys have called plays and kind of managed the offense leads to a perception that you don’t fully trust (quarterback) Daniel (Jones) or you don’t fully trust the supporting cast. How do you respond to that? Is there any validity to that?

A: I trust the offense, and I trust the supporting cast.

Q: Why do you manage the game the way you do where it seems like specifically two-minute drills, at the end of halves, it seems like it’s very – you’re not really going for broke a lot of times? It seems like it’s very measured how you approach those.

A: I’d say each week is different, and we manage it the way we think we need to manage that game.

Q: I know you’re focused on Philly, but the schedule you were handed, which you knew about way back when, is kind of weird with Washington coming up so close after just playing them. I’m just wondering if you change or split with how you prepare, knowing that you have Washington so close on the heels of having them last time, if you have to change stuff up a whole lot (and) how you balance that with preparing for Philly.

A: I think this week all our focus is on Philly. And then once we get done with this week, there’s not much change in terms of scheduling or how we go about things. It’s just we play an opponent. For them, it’s back-to-back. And for us, there’s a game in between. We’ll be playing Philly and getting ready for Philly here starting today.

Q: So, you don’t really split up the week and say, ‘We’ve got Washington, and they’ve got the advantage having the off week,’ basically three weeks to prepare for you a second time?

A: No. We did all our work leading up to that game, and now it’s onto this game – playing the best team in the league. That’s where all our focus has to be.

Q: Whereas (outside linebacker Azeez) Ojulari seemed to be on a pitch count, it seemed like (tight end Daniel) Bellinger jumped right back into the full fold. Why was he able to do that, and how did you think it went with his visor, catching the ball, doing all his responsibilities with the new equipment that he had to wear?

A: I think the two injuries were a little different. This was more of a contact to the eye, so we had to let that heal and then put the visor on and make sure he was ready to go. He was conditioning throughout when he could. And he played a lot of snaps yesterday. It was good to have him back. Hopefully, we just keep improving with him. But it definitely was good to have him out there.

Q: What happened with Rodarius Williams – why he went from playing what seemed like pretty well against the Cowboys to no snaps yesterday?

A: Each week, we sit down, we talk – the defensive guys and I, and we figure out who we think we want in there for that particular week. The guys that were in there this week were the guys we wanted in there.

Q: This seems to be like the first real test of adversity for this team, right? Things went pretty well earlier in the year. You won seven of nine, but now you’ve won once in five games. You have players that are unhappy, and saying it publicly, with their playing time. And even some of your decisions were criticized yesterday. How do you handle adversity, and how much do you view this as a critical point for your team and sort of what you’re trying to build here?

A: Well, adversity and criticism come with the territory. I’ve been in, not this seat as a head coach, but a coordinator for a long time, and it’s a popular game followed by a lot of people. And I appreciate the support. You also appreciate the negativity or criticism. If you want to be mentally tough and strong, this is the sport to be in, whether you’re a coach, whether you’re a player. And really, you can’t focus too much on that. You appreciate it. I think we’re all thankful for the support you get, but you just get back to work. There’s adversity after every loss, sometimes there’s adversity after a win. We’ve talked about that since probably April. There’s going to be ups and downs, and to stay mentally strong and focused on the task at hand, that’s not an easy thing to do all the time. But you need to do it. It’s a week-to-week league, so have we got the results we wanted? Absolutely not. Have we prepared, worked and done the right things to give ourselves a chance? We have. We just haven’t finished; we haven’t done enough to win those games. I was proud of the team yesterday for the way they competed, losing two in a row and you’re down 10-0 right away. So, the focus for us will always be on us and improving the things we need to improve from each individual, starting with me, all the way down to the team. That’s, to me, the only way you know how to coach and work in this business.

Q: You monitor snap counts of all these guys obviously. I don’t know when they come to you and say (safety) Julian (Love) might need a break and maybe the headset goes off at some point for you or (defensive coordinator) Wink (Martindale) or (special teams coordinator) Thomas McGaughey. All 85 snaps and like 20 on special teams. When is too much too much?

A: Yeah, he’ll have a vet day on Wednesday.

Q: He’s been told that already?

A: Yeah, and a couple other people.

Q: Who else?

A: (Defensive lineman) Dexter (Lawrence) is the plan. (Guard Mark) Glowinski, those three right now.

Q: Do you ever think, ‘You know what? We’ve got to back off Julian with some of the special teams stuff because he’s going to play,’ I mean 85 snaps is a lot for anybody.

