The spunky, dangerous Washington Redskins have already begun making waves, but they can increase the size of those waves to tidal proportions with a road victory over the New York Giants Sunday at MetLife. That would move the 'Skins into the top spot in a division that features two train wrecks and a team that would be 0-3 within the NFC East.
With that in mind, this is definitely the most important Redskins game thus far in the Mike Shanahan era. That pressure combined with such a tough opponent won't make things easy, but here are some suggestions for how Washington might be able to pull it off.
When the Redskins Are on Offense...
Lots of Alfred Morris
The key is almost always going to be balance when the Redskins face defenses with very aggressive fronts. That was the case against Minnesota, when Washington ran 28 pass plays and 27 run plays. But when you break it down further, they executed 28 regular passes, 17 standard runs, eight designed quarterback runs and two option runs with Brandon Banks.
The Giants sacked Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick six times last week and finished third in the league with 48 sacks last season. The only way to keep Griffin clean will be to keep them off-balance by exploiting a run defense that has struggled, giving up 4.6 yards per carry this season.
If they can do that, they'll eventually break through. The Giants stuff opposing backs at or behind the line of scrimmage 24 percent of the time, according to Football Outsiders, which ranks eighth in the league. But only one defense has given up more yards per carry against backs reaching the second level than the Giants have, and they also struggle against backs in the open field.
The 'Skins have to take advantage of the fact the Giants are keeping Chase Blackburn on the field and don't have Jacquian Williams. We're not sure how effective Chris Canty will be if he returns to the lineup, but they'd be smart to test that on the ground.
More Designed Runs for RG3, but Take JPP's Advice
Beyond that, the offense has to remain option-oriented. They'd prefer Griffin not run 13 times again, especially considering that the offensive line has done a much better job recently at protecting him in the pocket. They have to find a nice balance between packaged plays and your standard drop-back passes or handoffs.
In that process, Griffin would be smart to avoid Jason Pierre-Paul, who already sent out a warning shot earlier this week. JPP is the best run defender on this team, and he was a force as the G-men shut down an option-oriented attack in Carolina earlier this season. RG3's advantage is that he can adjust on the fly to stay away from the super-athletic Pierre-Paul while attacking guys like Osi Umenyiora and Justin Tuck.
The option won't surprise a defense that has already faced Cam Newton and Michael Vick this season. But that doesn't mean the 'Skins should get away from it, as they did to an extent against Tampa Bay and Atlanta.
Keep It Tight
Washington's top two most reliable receiving options of late have been Fred Davis and Santana Moss, both of whom line up inside and in the slot often. The Giants have struggled a bit against tight ends this season, giving up 20 catches on 27 targets to the top tight ends from Dallas, Tampa Bay, Carolina, Philadelphia and San Francisco, per Pro Football Focus.
With Blackburn struggling and Williams, Kenny Phillips and Will Hill all out, there should be plenty of opportunities for Griffin to find Davis or Moss in the slot. It just makes sense.
When the Redskins Are on Defense...
Rely on Natural Pressure
The Redskins now know they can rely on guys like Ryan Kerrigan, Jarvis Jenkins, Perry Riley and Lorenzo Alexander to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. With that in mind, they have to continue to spring surprises on opposing offenses while making sure not to sacrifice coverage.
That'll be essential against the Giants, who smirk while inviting blitzes. Jim Haslett has to be very picky about when he sends extra men. He did a great job mixing up defensive looks against the Vikings, and the front seven was very successful against Christian Ponder. But they'll have to place more trust in their regular rushers Sunday in New Jersey, because Eli Manning is too damn good when you blitz him.
Against the blitz this year, Manning's passer rating goes up from 93.2 to 98.8 and his yards-per-attempt average goes up from 7.6 to 8.4, per Pro Football Focus. And I'm pretty sure he hasn't been sacked since 2007.
This Redskins defense is too thin not to bend, but it can avoid breaking often against a very good offense by staying home and preventing the Giants from striking on big plays. Also keep in mind that the Redskins have scored four defensive touchdowns this year, but none of them have come on plays in which they rushed more than five defenders. In fact, on two of them, they only rushed the standard four.
Keep the Focus on New York's Receivers
The Giants have been running it well, but now Ahmad Bradshaw isn't healthy, Andre Brown's coming off a concussion and David Wilson still hasn't proven himself. I do believe New York's offensive line has improved dramatically in terms of its ability to open up holes, but the 'Skins again have to trust their front seven here by avoiding the temptation to load up the box.
Washington has given up only 3.9 yards per attempt this season and only three runs of 20 yards or more in six games. The linebacking corps has been very good, earning the eighth-best second level average in the league, per Football Outsiders.
This all goes back to bending and not breaking while basically admitting that you're a team that will have to score 30-ish points to win. Just don't let the Giants explode. Give them some gains on the ground and short completions, but I expect to see a lot of nickel and dime defense as they attempt to control Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
Expect DeAngelo Hall to spend lots of time with a safety or a linebacker against Cruz in the slot, while top corner Josh Wilson is provided similar help with Nicks on the outside.
That still puts the 'Skins in a tough spot, with guys like Richard Crawford and David Jones responsible for Domenik Hixon, Ramses Barden or Rueben Randle in three-receiver sets, but that's the safer bet. Jones did a decent job against Michael Jenkins and Kyle Rudolph last week, limiting those later-read options to 37 total yards on six targets (per PFF).
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