The mood may be despondent in Washington after rolling over against the San Francisco 49ers, but there’s no time for the players to feel sorry for themselves. The New York Giants are coming to town, and the battle of the NFC East’s two most disappointing teams must begin.
Against the Niners, Robert Griffin III suffered the ignominy of failing to lead his team to a touchdown in a game for the first time in his football career—college or NFL. That cannot continue this week, but the Giants will feel confident in getting to the quarterback.
Below are three matchups that could decide the game.
Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Trent Williams
The Washington offensive line is so ineffective right now that they may as well just sit out the game and ask Griffin to pass behind cardboard cutouts of themselves.
Trent Williams has been the only bright spot along the line all season, but even he seems to have taken a step back over the last three games. Griffin was sacked 12 times across those three losses, leading to indifferent passing numbers and poor decisions under pressure.
Jason Pierre-Paul had an X-ray on his right shoulder after the loss to the Cowboys, but Conor Orr of the Star-Ledger reported that it was simply a precaution:
Jason Pierre-Paul's X-Ray was just precautionary, the shoulder again. Says he's fine. #nyg— Conor Orr (@ConorTOrr) November 25, 2013
It’s almost certain that the rest of the line won’t be able to block anyone very effectively. However, if Williams can hold off Pierre-Paul as well as he did last year, he should buy Griffin some time to scan the field and find the open man.
Pierre Garcon vs. Corey Webster
Along with Williams, Pierre Garcon has put together strong performances even as all around him have crumbled.
Garcon’s 919 yards on the season mean he is on pace to break his career high of 947, set in Indianapolis in 2011. Again, that was in a losing scenario, as the Colts collapsed without Peyton Manning and sunk to the league’s worst record that year.
Corey Webster has battled nagging injuries this year, and it’s a high ankle sprain that has kept him out for the last month.
Last excuse: the giants would've won NO DOUBT if they had nicks Corey Webster and Tremaine McBride it would've been a totally dif game— Brendan (@grizzboy7) November 25, 2013
Things weren’t looking good for the cornerback as Trumaine McBride seemed to cement the starting job, but McBride left the game in the recent loss to the Cowboys. By aggravating the groin injury that he suffered in practice, the door is open for Webster to get his first start.
If Griffin is to get into a rhythm, he’ll need Garcon to get open early in the game. Lining the receiver up against Webster would be a good place to start.
Victor Cruz vs. Josh Wilson
Victor Cruz is always a threat, whether from the slot or elsewhere. The Dallas Cowboys played him like a No. 1 receiver, smothering him with double coverage and taking him out of the game. As a result, Cruz was only able to record two catches for 27 yards.
Who will win on Sunday night?
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett should look to contain Cruz in a similar manner. If he doesn't, Wilson could again find himself in trouble. At 5’9”, Wilson already gives up three inches on Cruz, and that’s why he was attacked with Boldin and Davis by San Francisco.
It will be of comfort to Mike Shanahan that the Giants offensive line hasn’t looked much better than his own, so protecting the secondary by dialing up pressure on Eli Manning should be the main priority. Forcing him into inaccurate throws will give defenders like DeAngelo Hall the chance to bring down an interception and get off the field.