A: Yeah, you’re always talking about that. We had made a couple of adjustments with some other of the players that were starters. We’ll always talk about doing that, particularly now in December.

Q: Of course, your coordinators don’t want to hear it either when you start taking their players away from them.

A: Yeah, you want your best players on each unit because you never know which play is the most important play.

Q: I know this is more of a looking ahead question and you’re not really in a looking ahead mode, but they just announced that you guys were getting flexed in Washington to Sunday night. You guys, in terms of that kind of opportunity, obviously the guys are going to want to get back to Washington and kind of finish what you didn’t do yesterday. Does the challenge of facing a team as talented as Philly help you keep the focus where you want the focus to be without looking ahead to what’s coming in a week?

A: Again, this is something that we’ve talked about since the day we got here: You focus on the day, and you make the most out of that day. Then you focus on the week, and you make the most out of that week. You don’t get too far ahead of yourself. I’ve said this before: You get humbled real quick in this league, so you don’t get too high when things are going great. You don’t get too low when things aren’t exactly the way you want them; you keep a consistent approach. So, our focus will be on Philadelphia, again against a team that’s pretty much run through everybody. And I think that’s plenty for us to focus on.

THE PLAYERS SPEAK…
Transcripts and video clips of the media sessions with the following players are available in The Corner Forum and on YouTube:

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
The players are off on Tuesday and return to practice on Wednesday.

Dec 042022
 
Graham Gano, New York Giants (December 4, 2022)

Graham Gano – © USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK GIANTS 20 – WASHINGTON COMMANDERS 20…
The big game against the New York Giants and Washington Commanders ended in an unsatisfying 20-20 tie on Sunday afternoon at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants are now 7-4-1 on the season and 0-2-1 in the division.

In terms of overall team statistics, Washington held clear advantages in first downs (25 to 20), total net yards (411 to 316), net yards rushing (165 to 134), net yards passing (246 to 182), and time of possession (41:11 to 28:49). Both teams turned the ball over once with fumbles.

The Giants received the football first to start the game, picked up one first down, and then turned the ball over when quarterback Daniel Jones fumbled at the end of a 5-yard run on 2nd-and-5. Washington recovered at the New York 48-yard line. The Commanders reached the Giants’ 3-yard line but were forced to settle for a 21-yard field goal.

The Giants quickly went three-and-out on their second possession. Washington responded with an 8-play, 62-yard drive that ended with a 19-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Taylor Heinicke to wide receiver Terry McLaurin, who broke a tackle on the play to score. The Commanders were now up 10-0 with just under two and a half minutes to play in the 1st quarter.

New York finally got on the scoreboard on their third possession. The Giants gained 45 yards in eight plays to set up a 48-yard field goal by place kicker Graham Gano. After a quick three-and-out by the Commanders, which was aided by an 8-yard sack by defensive lineman Justin Ellis, the Giants tied the game. Jones connected with wide receiver Darius Slayton on a 55-yard deep throw. On 3rd-and-7, Jones then ran for 10 yards down to the Washington 13-yard line. On the next snap, running back Saquon Barkley scored from 13 yards out.

The Commanders regained the lead on their next possession with a 12-play, 51-yard drive. The key play was a defensive holding penalty called on cornerback Fabian Moreau on 3rd-and-7 which gave Washington a first down. The Commanders kicked a 42-yard field goal to take a 13-10 advantage.

The Giants’ final possession of the first half began with 2:23 on the clock. After a first down and a 21-yard run by Barkley, the Giants were at the Washington 30-yard line with 1:07 left with all three timeouts. But the Giants did not handle the clock well in the last minute, despite converting on 3rd-and-10 and 3rd-and-1, and settled for a 27-yard field goal on 2nd-goal from the 9-yard line with five seconds left.

At the half, the game was tied 13-13.

The second half started well for New York. On 3rd-and-8, Heinicke was sacked by linebacker Azeez Ojulari. The ball came loose and Ojulari recovered the fumble at the Washington 20-yard line. Jones ran for seven yards on 3rd-and-4. Two plays later, he threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver Isaiah Hodgins as the Giants were now up 20-13. Unfortunately for New York, these would be the last points they would score on the day.

The Giants pinned Washington at their own 5-yard line on the ensuing kickoff, but the Commanders neared midfield before punting. The Giants went three and out near the end of the 3rd quarter. The Commanders then drove 40 yards but missed a 52-yard field goal with just over 10 minutes left in the 4th quarter.

