Washington, 5-6 at the time, and the Giants, who were 7-4, squared off at FedEx Field. The Giants lost the game 17-16 in a stretch that saw them lose three of their final five games of the season.
Washington, meanwhile, recorded its third straight win over an NFC East opponent. The Redskins would go on to win their final four games of that season en route to the NFC East crown.
On Sunday, the Giants and Washington will once again meet in a prime-time matchup to see which team avoids landing in the division cellar.
The Giants, who have not yet been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, say they will strive to win their final five games in hopes that they’ll get some help in the conference.
Still, the odds don’t favor the Giants. If they had taken care of business against the Dallas Cowboys last weekend, the Giants would have been one game out of first place.
Regardless, the challenge of finishing the season strongly in these last five games is the message that head coach Tom Coughlin wants his team captains to deliver in the locker room.
"It’s a divisional game and obviously a big one, an important one. It’s Sunday night football,” said quarterback Eli Manning. "We’ve had some great battles with Washington the last few years, so I expect it to be a tough-fought game."
This will be the 161st regular-season meeting between New York and Washington. The Giants lead the series, 92-64-4. Last year was the first time these two teams split the home-and-away series since 2007. New York swept Washington from 2008 through 2010, and Washington last swept the Giants in 2011.
|Giants at Washington: The Competitive Edge|
Both Eli Manning and Robert Griffin III probably can’t wait to see 2013 come to an end.
In Manning’s case, he’s had trouble finding open receivers. This is because of two reasons.
First, he’s been unable to set his feet and scan the entire field due to pressure allowed by the offensive line, which so far has given up 28 sacks. Second, his receivers haven't always run the correct routes.
Thus, he’s been battling with Geno Smith of the New York Jets for the league lead in interceptions. Smith is currently ahead, 18 to 17.
RGIII, meanwhile, is clearly not the same quarterback he was before suffering a knee injury last year. The biggest difference is that he has to be more selective in deciding when to tuck the ball away to run.
As a classic pocket passer, he’s had his share of issues.
First, he’s been victimized by dropped passes. Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), his receivers have dropped 31 balls, which is the fourth highest total in the league.
Manning might have better weapons at his disposal, at least on paper, but each week always seems to be an adventure in terms of making the passing game work.
Still, given that RGIII isn’t as fleet a foot as he was in his rookie season, Manning has the edge when it comes to doing what a quarterback is supposed to do, which is throw the ball.
Washington’s strength on offense is in its running game, where it has team rushing leader Alfred Morris and change-of-pace guy Roy Helu running behind fullback Darrel Young.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Morris, who has five rushing touchdowns, has been effective regardless of which direction he runs. His best average has come from behind the left guard (5.8 per carry).
Interestingly, Morris isn’t used much as a receiver out of the backfield. That job belongs to Helu, who also happens to be Washington’s third-best rusher with 236 yards on 50 carries for four touchdowns.
Ever since the Giants rushing game completed its transformation from a finesse game to a more physical smashmouth style in Week 6, the results have been eye opening.
|Giants Rushing Game: Finesse Versus Power|
|First Five Games (Finesse)||Last Six Games (Power)|
|Avg. / Carry||3.3||3.8|
|Avg. / Game||56.8||114.7|
|Source: NY Giants Information Office|
The duo of Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs—and their lead blocker—John Conner—have punished opposing linebackers at the second level.
This week, assuming all play—Jacobs has been having some knee issues—they’ll go against a Washington run defense that has allowed an average of 111.5 yards per game, which is 14th best in the NFL.
Washington tight end Jordan Reed is averaging 11.1 yards per reception and has caught 45 of the 60 passes thrown his way, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required). However, he has been slowed down this week by a concussion, which caused him to miss Monday night’s game vs. the San Francisco 49ers.
Brandon Myers, whose average yards-per-reception is slightly better (11.6), has seen his targets decrease since Week 6. In the Giants' first five games, he was targeted 29 times, catching 18 for 208 yards and one touchdown.
Since then, he’s caught 11 of 15 passes for 128 yards. Between the passing game sputtering as a whole and Myers having difficulty getting open, he’s become a nonfactor.
Nicks, who is nursing an abdominal injury that caused him to miss last week’s game, has yet to catch a touchdown this season.
While he is on pace to finish with more receptions and more receiving yards than last year’s career lows, it’s likely that he’ll fall short of reaching 1,000 yards for the second year in a row.
Cruz, meanwhile, should finish the year with his third-straight 1,000-yard season, but it hasn’t been easy.
