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NFL Preview - N.Y. Giants (0-0) at Washington (0-0)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Washington Redskins hovered under the radar during the preseason, and the team will look to use that lack of recognition as a driving force in year No. 2 under head coach Mike Shanahan.
Shanahan made headlines a year ago by benching quarterback Donovan McNabb for Rex Grossman in a two-minute drill during a loss at Detroit, and now the savvy coach gets to start the 2011 season against the NFC East-rival New York Giants Sunday at FedEx Field with Grossman as his main man.
Grossman and John Beck battled through the summer heat after the NFL lockout was lifted for the starting job, and Shanahan said he had enough evidence to make his decision.
"I got a chance to talk to the quarterbacks over the weekend," Shanahan said on Monday. "It was a very close battle. I have a lot of faith in both of them and it has been very competitive all the way through, but I wanted to announce it and the starting quarterback will be Rex."
Shanahan's son, Kyle, who serves as the Redskins' offensive coordinator, said the decision between Grossman and Beck didn't come down to just being about stats, but how each quarterback handled certain situations. He went on to add how vital it is to take what the defense gives you and not to force plays.
Forcing plays may have ended Grossman's reign with the Chicago Bears, however, but now he'11 a fresh start with the Redskins, a team that finished last in the NFC East with a 6-10 record in 2010. He does have more experience than Beck, which may have played a part in the Shanahan's choice.
Grossman said he's confident that the Redskins will show improvement this season, and it wouldn't surprise him if the team came out on top in the division. Washington hasn't made the playoffs since 2007.
The move from McNabb to Grossman didn't make much of a difference last year, as the Redskins finished tied with Dallas for the basement in the NFC East. Grossman did finish the year with seven touchdown passes to four interceptions, however, and he and McNabb helped the Redskins finish eighth in passing yards in 2010, though the duo's combined 77.9 rating was only 21st-best in the league.
McNabb was traded to Minnesota for a late-round draft pick in July after spending only one season with the Redskins, who acquired the six-time Pro Bowl participant from Philadelphia prior to the 2010 campaign.
Eli Manning is still under center for the Giants and made some headlines during a recent radio interview in which he stated that he belongs in the same category as New England Patriots star signal-caller Tom Brady. Though the two have both led their teams to Super Bowl victories in their careers, Manning's comments may have put a target on his back for the upcoming year.
The Giants target success every season and have high expectations for 2011 even though Manning lost a few weapons and the front office did little to replenish those holes. Winning three championships in the Super Bowl era tends to lead to such lofty goals, which Manning acknowledged with his recent remarks.
Notable New York players such as tight end Kevin Boss and wide receiver Steve Smith were not re-signed, however, with Smith -- who played in just nine games last year because of a serious knee injury -- headed down I-95 to join the rival Philadelphia Eagles. Boss, Manning's emergency valve in the past, took a cross-country flight to join Oakland. Both may be sorely missed this season, with the competition in the NFC East rising at a rapid pace.
Running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs are expected to help take the load off of Manning's shoulders with their hard style of running, while Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks serve as two of the top young wideouts in the league. Manning will have a few new faces along the offensive line as well, as veterans Shaun O'Hara and Rich Seubert are no longer with Big Blue after being released in the offseason. David Diehl will shift from left tackle to Seubert's left guard spot in the new arrangement, with third-year man Will Beatty taking over Diehl's former post. David Baas replaces O'Hara at center after coming over from San Francisco as the team's only notable free-agent signing.
Giants Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora isn't expected to be ready for Sunday's game due to offseason knee surgery, however. He made headlines with a brief training-camp contract dispute before eventually opting to rejoin his teammates with hopes of working out a new deal.
"We will see," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said in reference to Umenyiora's status. "Every day, he looks better and better. He is working in the rehab center."
A trademark of success the past decade, New York went 10-6 a season ago but missed out on the playoffs. It has achieved 10 or more wins in five of the previous nine seasons, but hasn't made the playoffs since 2008.
The Giants have a 91-61-4 advantage in the all-time regular-season set with Washington, and last year's 17-14 Week 17 decision at FedEx Field was their sixth consecutive triumph over Washington. New York is 9-1 in its last 10 matchups against the Redskins, with the lone Washington win over that span a 22-17 road verdict in 2007. The Giants have also prevailed in each of their five most recent visits to FedEx Field, where they haven't lost since a 35-20 setback on Dec. 24, 2005.
With a victory here, the Giants would have their longest winning streak over the Redskins since an eight-game run from 1960-64.
These storied rivals 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.
Coughlin is 12-5 against the Redskins all-time, including a 1-2 mark while with the Jacksonville Jaguars from 1995-2002. Shanahan is 1-4 versus New York over his head coaching career, with the first three encounters taking place during his 14-year tenure with the Denver Broncos from 1995-2008.
Shanahan and Coughlin have a significant shared history, meeting five times between 1995 and 1999 when Coughlin's Jaguars and Shanahan's Broncos were regularly near the top of the AFC. Shanahan was 3-2 against Coughlin in those games, including a loss to Jacksonville in the 1996 AFC Playoffs and a win in the 1997 postseason. Coughlin has won three head-to-head bouts with Shanahan since, following up a 24-23 win over Denver in 2005 with last season's series sweep.
