As a DC native, I am excited about this matchup tomorrow night.
Much has changed for the Giants since their upset of the previously unbeaten Patriots. Most of the changes come from the defensive side of the ball. Five defensive starters who opened Super Bowl XLII will not suit up on Thursday - ends Michael Strahan (retired) and Osi Umenyiora (out for season, injured), linebackers Kawika Mitchell (free agent, Bills) and Reggie Torbor (free agent, Dolphins), and free safety Gibril Wilson (free agent, Raiders).
Things have also changed for the Redskins, who will begin the era of new head coach Jim Zorn.
The 55-year-old Zorn, who started 100 games as a member of the Seahawks from 1976 through 1983, inherits a Washington team that went 9-7 and made its second playoff appearance in three years last season.
The Redskins won their final four regular season games in 2007, with career backup quarterback Todd Collins exhibiting strong play in place of the injured Jason Campbell (knee).
The Redskins' fortunes in 2008 could rest heavily on whether Zorn's west- coast-style offensive scheme takes root quickly. For Campbell (2700 passing yards, 12 TD, 11 INT in 2007), it will be his seventh offensive system in eight seasons, dating back to his time at Auburn. Top wideouts Santana Moss (61 receptions, 3 TD) and Antwaan Randle El (51 receptions, 1 TD) both return, as does tight end Chris Cooley (66 receptions, 8 TD), though Randle El has been nursing a hand injury of late. The former Indiana star is expected to play against the Giants. In the backfield, Clinton Portis (1,262 rushing yards, 11 TD, 47 receptions) will continue to carry the load, with Ladell Betts (335 rushing yards, 21 receptions, 2 TD) occasionally sprinkled in as well. Portis has gone over 1,200 yards in three of his four years with Washington.
The work of the Giants' front four, particularly their pass rush, was given much of the credit for the team's playoff success a year ago. But with Strahan and Umenyiora gone along with their 22 combined sacks from 2007, new starting ends Justin Tuck (65 tackles, 10 sacks) and Mathias Kiwanuka (46 tackles, 4.5 sacks) will have to prove they can deliver the goods. Kiwanuka, making the switch from outside linebacker back to his former end spot, returns after missing the final six games of 2007 with a broken leg. Ex-Redskin Antonio Pierce (103 tackles) is back at middle linebacker, and will be flanked by holdover Gerris Wilkinson (14 tackles) and journeyman Danny Clark (51 tackles with Houston). The new face in the starting secondary is free safety Michael Johnson (25 tackles), though the second-year pro could see first-round rookie Kenny Phillips (Miami-Florida) cut into his playing time.
Manning (3336 passing yards, 23 TD, 20 INT in regular season) was nothing short of magnificent in the 2007 postseason, throwing six touchdown passes, just one interception, and compiling a 95.7 passer rating that was more than 20 points better than his regular season mark. His supporting cast remains largely intact, with Plaxico Burress (70 receptions, 12 TD) and Amani Toomer (59 receptions, 3 TD) heading up a deep receiving corps, bruising Brandon Jacobs (1009 rushing yards, 23 receptions, 6 TD) getting the first crack in the backfield, and tight end Kevin Boss (9 receptions, 2 TD) trying to build on a strong showing in the playoffs while replacing Shockey full-time. Derrick Ward (602 rushing yards, 26 receptions, 4 TD), who saw a promising 2007 season end prematurely due to an ankle injury, will be back on the field Thursday night and is listed as Jacobs' primary backup.
When Manning drops back to throw, his greatest worry could come from defensive end and six-time Pro Bowler Jason Taylor (56 tackles, 11 sacks with Miami). Taylor was dealt from the Dolphins to the Redskins earlier in training camp, and will make his formal debut with the team on Thursday unless a persistent knee injury keeps him on the shelf. Taylor, who last missed a game in 1999, was considered doubtful as of Monday. Other leaders for the Washington "D" include middle linebacker and leading 2007 tackler London Fletcher (128 tackles, 3 INT), veteran cornerback Shawn Springs (62 tackles, 4 INT), and second-year strong safety LaRon Landry (95 tackles). Landry was nursing a hamstring injury during the preseason, but should be available on Thursday. The Skins were No. 4 in the league against the run, and 16th against the pass, in 2007.
WHAT TO EXPECT:
I am truly confused about this matchup. The Reskins have struggled that past few pre-seaon games but clearly have not played the complete roster together. Portis/Betts combo will be strong as the Redskins have not changed the running game tactics amidst the new Zorn West Coast offense. If Campbell can handle the pressure I do like the quick throws but that also keeps the Giants on the line of scrimmage and may hurt the running game. Defensively, I just do not think the Giants have the ahtletes to push the talented Redskins defense around. I think the Jacobs and the Giants running game could give the Redskins issues with their undersized Defensive line.
The Giants on the other hand, should be a bit concerned by Redskins attack. You cannot replace the losses that they have incurred on the Defensive line but have relplaced personnel in the secondary well which has always been an issue. Eli and his post SuperBowl confidence will be tough to harness at Home in front a very, very happy crowd.
I see a tight game that goes to wire. 17-14, 20-17 kind of game where a mistake will turn the game around. I hope it comes from the Giants!
Cheers to NFL Season!