Thanks to the ineffectiveness of Nicks and the inconsistencies of Rueben Randle, teams have schemed to shut Cruz down. Dallas did that last week, holding the fourth-year receiver to career lows in receptions (two) and receiving yards (27).
Washington’s leading receiver has been Pierre Garcon, who needs just 81 more yards to hit 1,000 for the year.
Veteran Santana Moss is still reliable, but his targets have dwindled in the second half of the season. The most throws in his direction have been six (two of which he caught for 41 yards) against the Eagles in Week 11.
The Giants will field their seventh different starting offensive line combination this weekend, as Kevin Boothe is expected to stay at center and James Brewer will get the start at left guard.
This configuration did quite well last week in run blocking for its two-plus quarters of play. The running game’s per-play average jumped from 4.36 to 8.10 yards per rush.
Pass blocking was another story, as it's been for most of this season. This weekend, the O-line faces a big challenge against nose tackle Barry Cofield, the former Giant who has 2.5 sacks this season.
Per Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Washington left tackle Trent Williams has allowed 6.0 sacks this season, the most of any of its offensive linemen this year.
He’ll line up across from Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, assuming he is active.
The Giants interior linemen have been a strength of the unit all season long. The ends, however, have not.
With defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul dealing with a shoulder injury that limited him in the critical game against Dallas last week, that could spell trouble.
The defensive ends will need to play contain in order to slow down Washington’s running game and keep RGIII from rolling out if the defensive tackles manage to collapse the pocket.
Former Giant Barry Cofield—the nose tackle in Washington’s 3-4 defense—leads the defensive line with 2.5 sacks. He will be a good challenge for the newly configured Giants interior of James Brewer at left guard, Kevin Boothe at center and David Diehl at right guard.
Washington’s two interior linebackers—rookie Perry Riley Jr. and veteran London Fletcher—have combined for 204 tackles, seven tackles for a loss, four sacks, 17 quarterback hits and four pass breakups.
That’s some impressive production patrolling the flats and the intermediate area of the field. It's a big reason why Washington is ranked sixth in allowing third-down conversions (44.3 percent).
The Giants’ linebacker play has improved since Jon Beason and Jacquian Williams were inserted into the lineup, but overall the unit has a long way to go before it reminds anyone of the great Giants linebacker units from the 1980s.
Washington’s running game and mobile quarterback should be a nice test for Beason, who is climbing up the charts in total tackles with 40, fifth best on the team.
Williams, meanwhile, probably won’t see as many snaps, as playing the run hasn’t been his strength. Instead, Spencer Paysinger—whom Williams replaced in the starting lineup—could be called upon to play more this week.
Up until last week, the Giants secondary had been solid. However, Prince Amukamara had one of his worst games of the season, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) in coverage.
Trumaine McBride, who has surprisingly done well in place of Corey Webster, re-aggravated a groin injury that forced the coaches to move Terrell Thomas from the slot to the outside and insert safety Antrel Rolle into the slot.
That move proved to be disastrous for the Giants, as the Cowboys successfully went after Rolle on their game-winning drive.
If McBride can’t go this week, the coaches will more than likely activate Webster—who has been nursing an ankle injury—and leave Thomas in the slot.
Given that Washington doesn’t have many deep threats, the Giants might get by this week with this alignment, even if Webster isn’t 100 percent.
Washington’s defensive secondary has struggled this season, allowing 270.6 passing yards per game for 26th in the NFL.
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall, who is third on the team with 75 tackles, has returned two of his three interceptions this season for touchdowns.
The Giants special teams units seem to have finally settled down, and not a moment too soon.
Punter Steve Weatherford has been strong these last two weeks, as has kicker Josh Brown. More importantly, the coverage units appear to have cleaned up the issues that were leading to long returns.
Washington’s two primary return specialists are Niles Paul on kickoffs (19.3 yards on average) and Josh Morgan on punts (7.4 yards on average).
Washington would probably love nothing more than to bury the Giants in front of a nationally televised audience.
Last year, following a 17-16 win over the Giants that contributed to New York missing the playoffs, Washington’s owner Daniel Snyder had something interesting to say in the post-game locker room, according to Robert Klemko of Sports Illustrated:
Any disdain that Washington has for New York likely stems from being one of two teams—Dallas is the other—that were slapped by the NFL Management Council with a $36 million sanction for “violating the spirit of the salary cap” during the 2010 uncapped season.
Giants co-owner John Mara, the chairman of the aforementioned committee, also went so far as to suggest that both Dallas and Washington were lucky they didn't lose draft picks, according to ESPN Dallas:
I thought the penalties imposed were proper. What they did was in violation of the spirit of the salary cap. They attempted to take advantage of a one-year loophole, and quite frankly, I think they’re lucky they didn’t lose draft picks.