WHEN THE GIANTS HAVE THE BALL
Expect the Giants to pound the football right away against a Washington front line that features some new faces. Bradshaw (1,235 rushing yards, 8 TD) enjoyed a breakout campaign in 2010 and led the Giants with 276 carries. He unseated former starter Jacobs (823 rushing yards, 9 TD), who still held his own by taking the team lead in rushing touchdowns. New York should be concerned about the new offensive line and how it will work towards improving the ground game, however. The Giants were sixth in rushing a year ago, averaging 137.5 yards per game. Manning (4,002 passing yards, 31 TD, 25 INT) acknowledged that the offensive line, receivers and running backs performed well during the preseason, but some kinks still needed to be worked out after the team was hampered at times by turnovers, missed assignments and dropped passes. Manning has his own problems to right after putting forth a 25-interception campaign from a season ago. He did set new franchise marks for completions (339) and completion percentage (62.9 percent) in 2010, however, but faces a tough challenge from Washington's talented defensive backfield. Nicks (1052 yards, 11 TD) led the team with 79 catches and 11 touchdowns last season, while Manningham (60 receptions, 9 TD) looks to build on a strong 2010 campaign.
Washington may not have talented safety LaRon Landry (85 tackles) for Sunday's season opener because of a hamstring issue he suffered while making his way back from a previous Achilles' injury. Former Ram Oshiomogho Atogwe's addition will help in that department if the hard-hitting Landry is unavailable, while stud cornerback DeAngelo Hall (95 tackles) was named a captain and is a dangerous player to test, as evidenced by his six interceptions a year ago. Inside linebacker and top tackler London Fletcher (136 tackles) was also named captain on defense and will be counting on his teammates creating a strong push up front to make plays, especially against Bradshaw and Jacobs. Right outside linebacker Brian Orakpo (56 tackles) led the team with nine sacks in 2010 and will be rushing Manning on several occasions, while rookie Ryan Kerrigan -- Washington's first-round pick in April's draft -- will be tested on the other side. The Redskins took a step towards improving their front line with the addition of Barry Cofield (54 tackles), who was drafted by the Giants in 2006 and spent his first five seasons in New York. Defensive end Adam Carriker (37 tackles) is the top option at his position on the Redskins' roster.
WHEN THE REDSKINS HAVE THE BALL
The Redskins said goodbye to longtime running back Clinton Portis in the offseason and brought in both Tim Hightower and rookie Roy Helu to compete with holdover Ryan Torain. Hightower (736 rushing yards, 5 TD) was acquired from the Cardinals just prior to camp and had a strong preseason to earn the starting job, while Torain (742 rushing yards, 4 TD) is just making his way back from a broken hand suffered at the start of training camp and figures to start out the year in a reserve role despite finishing as the team's leading rusher last season. The offensive line was in complete disarray last season, as evidenced by the 37 sacks McNabb endured and the nine more Grossman took. Four significant lineman were not retained in the offseason, as guard Derrick Dockery, tackles Stephon Heyer and Mike Williams and center Casey Rabach are all gone. Second-year tackle Trent Williams, a first-round pick in 2010, will start at left tackle and protect the backside of Grossman (884 yards, 7 TD, 4 INT). Santana Moss (93 receptions, 1115 yards, 6 TD) is Grossman's top target, while tight end Chris Cooley (77 receptions, 3 TD) hopes to be ready for Sunday after missing all of the preseason with a knee injury. Jabar Gaffney (65 receptions, 2 TD) joined the receiving corps in the offseason in a trade with Denver.
The Giants may not be too worried about Grossman and his receivers, instead keying on stopping Hightower and Torain. With Cofield now across the sidelines in Burgundy and Gold, the Giants hoped rookie Marvin Austin could fill the void until he suffered a season-ending pectoral tear. Tackle Chris Canty (39 tackles, 2 sacks) is earning a lot of money, but his production hasn't increased since signing a big contract in 2009. Umenyiora (48 tackles, 12 sacks) ended his holdout during training camp and is entering his ninth year in the NFL, though he missed the entire 2008 season because of a torn knee ligament. He and fellow defensive end Justin Tuck (76 tackles) finished tied for the team lead in sacks and give the Giants two dangerous bookends coming off the edge. Second-year end Jason Pierre-Paul (30 tackles, 5 sacks) had an entire rookie season and offseason to get acclimated with the schemes, and will have a chance to increase his production with Umenyiora likely to miss the first couple of game. Linebackers Michael Boley (85 tackles, 1 sack) and Mathias Kiwanuka (11 tackles, 4 sacks) are healthy, but middle starter Jonathan Goff (80 tackles, 1 sack) suffered a season-ending torn ACL in practice this week and the secondary is banged up with the losses of cornerbacks Terrell Thomas (torn ACL) and rookie Prince Amukamara (broken foot).
KEYS TO THE GAME
Can Grossman make Shanahan's decision a wise one? The Redskins are hoping he can, and so does the two-time Super Bowl winning head coach. Grossman should have a stronger backfield with Hightower to relieve some of the pressure.
Bradshaw and Jacobs are two of the top running backs in the conference and must literally get the ball moving early Sunday to open up the Giants' offense. New York's one-two punch is a dangerous one and will be a challenge for the Washington defense in this classic NFC East showdown.
If Manning believes he is in the top tier at his position, now is the time to hush the naysayers with a strong performance. There's there's no longer a safety valve at tight end with Boss' exit, he still has Nicks and Manningham stepping to the forefront.
It will be an exciting and emotional day at FedEx Field for the season opener between two storied franchises that will take place on the 10th anniversary of the September 11 attacks on both cities. The Washington crowd may be the ones departing the stands unhappy, however, if the Giants can squeeze out a win and continue their recent dominance of this series. Manning won't put up Brady-like numbers, but won't have to with the ground attack controlling most of the afternoon. Grossman, meanwhile, may be looking over his shoulder with Shanahan capable of pulling another 180-degree decision and opting to give Beck a shot in Week 2. Shanahan may be wishing he could have worked out the Albert Haynesworth ordeal more smoothly, as he may need the big lineman to deal with New York's punishing running game.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 20, Redskins 14
09/08 18:12:37 ET