Postseason implications fill the atmosphere between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins for Monday Night Football.
The NFC Wild Card race has only begun to heat up and Robert Griffin III and Washington needs a win to keep pace. Across the sidelines, Eli Manning and Big Blue must win to extend their divisional lead and potentially earn a postseason bye.
After all, New York holds the tiebreaker over the San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers.
Washington, though, holds current head-to-head tiebreakers over the Dallas Cowboys, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Minnesota Vikings and New Orleans Saints. That said, dropping to 5-7 with time running out would significantly lessen the Redskins' playoff odds.
Therefore, let's break down this key divisional contest with some matchups that determine Monday's victor.
By comparison to recent seasons, the Giants' pass rush has not been as overly dominant.
With only 30 sacks through 11 games, New York has been underachieving a bit in the trenches.
Nevertheless, Big Blue has forced 17 fumbles (recovering 11) and has recorded 18 interceptions. The turnovers are courtesy of a strong front four, which has also displayed glimpses of its true talent in the biggest games.
Against the 'Niners the Giants recorded six sacks and got to RG3 three times with two forced fumbles. Factor in Aaron Rodgers getting sacked five times and New York's ultimate potential remains.
As for Monday's game, the pocket isn't the safest of places for Griffin. Therefore, designed roll-outs off play-action and sprint outs can get the Giants moving lateral at first. As a result, utilizing RG3's mobility to get New York thinking he's going to run.
Big Blue is too well-disciplined in the front seven, so deriving a bit from the norm with an athletic quarterback like RG3 can get the Giants off balance. Not to mention, coverage then breaks down as plays are continuously extended.
Reverting back to the Week 7 matchup in New York and the Redskins had Eli Manning held in check.
Then, a 77-yard bomb to Victor Cruz and Washington's coverage went from flawless to near flawless.
Unfortunately, that's what happens when a defense ranks No. 31 against the pass allows 301 passing yards per game and a 61.5 completion percentage. Include Manning's array of receivers capable of defeating man coverage and splitting zones and Washington will be in trouble.
Even worse, the Redskins have given up 23 passing touchdowns this season, which is tied for the third-most right now. Considering Washington also allows nearly 26 points per game, expect Manning to air it out.
The passing game is New York's offensive strength and Washington's defensive weakness, so anticipate a fairly high-scoring contest.
Ryan Kerrigan has been Washington's best pass-rusher in 2012 with 6.5 sacks entering Week 13.
In addition, Kerrigan has defended six passes, forced a fumble and recorded a pick which he took back for a score.
Kerrigan also did just that to Manning in Week 11 of 2011, which was the first game of his career. So, the Giants are well aware of his capabilities and playmaking consistency. Still, New York presents reliable pass protection as Manning has been sacked only 13 times this season.
Plus, Big Blue isolated Kerrigan in the first meeting where Manning was sacked just one time—not by Kerrigan. To eliminate Washington's stud rusher from the get go, having a tight end, slot receiver or running back chip-block is the best solution.
It buys Manning that little bit of extra time, and allows for a delayed release of an additional target to get open over the middle. However, since the Redskins are suspect to the pass, a pass rush is the best way to hide that flaw.
New York, though, can simply counteract that by doubling Kerrigan to let Manning survey the weak coverage.
One unforeseen weakness on the Giants is defending the run.
Although New York ranks No. 13 in rush defense, Big Blue allows 114 yards on the ground per game and 4.4 yards per carry.
It's a deceiving weakness of the Giants, because allowing that much per attempt suits well for Washington's Alfred Morris. The rookie ball-carrier is averaging 4.7 yards per rush and accounted for 120 rushing yards in the first meeting vs. New York.
Morris' threat is also a distinct competitive advantage for Washington, because the Giants cannot afford to entirely focus on shutting him down. Doing so would simply allow RG3 to dominate more than normal, so New York won't be gearing to isolate Morris whatsoever.
Griffin is the key to the Redskins offense; however, his dual-threat allows Morris to see more open lanes and less defenders in the box. In short, Morris' impact on the ground is the one factor that can lead Washington to victory, as that will keep Eli Manning off the field.
The more Washington's offense controls the tempo, the greater the odds of an upset.
Uncharacteristically, the Giants have struggled inside the red zone this season.
Scoring a touchdown only 49 percent of the time, it's a big reason why New York lost to teams like the Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles.
Washington, on the other hand, is quite vulnerable when backed up inside the red zone defensively. Allowing a touchdown 55 percent of the time, the Giants did go 2-of-3 during the October matchup.
For the Monday night game, Washington will have to buckle down in this aspect. The Giants present offensive balance across the board and the Redskins' lack of a pass rush will allow Manning to find soft spots between the zones.
To that end, Washington's best bet is to blitz heavily throughout and play physical man-press coverage behind it. This at least helps the secondary regarding the length of time to be in coverage, which increases the odds of a turnover.
And turnovers, or lack thereof, will be the difference.
Prediction: Giants 30, Redskins 23
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