After two more punts by the Giants and one by the Commanders, Washington began their game-tying drive with 3:43 left in the game. Starting from their own 10-yard line, the Commanders drove 90 yards. The key play was a 20-yard completion on 4th-and-4 from Washington’s own 27-yard line. Heinicke then completed a pass of 25 yards down to the New York 28-yard line. He then threw to wide receiver Jahan Dotson, who avoided a couple of tackles en route to the score with 1:45 left on the clock. The game was tied at 20-20.

The Giants went three-and-out again. Washington picked up two first downs but were stopped at their own 38-yard line. The Commanders punted and Jones knelt on the ball once from the New York 16-yard line with 13 seconds left. After scoring a touchdown early in the 3rd quarter on a short field, the Giants’ offense only had one first down for the remainder of the 3rd and all of the 4th quarters, netting just one yard.

The Giants won the toss, picked up one first down and then punted. The Commanders picked up one first down and then also punted. The Giants reached the Washington 45-yard line but could get no closer. Head Coach Brian Daboll decided not to go for it on 4th-and-3. The Commanders got the ball back with 1:36 but could not move the ball. Washington was very fortunate that Heinicke did not fumble the ball when he was blindsided for a sack by linebacker Kayvon Thibodeux near the end zone. The Giants got the ball back with 28 seconds left at their own 43-yard line. New York gained 17 yards. With five seconds left, Gano’s 58-yard field goal attempt came up short and the game ended.

Jones finished the game 25-of-31 for 200 yards and one touchdown. He was also the leading ground gainer for New York with 12 carries for 71 yards. Barkley ran the ball 18 times for 63 yards and a touchdown. The leading receiver was Slayton, who caught six passes for 90 yards.

Defensively, the Giants were credited with five sacks, 10 quarterback hits, and three forced fumbles. The sacks were by Ellis, Ojlari, Thibodeaux, defensive linemen Dexter Lawrence, and linebacker Jihad Ward.

GAME VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS are available on YouTube.

ROSTER MOVES, PRACTICE SQUAD ACTIVATIONS, INACTIVES, AND INJURY REPORT…
On Saturday, the Giants activated OLB Azeez Ojulari and S Tony Jefferson from Injured Reserve. The team also waived TE Tanner Hudson and signed TE Nick Vannett to the 53-man roster from the Practice Squad.

The Giants activated (standard elevation) DL Vernon Butler and CB Zyon Gilbert from the Practice Squad to the 53-man roster.

Inactive for the game were WR Kenny Golladay (illness), OG Josh Ezeudu (neck), OG Shane Lemieux (toe), CB Adoree’ Jackson (knee), TE Lawrence Cager, OLB Elerson Smith, and CB Darnay Holmes.

DL Leonard Williams (neck) left the game and did not return.

POST-GAME REACTION…
Transcripts and video clips of post-game media sessions with Head Coach Brian Daboll and the following players are available in The Corner Forum and at Giants.com:

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
Head Coach Brian Daboll and select players will address the media by conference call on Monday.

Dec 022022
 
Jaylon Smith and Leonard Williams, New York Giants (November 13, 2022)

Jaylon Smith and Leonard Williams – © USA TODAY Sports

DECEMBER 2, 2022 NEW YORK GIANTS INJURY REPORT…
WR Darius Slayton (illness), OG Josh Ezeudu (neck), OG Shane Lemieux (toe), and CB Adoree’ Jackson (knee) did not practice on Friday. Slayton is officially “questionable” for Sunday’s game against the Washington Commanders. The other three players have been ruled out of the game.

RB Gary Brightwell (illness), WR Richie James (knee), TE Daniel Bellinger (eye), OC Jon Feliciano (neck), LB Carter Coughlin (thigh), CB Fabian Moreau (oblique), CB Darnay Holmes (shoulder), and S Dane Belton (clavicle) were limited in practice. All eight of these players are officially “questionable” for the game.

OT Evan Neal (knee), OT Tyre Phillips (neck), DL Leonard Williams (neck), and CB Cor’Dale Flott (concussion) fully practiced. All four players are expected to play.

THE COACHES SPEAK…
Transcripts and video clips of the media sessions with the following coaches are available in The Corner Forum and on YouTube:

THE PLAYERS SPEAK…
Transcripts and video clips of the media sessions with the following players are available in The Corner Forum and on YouTube:

WHAT’S UP NEXT…
There is no media availability to the team on Saturday. The Giants host the Washington Commanders at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

Dec 022022
 
Don "Wink" Martindale, New York Giants (November 13, 2022)

Don “Wink” Martindale – © USA TODAY Sports

THE STORYLINE:
Glass half full or empty? The optimist will say this is an intriguing contest between two tough, over-achieving, well-coached teams that are playing above expectations. The naysayers will call this a game between two teams that are trying to keep out of last place in the division. It’s all a matter of perspective.

