Had the New York Giants not bungled the end of their Week 4 matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles, they'd be on a five-game winning streak after that tough loss in their opener against the Dallas Cowboys. But you'll notice that the two losses I just alluded to came against division rivals, which makes Sunday's affair with the Washington Redskins all the more crucial.
Here's a game plan to ensure that the Giants don't fall to 0-3 vs. the NFC East.
When the Giants are on offense...
Take some early shots
This is psychological as much as it is technical. There's a lot of pressure on the Redskins right now, especially on the back end of the defense. New York has to test that secondary early in order to cause a young Washington team to panic.
If the 'Skins react to some deep shots by dialing up the blitz, Eli Manning will have that defense just where he wants it, and the running game will have some room to work. Sure, the Giants have been running with success regardless, but Ahmad Bradshaw's hurting and might not play. Plus, that offensive line was a train wreck last year, so there's no telling when it might begin to struggle again.
The Giants can control the game by attacking early, especially with the 'Skins still in the early stages of trying to fend without Brian Orakpo.
Spread 'em out
The Washington secondary is a mess, and it just so happens that the only corner the Redskins have to take care of Victor Cruz in the slot is DeAngelo Hall. I don't believe they trust rookie Richard Crawford at all right now, and although David Jones looked good last week, they aren't ready to put him on Cruz or Hakeem Nicks.
Hall has been by far the worst cover man on the team this year, but Cedric Griffin is hurt and they need Josh Wilson outside to deal with Nicks. Manning should be looking toward Cruz consistently as his first read, with Domenik Hixon on the less-than-100-percent Griffin or Jones split out opposite Nicks.
This is fairly simple, but the Giants can't suddenly get conservative now, even if it's tempting with the running game rolling. The 'Skins don't appear to have the personnel to defend New York in three- or four-receiver sets.
When the Giants are on defense...
More Keith Rivers
OK, I've been on this soapbox a while, but it's important that the Giants use a lot of Rivers with Jacquian Williams out and Mathias Kiwanuka likely to contribute mainly as a pass-rusher. Coming back from injury, Rivers only played six defensive snaps against the 49ers, but he's been superb against the run whenever he's been on the field this season.
Considering that the Redskins have the second-best rushing attack in the league in terms of yards per carry, the G-men will need Rivers to play a big role on Sunday.
Stunts are good, blitzes are not
The Giants have to be leery of the Redskins' ability to run, especially with Robert Griffin III at quarterback. That being the case, they can't afford to blitz too often. Four of their six sacks last week in San Francisco came on four-man rushes, which is key. Instead of sending extra guys, Perry Fewell changed things up by moving Mathias Kiwanuka up to the line for pretty much the entire game, while Adrian Tracy also got a steady dose of work.
Obviously the Redskins will have watched tape of what happened against the 49ers and will be prepared to see three- or four-ace packages up front, but that doesn't mean their mediocre line will be able to do anything about it.
Without Williams at linebacker and with the safety group thin, if the Giants decided to spy Griffin, they'd be forced to do so with Michael Boley. But Griffin's too fast and too elusive for Boley, or anybody for that matter.
The Giants, instead, have to rely on the exceptional Jason Pierre-Paul to do his best to limit Griffin's options, along with Rivers and Boley in their regular roles. They're going to need Rivers against Alfred Morris in run defense, and they're going to need Boley to help cover up Fred Davis and Santana Moss inside.
Spying Griffin consistently could do a lot more harm than good.