1. How focused are the Redskins? They say they want to win and I believe them. But one thing concerns me: Several days ago I saw a couple players tweet something about next week (meaning, going home/time off, etc.) and there were more tweets about the New Year’s bash than about finishing strong. Winning takes preparation and I wonder if they did the same prep work this week as they had previously. It’s not just about playing hard during the game. Not saying they didn’t prepare, but the results likely will show how much.
2. Will the Giants recover? That’s an equally perplexing question because not only are they coming off 4 ½ disastrous quarters, but they’re also down their top two receivers and their offensive line is reshuffled again. But keep in mind their line was banged up the first time these teams played and it didn’t matter. And they were without their best two wideouts in that game as well. Also, as far as recovering, the Giants lost consecutive games earlier this season by a combined 43 points – and then won five straight. So they’re a hard team to figure. Seems like when you think you have them nailed, they reverse direction.
3. Will the Redskins repeat last week’s defensive performance? They played well vs. Jacksonville – the loss of Maurice Jones-Drew hurt, but the Redskins played without Brian Orakpo, Reed Doughty and, once again, LaRon Landry. I do wonder about this group facing a team with a legitimate running game, one that can feature a lot of size, too. The line played fantastic, using leverage better in this game than any other. But to expect a repeat would be asking a lot. Doesn’t mean they won’t win, but New York is better equipped to move vs. them than the Jaguars. And if the Giants are able to establish the run …
4. Will Brian Orakpo’s return matter? It has to. Now, Lorenzo Alexander did a solid job on his side defending the run last week and Rob Jackson applied some pressure. So it’s not as though they received no production from his spot. Also, Orakpo hasn’t done a whole lot in his last seven games (1.5 sacks). But New York’s left tackle Shawn Andrews is playing with a bad back and likely will only be in the game because of injuries to others. That’s a good sign for Orakpo.
5. Will Eli Manning pick on Phillip Buchanon again? Why not? Worked the first time, didn’t it? Once Manning finds a weakness in the defense, he will hammer away and that’s what he did with Buchanon, leading to his benching. But the Redskins played a lot of soft zone coverage in that game so it wasn’t just about the player. Also, Buchanon’s real problems came in tackling. He was terrible and against a physical team, you must do better. Will he? My other concern is Kevin Barnes at safety. He was, at best, just OK last week; I know he’s new to the position, but it is not a realistic position for him to play (full-time) in the future at his size. So look for Manning to attack one of these two.
6. How can the Redskins slow this offense? Welcome to cliché land: stop the run and force turnovers. Hard to get that sort of insight anywhere. The Redskins did well vs. Jacksonville because, in the second half, they could use seven defenders to stop the run. If they have to use eight vs. the Giants, it’ll be difficult. But New York, as you probably know, has committed a league-best 41 turnovers – helped by Eli Manning’s 24 picks. He makes terrible decisions at times, and he’s also very aggressive. Ahmad Bradshaw has lost six fumbles this season. On a slick field, he could add to his total. The best way for Washington to win this game is to cause a turnover early and get up on the Giants for a change. They always seem to be playing from behind, allowing the Giants to use their pass rush and running game to finish them.
7. Can the line handle this rush? It’s not just about the line; it’s about the calls and the backs picking up the blitz. Keiland Williams has done a pretty good job of late and Ryan Torain has improved, though he still has work to do. The Giants come with a lot of speed and don’t need to blitz, so it also comes down to linemen winning one-on-one battles. Justin Tuck against Jammal Brown and Osi Umenyiora vs. Trent Williams will be interesting to watch. Brown has improved lately, but his mobility is still not at a high level and Williams has been inconsistent. He looks great at times, then struggles with his awareness at others and that leads to problems.
8. What’s the worry? Rex Grossman in the pocket. The Giants have recorded 44 sacks; they will pressure him at some point. Jacksonville could not; the Jags don’t have pass rushers. Can Grossman make plays when the pocket collapses? Too often he does not and, rather, he makes negative plays. New York has the ends to pinch the pocket and the tackles – Barry Cofield and Chris Canty -- to push the guards back into his face.
9. Will they be able to run the ball? They have no choice. Green Bay was one-dimensional, but the Packers had an MVP candidate in Aaron Rodgers at quarterback. The Redskins do not have that person. The Giants’ run defense has been pretty solid, but their linebackers are a rather mediocre bunch. The ends play the run fairly well, but if the Redskins can get some backside blocks they should be able to at least threaten New York. Remember, in the first meeting Washington did not have Ryan Torain or Clinton Portis. Having Torain will help. My concern is the matchup with the guards vs. New York’s D-tackles. Washington has to hope the guards’ quickness matters more than New York’s power.
10. Where else can they hurt New York? Punt returns. New York has been dreadful in this area, partly because punter Matt Dodge has been inconsistent. Yes, he made a bad punt to DeSean Jackson a couple weeks ago, but it’s not just that play. Hang-time is an issue. He’s only had seven punts fair caught out of 65 and he’s dropped just 18 inside the 20. Opposing punt returners average 14.0 yards with two touchdowns.
11. Who will win? My gut tells me the Redskins will pull it out. But New York has won eight of the last nine and my gut has been wrong several times in this stretch. So I adopted a credo: ride the Giants until they actually lose to the Redskins. Seriously, though, the Giants defensive line and running game are set up to hurt Washington. If the Redskins get up early, that will be the key. The Giants, knowing what happened the last two games, might suffer a severe lack of confidence at that point. Makes a difference. The Redskins will play better than in the first meeting when they turned it over six times. New York will play better last week when it turned it over six times, too. Good game; Giants win. Giants 24, Redskins 21.