Regardless, this is an absolutely critical game for both franchises. The winner will have the inside track to the 3rd spot in the division and a possible Wild Card spot. The loser is going to be behind the proverbial 8-ball.

The Giants and Commanders are two similar teams. Both are largely carried by their defense. Both like to run the ball more than they throw it. But at the moment, both appear to be heading in opposite directions. The Commanders have won six out of their last seven games, including an impressive win in Philadelphia. The Giants have lost three of their last four and have already been swept by the Dallas Cowboys.

Can the Giants regain their footing and reverse Washington’s surging momentum? That’s the storyline.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • RB Gary Brightwell (illness – questionable)
  • WR Darius Slayton (illness – questionable)
  • WR Richie James (knee – questionable)
  • TE Daniel Bellinger (eye – questionable)
  • OC Jon Feliciano (neck – questionable)
  • OG Josh Ezeudu (neck – out)
  • OG Shane Lemieux (toe – out)
  • OT Evan Neal (knee – probable)
  • OT Tyre Phillips (neck – probable)
  • DL Leonard Williams (neck – probable)
  • LB Carter Coughlin (thigh – questionable)
  • CB Adoree’ Jackson (knee – out)
  • CB Fabian Moreau (oblique – questionable)
  • CB Darnay Holmes (shoulder – questionable)
  • CB Cor’Dale Flott (concussion – probable)
  • S Dane Belton (clavicle – questionable)

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
I’ve outlined the Giants’ passing game issues for the past two months. The cavalry is not going to crest the hill and save the day in 2022. Kadarius Toney was a bust and is gone. 29-year old Kenny Golladay has had one of the greatest career implosions in NFL history. Wan’Dale Robinson is on IR. The Giants will have to get by with Darius Slayton, Isaiah Hodgins, and Richie James, all of whom may not even be on the team in a few months. Making matters worse is James has been nursing a knee issue for the past couple of weeks. It’s not a good situation, but there is little that can be done about it.

More worrisome has been the marked decline in the Giants’ ground game in recent weeks. There is a direct correlation between the team’s last three losses and Saquon Barkley’s lack of productivity. In those games, Barkley rushed for 53, 22, and 39 yards, averaging only 2.5 yards per carry. In the last two games, he only rushed the ball for a total of 26 times. This was after his career-high 35-rush game against the Texans. And it’s not just that the blocking hasn’t been there. Barkley is not running as decisively or physically as he did in September and October. Cutting to the chase, the Giants can’t win unless Barkley gets back on track. They don’t have the weapons in the passing game to compensate.

Relatedly, Daniel Jones’ declining rushing figures are having a negative impact on the offense. Since his 107-yard effort against the Jaguars on October 23rd, Jones has only rushed for 108 yards in the last four games, averaging only 25 yards per game. Some of this has been due to opposing defenses playing more in a more disciplined fashion. But Jones’ number has not been called as much either. He carried the ball only three times against the Cowboys. The Giants need to get back to their old 1-2 punch formula of Barkley and Jones presenting problems on the ground.

The good news is that the team is getting reinforcements up front. Evan Neal and Daniel Bellinger are back. Both were injured against the Jaguars on October 23rd. The Giants have gone 1-3 since they have both been out. Neal not only will help the ground game, but his presence will allow Tyre Phillips to serve as the 6th offensive lineman in heavy packages, another upgrade. Bellinger has been missed not only as a target, but as a viable, point-of-attack blocker at the tight end position. In addition, the return of Nick Gates should help to settle down the interior of the line, be it at left guard or center.

Which brings us to the Commanders, a well-coached defense that is currently 7th in the NFL in yards allowed (one spot below the 6th-ranked Cowboys). Washington is 10th against the pass and 8th against the run. They are also 10th in points allowed. To be blunt, they are playing far better defense than the New York Giants. The strength of Washington is their defensive line, led by defensive tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, as well as end Montez Sweat. They can play the run and all three have over six sacks each. The Commanders also may be getting back #2 overall pick in 2020, Chase Young. Making matters worse is a secondary that has been playing good football. Starting corner Benjamin St. Juste will miss his second game in a row however. The Commanders are excellent in 3rd-down defense, being able to rush the passer as well as cover.

