Winning the finale of a hugely disappointing season will depend on the Washington Redskins' ability to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.
They couldn't do it in their last against the New York Giants, a 24-17 loss in Week 13. In that contest, the New York defensive line swarmed in for five sacks, while Big Blue's O-line opened up some big holes in the running game.
Winning the battles up front and attacking quarterback Eli Manning have to be the priorities for Washington.
Blitz Eli Manning
The Redskins would be wise to crank up the pressure on the quarterback who has thrown a league-worst 26 interceptions in 2013. Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett should challenge Manning with some of the same blitz-heavy fronts he used last week against the Dallas Cowboys.
On the final play of the first quarter, Haslett showed the Cowboys an eight-man front. The alignment was comprised of only one defensive lineman, nose tackle Barry Cofield. He was flanked by four linebackers and a pair of safeties, with a cornerback behind.
Safeties Brandon Meriweather and Jose Gumbs both blitzed off the edge, while cornerback E.J. Biggers blitzed the middle. It was Meriweather who got the sack, dropping Dallas passer Tony Romo for a four-yard loss.
Haslett can unleash similar pressure designs to force yet more mistakes from Manning. He can also make life harder for the Big Blue quarterback by taking away his favorite receiver.
Double Cover Hakeem Nicks
Hakeem Nicks has had a down year, but he is still the second-leading receiver for the Giants behind the injured Victor Cruz. The 6'1", 208-pounder is also still the man Manning usually goes to when he's in trouble.
Haslett can take that vital outlet away by double covering Nicks in zone. The Washington secondary did an excellent job of bracketing Nicks in Week 15 of the 2011 season during a 23-10 road win for the Redskins.
On this play, cornerback Josh Wilson and safety O.J. Atogwe surrounded Nicks in a zone look.
By the time Manning's throw reached the receiver, Wilson was covering in front and Atogwe had closed over the top. The result was an incomplete pass.
The Redskins have to do the same to Nicks this time around. They must make the likes of Rueben Randle and Jerrel Jernigan beat them.
Both have had some fine moments this season, but neither is capable of the kind of dominance Nicks can achieve when he is on his game.
Attacking Manning and taking away one of his most familiar targets will help the Washington defense shut down a one-dimensional Giants offense.
Use Two-Tight End Sets To Win Up Front
As for their offense, the Redskins have to control the New York pass-rushers up front. That means keeping ends Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul and Mathias Kiwanuka quiet.
The best way to do that is to use some balanced lines, featuring two tight ends. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan can use combinations of Fred Davis, Niles Paul and Logan Paulsen to help double-team edge rushers.
That has to be at the forefront of Shanahan's mind after the way Tuck exploded for a quartet of sacks back in Week 13.
Keeping players like Tuck under wraps can help set up opportunities for the play-action pass.
Exploit The Giants With Play Action
In Week 13, the New York defense focused most of its attention on bottling up running back Alfred Morris. They are unlikely to change that approach even with Kirk Cousins in at quarterback instead of Robert Griffin III.
If the Redskins load up their fronts to create some run-heavy looks, Cousins can exploit Big Blue linebackers off play action.
Tight ends who initially block can chip defensive ends before releasing on patterns behind the linebacker level. Some vertical routes on the outside from the likes of Aldrick Robinson will threaten any eight-man fronts the Giants are sure to use.
Of course, for this part of the game plan to succeed, Morris has to fare better than the 26 yards he managed on 11 carries in Week 13.
Control Cullen Jenkins Inside
Any success for Morris will be determined by how well the Washington O-line controls defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. The veteran interior lineman hasn't put his name at the top of any stat sheets this season, but he has been a real force in the running game.
Jenkins' consistent penetration and ability to absorb blockers has created plays for others. Keeping him on the Giants' side of the ball was a major problem the last time these two teams locked horns.
It might be an idea to even try running at Jenkins and using straight-ahead, drive blocking rather than having linemen try to execute reach blocks when moving laterally.
If center Will Montgomery and either guard double up on Jenkins, Morris should have room on some inside zone and counter plays.
Shanahan could even supplement his front with an extra lineman to free others to double-team inside.
Cousins needs a productive day from Morris. When the running game is working, this offense can hit its share of big plays through the air.
Washington can puts its awful season into the books with a mini flourish by beating an NFC East rival on the road. Seizing control of the trenches is the only way the Redskins will do it.
All screen shots courtesy of Fox Sports, NBC Sports and NFL.com Game Pass.
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