Dec 032004

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at Washington Redskins, December 5, 2004: There are five games left and the 2004 New York Giants are about to define themselves and their season. Will 2004 be remembered for its fast start and then complete collapse? Or will it be remembered as a positive stepping stone forward on the road to rebuilding the team?

At 5-6, the Giants have a pretty tough road in front of them. Defensively, the team has been hammered by injuries. The defense also has to start creating turnovers again. Offensively, the inexperience at quarterback and the issues with the offensive line are going to be tested by some of the very best defenses in the league. The Falcons and Eagles have excellent defenses, but the Redskins, Steelers, and Ravens are just as tough or tougher. All three bring the heat and force turnovers. All three can win games by themselves.

But the focus has to be on Washington this week. Find a way to win. This will not be an easy game. Almost every Redskin game this year has been a tightly fought affair because of their excellent defense. This is going to be a close football game and it will be decided by the team that makes the fewest mistakes.

Giants on Defense: The Giants are banged up, but what a great opportunity for the young players on this team to make a name for themselves and demonstrate that they have a future with the team. After all, the future of the New York Giants’ defense is not Michael Strahan, Keith Washington, Norman Hand, Omar Stoutmire, and Shaun Williams. New heroes must be found.

Of the opening day starters on the defensive line, only Fred Robbins will play on Sunday. He apparently will be shifted back to right defensive tackle. William Joseph will start at left defensive tackle. Much of the success or failure of the defense on Sunday will be determined by these two plus the reserves who will rotate in behind them (Kenderick Allen, Davern Williams). Robbins will line up over LG Derrick Dockery, a huge 2nd-year player. Joseph will likely face RG Randy Thomas (who is listed as “questionable” with a hamstring injury). It’s time for Joseph to stand up and justify his lofty draft status and make some plays; Thomas is one of the better guards in the NFL however. Getting to the quarterback would be nice, but most importantly, Joseph, Robbins, Allen, and Williams have to maintain their gap responsibility, stand their ground at the point-of-attack, and shut down the Redskins’ running game. Of course, the ends have to get into the act as well. Osi Umenyiora will lineup most of the time against LT Chris Samuels and Lance Legree will likely face reserve RT Vaughn Parker (RT Mark Wilson is listed as “doubtful” with a knee injury). Williams will likely see playing time at end too and it will be interesting to see how many snaps newcomer Regan Upshaw receives.

The whole focal point has to be to keep HB Clinton Portis under wraps. Portis has struggled this year as teams have loaded up against the run and dared the Redskins to beat them with the passing game. But Portis is capable of taking over a game if you let him get started. All he needs is one crack and it is off to the races. Pound on him, gang-tackle him. Keep Portis discouraged.

When the Redskins do put the ball up in the air, Washington likes to max protect and only send out a few receivers. Despite this, it is obviously important to get heat on QB Patrick Ramsey – a strong-armed quarterback whose confidence has been shaken in recent years and who is capable of making dumb turnovers. At the same time, he still flashes signs of ability and he certainly is better than some poor quarterbacks who have already beaten the Giants this year (see the games against the Bears, Cardinals, and Lions). I doubt the Giants can generate enough heat by merely rushing their down four. They are going to have to come up with some well-designed blitzes that hopefully fool the Redskins more than they did against the Eagles last week.

The Redskins will throw to the backs. Portis has 30 catches out of the backfield and FB Chris Cooley has 20. Linebacker coverage here is important. When Washington throws the ball down the field, the principle targets are Laveranues Coles, who has never lived up to his free agent hype, and Rod Gardner, who has never lived up to his #1 draft pick status. Both are capable of making plays however if you are not on top of your game. It’s time for Will Allen and Will Peterson not only to shut down these types or receivers, but also generate some turnovers and win some football games.

Stop the run. Get after Ramsey and rattle him. Most importantly, help out your offense by creating turnovers and providing outstanding field position.

Giants on Offense: Washington is a bad football team but not because of their defense. Their defense is actually one of the very best in the league. Those expecting a breakout game by Eli Manning and the offense will likely be disappointed. Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams is one of the best coaches in the league. His system is extremely aggressive and it blitzes from all angles. I hate to tell you folks this, but it is a lot like the Eagles’ defensive system. The Giants will struggle to move the football and they will not score many points. The NUMBER ONE key to this game for the Giants’ offense is to NOT turn the football over. This is going to be a 13-7 type of game in terms of the score. The team that makes the killer mistake is going to lose the game. Don’t worry about style points, just win the game.

The Giants’ offensive line, particularly the interior trio of LG Jason Whittle, OC Shaun O’Hara (if he plays), and RG Chris Snee will be on the spot. The Redskins undoubtedly saw all of the confusion caused by the Eagles and their pass rush schemes last week and the Redskins are a very good blitzing team. The guy playing the best football up front is former Giants’ DT Cornelius Griffin (51 tackles, 4 sacks). He will normally line up over Whittle. The next best guy is left DE Renaldo Wynn (30 tackles, 3 sacks). Wynn will face RT David Diehl. The other guys are ordinary. It’s not the defensive line of the Redskins that causes problems for opponents, but the confusing blitzing schemes of Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams. Figuring out who is coming from where and who to block is the key. The linebackers are good, even without LaVar Arrington (injured). SLB Marcus Washington is one of the best linebackers in the league. He is very physical, a good run defender, and an excellent blitzer. He can do it all. He gave the Giants problems the last time these two teams played. MLB Antonio Pierce is an emotional, physical player who will hit you.

The Giants simply need to be patient. I would run, run, run. Try to wear down the defense and take them out of their element – the blitz. Play for field position. I actually wouldn’t be surprised to see more of Ron Dayne in this game than we have seen thus far this year.

The Redskin secondary is pretty good. It is helped by the pass pressure from the blitzing schemes. RCB Fred Smoot (3 interceptions) did a number on Amani Toomer in the first game; it’s time for Toomer to return the favor. LCB Shawn Springs (3 interceptions) is a bigger, more physical corner. The real ballhawk is rookie FS Sean Taylor (3 interceptions). Taylor has had a rocky debut with quite a bit of off-the-field problems, but he is a very good football player who is getting better each week. The strong safety is former Giant Ryan Clark, a smaller guy who will hit.

Eli needs to play much smarter in this game than he did the previous two weeks. The Redskins are going to try to confuse him (and they undoubtedly will). What Manning needs to do is minimize the number and severity of the mistakes. I would try to keep things real simple for him if I were the coaching staff. I would provide him with a safety valve on almost any throwing play. These might hurt some in terms of blitz protection, but the Giants’ receivers are not good enough to make plays on their own. Jeremy Shockey, Tiki Barber, or Jim Finn need to be the fallback option. I would actually use Finn a lot in this game as a pass receiver.

Run, run, run. Don’t turn the ball over. Use your underneath receivers to keep drives alive. Play for field position.

Special Teams: James Thrash, who is now filling in for the injured Chad Morton, is capable of breaking a big return. He has a 43 yard punt return this year in limited action.

Last week, we learned how psychologically devastating a punt block can be. Jack Brewer and David Tyree can get to the punter. This is the week to do it guys!!!

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Eric Kennedy

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

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