NFL Preview - N.Y. Giants (7-6) at Washington (4-9)
By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The New York Giants remain a fixture in the NFC playoff race despite a discouraging stretch of 2-6 football. When they travel to meet the NFC East rival Washington Redskins on Monday night, Tom Coughlin's team will either see its postseason hopes take a major hit, or take a small step toward the same type of late-season run that resulted in their most recent Super Bowl title.
By winning each of its final three games, including Monday's game and a concluding two-game stretch against the Panthers and Vikings, New York would finish with a 10-6 record and a likely wild card berth, the same position the team was in back in 2007, when it finished with a middling 4-4 record in the second-half before going on a road tear that was finished off with a legendary upset of the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
Clearly, if the Giants are to repeat that type of history, they will have to fix a lot of problems that have reared their ugly heads of late, and fix them quickly.
Specifically, Big Blue has had terrible trouble stopping opponents, allowing 259 points, or an average of 32.4 points per game, over their last eight contests. Last week's 45-38 home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, which allowed Philly to sweep the home-and-home and move two full games ahead of the Giants, saw an opponent score 40 or more points against New York for the third time this year. Philadelphia touchdowns off a Sheldon Brown fumble return and DeSean Jackson punt return helped reduce the margin for error for a New York defense that surrendered 275 yards through the air to Donovan McNabb.
The shaky defensive effort against the Eagles helped waste a 512-yard showing from the Giants offense, which included a career-high 391-yard passing night from quarterback Eli Manning.
The Redskins, meanwhile, had a happier Week 14 result, though it was a case of too little, too late for a Washington club that has already clinched at least a share of last place in the NFC East.
The Skins' 34-13 rout of the Raiders helped wipe away some of the residue of a grating three-game losing streak that included close defeats to the Cowboys (7-6), Eagles (27-24), and Saints (33-30 in overtime).
Quarterback Jason Campbell continued a recent encouraging stretch of football by completing 16-of-28 passes for 222 yards, including a pair of touchdowns to tight end Fred Davis, while former fourth-string running back Quinton Ganther made the most of his starting assignment by scoring twice in his own right.
But that performance may have been overshadowed by a defense that sacked Raiders quarterbacks eight times, with half of those going to rookie phenom and first-round draft choice Brian Orakpo.
Orakpo, who now has 11 sacks on the year, is making a late case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year consideration that can be enhanced before a national viewing audience on Monday night.
The Giants have a 88-61-4 advantage in the all-time regular season series with Washington, and have won three straight in the series since the Redskins won at Giants Stadium in 2007. New York was a 23-17 home winner over Washington in Week 1, and swept last year's series, including a 23-7 victory at FedEx Field in Week 13. The teams engaged in an unconventional split of the 2007 home-and- home. The Giants are 3-0 in Washington since last losing there in 2005.
The teams have also split two postseason matchups, with the Giants' 17-0 victory in the 1986 NFC Championship countering a 28-0 Washington win in a 1943 NFC Division Playoff.
New York's Tom Coughlin is 9-5 against the Redskins all-time, including 1-2 while with the Jacksonville Jaguars (1995-2002). Washington head coach Jim Zorn is 0-3 against both Coughlin and the Giants as a head coach.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Following their 500-yard-plus effort against the Eagles last week, the Giants have moved up to fifth in the league in total offense (382.4 yards per game), though that doesn't mean the team is without its problems on that side of the ball. A team that was formerly one of the top rushing groups in the league ranks a disappointing 10th in the NFL in that category (125.2 yards per game), as Brandon Jacobs (782 rushing yards, 17 receptions, 6 TD) and Ahmad Bradshaw (651 rushing yards, 5 TD, 14 receptions) have been somewhat inconsistent. Turnovers, which were the Giants' bugaboo in the Philadelphia loss, have also reared their ugly head far too often, as Big Blue has committed 20 of its 25 miscues on the year during its 2-6 stretch of football. The passing attack, led by Manning (3316 passing yards, 23 TD, 11 INT) and his litany of targets including wideouts Steve Smith (85 receptions, 5 TD), Hakeem Nicks (38 receptions, 6 TD), Mario Manningham (48 receptions, 4 TD), Domenik Hixon (11 receptions, 1 TD), and tight end Kevin Boss (34 receptions, 5 TD), has been the strength of the unit this season. Smith had six catches for 80 yards in the first meeting with the Redskins this season, while Manningham scored his first touchdown of the year in that Week 1 contest. With right tackle Kareem McKenzie (knee) out for Monday, fill-in William Beatty will have to help prop up a unit that has allowed 23 sacks on the year.