The man on the spot is Daniel Jones. He does not have the weapons that Washington has. He’s also going against a tougher defense than his counterpart in this game. With six critical games left, starting this Sunday, Jones still has the opportunity to make a statement. He must out-play Taylor Heinicke, not only for his team to have a chance but probably for Jones’ own fate with this franchise. Jones was the #6 overall pick. Heinicke was undrafted. Don’t turn the football over. Make plays in crucial situations to keep drives alive and score points. Win the game.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
Not only has the Giants’ ground game deteriorated, but so has its defense. It’s pretty easy to connect the dots as to why. The loss of Xavier McKinney caused a domino effect on the entire defense. This was exacerbated by the loss of the team’s #1 cornerback in Adoree’ Jackson. I don’t think it is a coincidence that we have seen a marked decline in 3rd-down defense and red-zone defense since both were lost. The problem for Wink Martindale and the defense is these two are still out as the key stretch run begins.

The defensive key to this game is obvious: run defense. Like the Giants, the ground game is the heart of the Washington attack. Stop their ground attack and stopping the Commanders becomes much easier. Washington is only 22nd in offense in yards, and 24th in points. But they average over 121 yards per game rushing and lead the NFL in time of possession. Rookie Brian Robinson has been impressive and is coming off his best game against the Falcons, averaging almost six yards per carry. Antonio Gibson is the other back, and presents more of an issue as a receiver (47 catches). He’s dealing with a foot injury however.

The problem for New York is that their run defense has been bad this year. The Giants are 26th against the run, allowing almost 139 yards per game. Worse, the Giants are allowing 5.2 yards per rushing attempt, one of the worst figures in the League. The lack of depth on the defensive line, talent issues at inside linebacker, and sporadic tackling by the secondary have all contributed to the disappointing play. But Washington is surely going to approach this game by attacking the New York weakness. Washington’s yards-per-carry is usually not impressive (sub 4.0), but they stick with the run and hope to wear down their opponents in the 4th quarter. It has been working.

The other fly in the ointment is the quality of Washington’s receiving targets is vastly superior to New York’s. Terry McLaurin is one of the best receivers in football. He can beat you deep and he can beat you by keeping the chains moving. With better quarterbacking, he’s be a real star. Curtis Samuel is also a quality slot receiver. These two, plus Gibson and tight end Logan Thomas, are Washington’s main receiving threats.

Which brings us to Heinicke, the 29-year old undrafted quarterback now with his sixth NFL team. He took over for Carson Wentz in Week 7 and has gone 5-1 as a starter. He’s no stud quarterback, but he’s managed games well and made just enough plays when called upon. That said, he lacks a top arm and has gotten lucky with a number of his throws. If the Giants can stop the run and make the Commanders more one dimensional, New York’s pass rush could make things uncomfortable for Henicke and cause turnovers.

The good news for the Giants is that Kayvon Thibodeaux is coming off of his best game. Azeez Ojulari finally is back as well and will help the pass rush. Combine these two with Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence and the Giants finally may have some real horses to rush the quarterback. The Commanders will also be without right guard Trai Turner. Center Tyler Larsen has also been limited with a shoulder injury.

Priority #1 is stopping the run. The inside linebackers will be on the spot, especially with as much motion as Washington employs offensively. But an undermanned New York secondary will also have to deal with McLaurin and Samuel. The return of Fabian Moreau should help, but the Giants will need Darnay Holmes, Nick McCloud, Rodarius Williams, and Cor’Dale Flott to rise to the occasion as well.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Thomas McGaughey’s special teams units have been a disappointment this year. The return game has been a net negative. Punting has been a problem. Coverage has not stood out. Giants face one of the league’s better punters in Tress Way. Punt/kick returner Dax Milne is out.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Defensive Coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale on his run defense: “We’re just going to have to get 11 hats to the football, and right now statistically, our run defense isn’t very good. We need to continue to work on fundamentals and technique and getting everybody to the football. When you start putting in all the other runs, the wide receiver sweeps and all the other plays off of it, I think run averages are up across the league, but I think we need to get better at it.”

THE FINAL WORD:
These are two similar, over-achieving teams that are unfortunately playing in the same division as the Eagles and Cowboys. After Sunday, one will be in far better shape than the other. This contest almost has the feel of a playoff game. If the Giants win, hopes for a real playoff spot continue. If they lose, fan attention will likely increase about the upcoming offseason. This is the biggest December game the Giants have played since 2016.