Washington head coach Mike Shanahan, who has come under fire for his team’s disappointing performance this season, sounded bitter about the penalty, per The Washington Post:
We had six new players on our team, and putting up the numbers that we’re putting up are pretty impressive, especially with losing the $36 million salary cap over those two years’ time frame.
The Giants would probably love to extract a little revenge against the team that thwarted their hopes for a playoff berth last season. Getting that revenge in front of Washington’s home crowd would be even sweeter.
The biggest question is, with their playoff chances all but gone, will revenge be enough motivation for everyone in the locker room?
Giants Offense Versus Washington Defense
The plan was simple enough. A healthy trio of Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle would force opponents to pick their poison when dealing with the Giants passing game.
That hasn’t been the case. With the 2013 NFL season churning into its final quarter, Eli Manning and his receivers are still not fully on the same page, as evidenced by the 56.9 percent completion rate and 17 interceptions.
Cruz has been the most consistent of the bunch, but opponents have schemed to take him out of the picture by bracketing him.
Nicks, who will deal with an abdominal strain the rest of the year, has looked disinterested at times in his quest to snap a 12-game streak of no touchdowns.
Randle, who in the offseason and preseason looked so impressive, has struggled. Add in that the Giants aren’t getting much out of the tight end spot and the pass-blocking woes of the offensive line, and it’s been a year to forget for the passing offense.
This week, however, New York can potentially get things going against a defensive secondary that has allowed 66.1 percent of the passes thrown against it to be completed for an average of 8.60 yards per attempt.
Washington has also allowed 22 touchdowns while picking off the ball just 10 times for a 2.7 percent interception rate.
With the Giants running the ball so well the last few weeks, they have every reason to incorporate more play action into the game plan.
Washington’s linebackers are not as quick as Dallas’. If the Giants receivers can slip behind them in coverage, perhaps this could be the complete game on offense that the Giants have been searching for since Week 1.
Giants Defense Versus Washington Offense
Washington's receivers are good, but they probably won’t be mistaken for an elite group whose members need to be double-covered every snap.
The real bread-and-butter of the offense is the tandem of quarterback Robert Griffin III and running back Alfred Morris.
We’ll start with Morris, who is averaging 5.0 yards per carry and is his team’s leading rusher. Last week, the Giants defensive tackles were solid against the run. The same can't be said about the ends, who did a lousy job with contain. Plus, the shoulder injury that Jason Pierre-Paul is dealing with doesn't help matters this week.
It will be up to the linebackers—particularly Keith Rivers on the strong side—to play a pristine contain game this week, as the slightest breakdown could allow Morris to go the distance.
Although Griffin's mobility is limited by his knee, he’s still a threat to take off and run if he spots an opening. Again, the key will be for the Giants to play their gaps honestly, not bite on play-action fakes and contain on the edges.
The Washington offensive line has had its share of issues this season, allowing 27 sacks and 94 quarterback pressures, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
If the Giants deploy single coverage against the Washington receivers and send a few more blitzes, they could perhaps come up with a turnover from a Griffin mistake.
What They’re Saying
"Obviously, there are things we can improve on, but I think overall we’ve been better these last five weeks."
—Giants quarterback Eli Manning, on the New York offense.
"I think you’d better be frustrated when you’re 3-8. You keep working and you keep on fighting. You have to find a way to close some games and the only way you do that is to work extremely hard."
—Washington head coach Mike Shanahan on if there was frustration with quarterback Robert Griffin III
"It just helps to get back to work. Let’s not talk about yesterday and the day before. Let’s look at what is coming up. That’s what helps, to be honest with you. "
—Giants head coach Tom Coughlin on how he moved past Sunday's loss to Dallas
"Some of the stuff comes with losing in the NFL, and you have to be able to handle that. I’ve been criticized before in my life and everything hasn’t been glowing and just rosy, sunshine and rainbows. These are times that can help you as a player and as a team."
—Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III on the criticism he's drawn this year.
"The more you can do helps you keep a job."
—Giants offensive lineman Kevin Boothe on having to move to center
Giants' Injury Analysis
Unlike last week when they had all hands on deck, the Giants have some potential concerns on their injury report.
