Washington Redskins vs. New York Giants: What's the Game Plan for Washington?

Marcel Davis@@Mar_CelDavis24Correspondent ISeptember 23, 2015

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 14:  (NEW YORK DAILIES OUT)    Antrel Rolle #26 of the New York Giants breaks up a pass intended for Jordan Reed #86 of the Washington Redskins on December 14, 2014 at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Giants defeated the Redskins 24-13.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

In a week's time, the Washington Redskins have gone from being the perceived bottom-feeder in the NFC East to a threat to the crown. 

What gives, right? For starters, the performance of their defense and running game. Without its special teams putting its efforts to waste, Washington defeated the St. Louis Rams 24-10 in Week 2.

Matt Jones headlined the team's NFL-best rushing attack with two touchdowns and 123 yards. Stifling the Rams offense, the Skins defense staked the team to a 17-point lead. 

Then there were the losses within their division. Both the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles fell to 0-2. The biggest loss of all, though, belonged to the Dallas Cowboys. Joining Dez Bryant on the sidelines, Tony Romo suffered a broken clavicle that will keep him out of the lineup for the foreseeable future.

In the first of consecutive NFC East bouts, Washington's Week 3 matchup with the Giants will give insight into how improved the team really is.

Looking to put their road woes behind them, what game plan will the Redskins utilize to win for only the third time in their last 17 road games?

Let's find out:

Offensive Game Plan

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Kirk Cousins #8 of the Washington Redskins goes down during their game against the New York Giants at FedExField on September 25, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Their first two games, both of which should've been wins, the Redskins put the bulk of the offensive load on the shoulders of their running game. Washington is averaging 37 rushes a game to 29 passes. 

Undeterred by loaded fronts and negative gains, the team has surprisingly been steadfast running the football. While the offense has put play-action passes to good use, Kirk Cousins' attempts down the field have been limited. He's averaging 6.8 yards per attempt.

According to Sporting Charts, his balls on average travel just 3.5 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Cousins isn't in the realm of Alex Smith or Sam Bradford hereboth notorious for checking the football down. Still, with 53.8 percent of his total yards coming after the catch, the brunt of the work in the passing game falls on his receivers.

With Jordan Reed nursing a hamstring injury, and Pierre Garcon again struggling to find his niche in head coach Jay Gruden's offense, the Redskins' scoring drives will continue to be of the 15-play variety as a result.

Even with that said, this is a game plan the team can't stray from in Week 3.

True, this conservative approach makes points harder to come by. But think of the alternative.

In 2014, Cousins turned in big plays in the passing game. He had 17 completions of 25-plus yards and averaged 8.3 yards per attempt. Had he qualified to be placed among the league leaders, Cousins would've finished third in the latter category, right behind Tony Romo and Aaron Rodgers

A byproduct, though, was turnovers. Cousins had nine interceptions in six games, throwing a pick once every 22 attempts. It was his four-interception outing against New York last season that highlighted his troubles securing the ball.

As enticing as it may be to test one-on-one matchups in the secondary, the Redskins' best bet is to ride their running game. 

The Giants do sport an improved run defense. But considering they finished 30th against the run in 2014, this was always likely to be a formality. Along the front seven, linebacker J.T. Thomas is the only new addition in the starting lineup, with rookie Uani' Unga also contributing in place of Jon Beason.

So while New York will technically bring the No.3-ranked run defense into this contest, it's unknown how much the team has truly improved. Neither the Cowboys nor the Atlanta Falcons ran the ball against the Giants to the extent Washington will. 

Combined, the two compiled only 47 rushing attempts. Untested to this point, New York can bank on the Skins testing its depth and endurance on the defensive side of the ball with a relentless rushing attack.

Defensive Game Plan

LANDOVER, MD - SEPTEMBER 25: Quarterback Eli Manning #10 of the New York Giants throws against the Washington Redskins during their game at FedExField on September 25, 2014 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

As any New York fan can attest to, Good Eli doesn't just show up in the postseason. Over the course of his career, he's saved some of his best performances for the Redskins. 

He's 15-6 against Washington, his most wins against any opponent. On a personal four-game winning streak against the Skins, Manning's highlight of the 2014 season came at their expense. Posting a near-perfect QBR (97.1), he threw four touchdowns and 300 yards in Week 4.

In lieu of this recent history, stopping Manning has to be the central focus of defensive coordinator Joe Barry's game plan. And it all starts with the pass rush.

Under Jim Haslett, this meant blitzing. It can't under Barry, though.

Manning carved up defenses when blitzed in 2014. According to ESPN.com, he threw for 11 touchdowns and completed over 61 percent of his passes when defenses sent additional rushers. With just three interceptions, there wasn't much of a payoff for these units selling out, either.  