After what Orakpo (45 tackles) did to the Raiders last week, Manning and the Giants' pass protectors had better keep their heads on a swivel Monday night. The emerging rookie is part of a Washington pass rush that now ranks tied for fourth in the league in sacks (36), with Orakpo and opposite pass rusher Andre Carter (57 tackles) doing most of the damage there. As a group, Washington is fourth in NFL passing defense (188 yards per game), with cornerback Carlos Rogers and safeties Laron Landry (73 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT) and Reed Doughty (82 tackles, 2 sacks) also a major part of that figure. Landry had the team's lone interception off of Oakland quarterback JaMarcus Russell last week. The Skins have not been as sound against the run, ranking 22nd in the league in that category (117.5 yards per game), with defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth (29 tackles, 3 sacks) having been in and out of the lineup due to injury, and middle linebacker London Fletcher (118 tackles, 2 sacks, 1 INT) making a lot of tackles but not necessarily a consistent impact. The Skins allowed a combined 108 yards on 28 total carries for Jacobs and Bradshaw in Week 1.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
Though it is widely assumed that Zorn will be out of a job at the end of the year, there is no question that his west-coast-styled attack has begun to make strides in recent weeks. Triggerman Jason Campbell (2946 passing yards, 17 TD, 12 INT, 179 rushing yards) has thrown for 220-plus yards in each of his last four games, and has tossed seven touchdown passes to just one interception over his last three. Campbell hit blossoming tight end Fred Davis (35 receptions, 5 TD) with a pair of touchdown strikes last week, and has also shown recent chemistry with wideouts Santana Moss (53 receptions, 3 TD) and Devin Thomas (25 receptions, 3 TD). Moss had four catches for a team-best 58 yards against the Raiders last week, while Thomas caught a pair of balls for 38 yards one week after posting his first career 100-yard game, against the Saints. The Redskins' revolving door in the backfield last week landed on Ganther (138 rushing yards, 2 TD), who posted a mere 50 yards on 14 carries but did find the end zone twice in the fourth quarter to put the game way. Former preseason phenom Marcus Mason (65 rushing yards) also received an opportunity, with his six totes going for 32 yards. The Redskins are up to 22nd in the league in total offense (319.2 yards per game).
Though their decent NFL rank of ninth in passing defense (206.5 yards per game) wouldn't suggest it, the Giants have had major problems against the pass, struggles that cropped up when the team gave up several big passing plays against the Eagles last week. The safety tandem of converted corner Aaron Ross (10 tackles) and mid-season pickup Aaron Rouse (40 tackles, 1 sack) has been learning on the job, while corners Corey Webster (51 tackles, 1 INT) and Terrell Thomas (66 tackles, 4 INT, 1 sack) have proven relatively easy for receivers to shed as well. The coverage has been exposed thanks in part to the inconsistent work of a pass rush that has generated just 26 sacks on the year. Recently-demoted end Osi Umenyiora (24 tackles, 6 sacks) had the club's only sack of Donovan McNabb last week, while starters Justin Tuck (46 tackles, 4.5 sacks) and Mathias Kiwanuka (43 tackles, 3 sacks) were totally shut out in that regard. The Giants have also taken a hit in run defense since middle linebacker Antonio Pierce was lost for the year with a back injury, though Michael Boley (61 tackles, 1 sack) came up with a game-high 11 tackles against the Eagles, and the unheralded Jonathan Goff (15 tackles, 1 INT) had an interception of McNabb. Defensive tackle Chris Canty (9 tackles) was among the team's most active run-stopping linemen last week.
The Giants' 512-yard explosion last week definitely gave some fantasy managers pause, but remember that Big Blue was letting it fly most of the night against a poor-tackling Eagles defense that was conceding some yards due to the lead Philadelphia held most of the night. In other words, don't expect 391 yards from Manning again. Good choices on the G-Men do include Nicks, who has scored each of the last two weeks and is emerging as a bona fide outside threat, Boss, who has five touchdowns over the last six weeks, and kicker Lawrence Tynes, who won't be going to the Pro Bowl anytime soon but always contributes some points.
On the Washington side, Ganther remains a decent choice, especially against a shaky Giants defense, and Davis has scored four touchdowns in his last three games and looks like the real deal. Campbell has played much better of late, throwing multiple TD passes in three straight games, but remains a secondary choice at best.
The Giants' big problems are that their secondary struggles in coverage, their once-strong pass rush has largely gone missing, and their formerly vaunted running game has all but disappeared. All of these problems should be magnified less, however, against a Redskins club not especially equipped to exploit them. Washington doesn't have the aerial game to consistently threaten the Giants' pass defense, and the Redskins have been a much better pass- defending than run-defending group. Though Washington has embraced the role of spoiler and will do some decent things here, this team has lost nine games for a reason and will show why on Monday night.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 24, Redskins 17
12/18 16:25:14 ET