The first is to cornerback Trumaine McBride, a starter who has played well. Last week, he popped up on the injury report with a groin problem, but he aggressively treated it and was good to go for the big game against Dallas until the second half, when he re-aggravated the injury and had to come out.
|Giants-Washington Injury Report (as of Nov. 27, 2013)|
|RB Brandon Jacobs||Knee||TE Niles Paul||Illness|
|CB Trumaine McBride||Groin||FB Darrel Young||Hamstring|
|DE Jason Pierre-Paul||Shoulder||TE Jordan Reed||Concussion|
|CB Terrell Thomas||Knee||S Jose Gumbs||Ankle|
|WR Hakeem Nicks||Abdomen|
|CB Corey Webster||Ankle|
|via New York Giants|
In his place, the Giants put Terrell Thomas, normally the slot cornerback, and moved safety Antrel Rolle to the slot.
That personnel decision did not end well for the Giants. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), the Cowboys completed four of six passes on their game-winning drive against Rolle, who gave up 45 yards and three first downs as the slot corner.
What happens if McBride is unable to go this weekend? Since Washington doesn't have the deep receiving threats that the Cowboys have, the most logical solution would be to activate Corey Webster, assign Prince Amukamara to Pierre Garcon and move Thomas back to the slot.
Another injury that bears watching is Brandon Jacobs' knee. He has been on a managed practice schedule, but as the game wore on last week, he looked to be slowing down a bit and was spotted on the sideline in noticeable discomfort.
If he is unable to go this weekend, Peyton Hillis—who’s been inactive the last two weeks—would get the call to team up with Andre Brown in the backfield.
Finally, the shoulder injury suffered by Jason Pierre-Paul is apparently a concern. Per Pro Football Focus, he only played two snaps on the Cowboys’ first two drives and just five on Dallas’ final drive. He was spelled by Mathias Kiwanuka, PFF's second-lowest graded 4-3 defensive end in the NFL.
What about rookie Damontre Moore, who only played on special teams?
“We're trying to get him in a position where he can play and contribute,” Coughlin said. “He’s basically been a special teams guys and really done a nice job with that. He’s physical, he’s big, he can run, all of those kind of things.
“(We’re) trying to make sure that he is prepared to make all of the adjustments that are necessary over the ball, so that we don’t get some of the mistakes that we had in preseason.”
Pierre-Paul’s injury is not a good sign for the defensive ends, who struggled against the run last week. While it’s still early, there is a possibility that the Giants might have to rely on Kiwanuka to have a better game than he did last week.
This Week’s Game Stats and Facts
(Courtesy of the NFL's Communications Office, unless otherwise noted.)
Receiver Hakeem Nicks, who is in search of his first touchdown reception this season, has not scored against Washington in six games. Washington is the only division opponent who has held him scoreless, per Pro Football Reference.
Quarterback Eli Manning has won five of his last seven games at Washington.
Running back Brandon Jacobs has run for three touchdowns in his last four games against Washington.
Receiver Victor Cruz will be looking for his third game in a row with 100 receiving yards against Washington.
Receiver Rueben Randle has six receiving touchdowns in his last seven games.
Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul has 6.0 sacks, two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries in six games against Washington.
Safety Antrel Rolle has four interceptions, 2.0 sacks and a forced fumble in his last five games.
Defensive end Justin Tuck has 9.0 sacks and four forced fumbles in his last 11 games vs. Washington.
Quarterback Robert Griffin III has a 105.9 rating and 161 rushing yards in two career starts vs. the Giants.
Running back Alfred Morris will be looking for his third game of 122 or more rushing yards against the Giants.
Linebacker Brian Orakpo, who has 3.5 sacks in his last three games, had a sack against the Giants the last time these two teams met in the regular season.
Cornerback DeAngelo Hall has five interceptions against the Giants.
Whereas the Giants locker room was crackling with electricity and excitement this time last week, this week a pall of resignation found its way into the players’ work space.
Sure, they are saying the right things about how they have to put last week’s loss behind them and focus on the next game, but at times, it sounded as though they were trying to convince themselves more than anyone.
“I think the squad is good. Everybody is dealing with it and we’ve overcome some tough losses here this year before and bounced back, so I’m positive we can bounce back and go out there and handle our business,” said Manning.
“I think guys kind of turned the page,” added Cruz. “I think we did a good job on Monday of getting all that stuff out of our system, watching the film, talking about the game, getting everything out and then moving on from there. We’re focused and ready to go for Washington.”
Although they remain mathematically alive for a playoff berth, there comes a point when a team has to accept that it’s done for the season.
The Giants wasted too many opportunities from earlier in the year to put themselves in a better position, and I think that looms more prominently in their minds than anything.
That doesn’t mean that they are going to mail it in the rest of the way. However, the level of intensity they bring into Washington is going to offer a good look of where they are in terms of their collective emotional mindset.
If the somberness that seemed present in the locker room is any indication, it’s going to be a long evening for the Giants faithful.