Fortunately, Barry hasn't needed to blitz to generate pressure early in 2015. General manager Scot McCloughan bolstered the defensive front this offseason, bringing Terrance Knighton, Ricky Jean-Francois and Stephen Paea into the fold.

Due to these additions, the team now embraces going after the quarterback without additional rushers, per Michael Phillips of the Richmond-Times Dispatch.

“That puts it on them, because they’re outnumbered,” Barry said. “There are five O-linemen, there are four D-linemen. They possibly have a tight end, they possibly have a running back. So sometimes you’re rushing four against five, six or seven.

“It’s something that they embrace, and they love the challenge. They love rushing four.”

Speaking to Phillips, DeAngelo Hall attributed the team's improved pass defense to the additional players available to play coverage.

“Anytime you’ve got more guys to cover, you can stop more routes  I think it’s been evident,” Hall said.

“Just having an extra body in coverage, even if they’re not doing anything, even if they’re just standing there, the quarterback has to worry or try to figure out what we’re doing.”

With Chris Culliver returning to the lineup, following Bashaud Breeland's Week 2 return, the Skins will have both quality and quantity on their side to slow down Manning.

Key Players and Matchups

CB Chris Culliver vs. WR Odell Beckham Jr.

Barely a year into his NFL career, Odell Beckham Jr. already ranks as one of the league's best receivers. Following last year's matchup, this is a reality Washington knows all too well.

The central figure in his team's 24-13 Week 15 win, Beckham posted 12 receptions, 143 yards and three touchdowns.

Brought aboard from the San Francisco 49ers, it'll be Culliver's job to slow him down. With Victor Cruz sidelined, this won't be his task alone. Rueben Randle, New York's No. 2 receiver, has all of 28 yards this season. As such, Washington can funnel additional men in Beckham's direction without the fear of repercussion from other wideouts. 

With the help of a similar strategy in San Francisco, Culliver was able to corral Beckham in their 2014 meeting. While he tallied 93 yards, Beckham caught only six of 13 targets and failed to register a touchdown.

In Week 3, the Redskins would be more than satisfied if he were held to similar numbers. 

 

LB Keenan Robinson vs. RB Shane Vereen/ TE Larry Donnell

Julio Cortez/Associated Press

Getting little production at receiver from anyone not named Beckham, Manning will look to Shane Vereen and Larry Donnell to pick up the passing game.

Donnell has only 49 yards through two games. But following what he did to the Redskins in Week 4 of last year, he's a player the team has to identify in the red zone. He had seven receptions, three of which went for touchdowns.

Keenan Robinson did fall victim to Donnell in this contest. But following the calf injury Perry Riley suffered against the Rams, this is an assignment he's sure to draw again.

Vereen's impact also looms large. He's tied with Beckham for the team lead in receptions and has 122 yards receiving.

Fulfilling a similar role to the one he had with the New England Patriots, Vereen has lined up all across the formation for New York. As such, Washington's safeties and corners will join Robinson on this coverage assignment.

LB Trent Murphy/Preston Smith vs. OL Ereck Flowers/Justin Pugh

It's pivotal for the Redskins to generate pressure on Manning without the blitz. With that in mind, this is the matchup open for exploitation. 

Rookie Ereck Flowers is not only inexperienced, he's hurt. He injured his ankle in the season opener and re-aggravated the injury in Week 2. As a result, per Dan Graziano of ESPN.com, his status for this contest is up in the air.

Should he miss it, left guard Justin Pugh will slide back over to tackle. Drafted as a tackle, Pugh moved inside this year after surrendering 52 pressures his rookie year. As a result, he graded out in the negative in pass protection for Pro Football Focus.

With the attention New York will have to give to the likes of Ryan Kerrigan and Jason Hatcher, Trent Murphy and Preston Smith need only to beat one man to get to the quarterback.

Prediction

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

This contest comes down to Washington's ability to stop Manning.

A run-first approach aids the team in defending Manning. But as was the case in Week 1, a deficit will force the ball into the hands of Cousins. 

The Redskins won't have one, though. New York has struggled at the skill positions in 2015. While Manning has produced in the past against Washington with a less-than-stellar cast, it wasn't against a defense of this caliber.

The Skins have the NFL's top rush defense and No.2-ranked pass defense. Are these numbers indicative of the talent on hand—particularly in the secondary? 

Probably not. Doesn't matter, though. It's all a numbers game here.

With the additional bodies Washington has to shade in the direction of a Beckham or a Vereen, Manning's open windows in the secondary will be few and far between. Not to mention, with the injuries along New York's offensive line, he'll have little time to survey his options.

It was Cousins who buried his team with turnovers in last year's Thursday night tilt. Now it's Manning's turn. 

Behind a pair of early Manning turnovers, the Skins will again build a double-digit lead and survive a late New York rally.

Welcome Washington to the NFC East race.

Final Score: Redskins 23, Giants 20

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