GIANTS LOOK AT REDSKINS WHILE KEEPING EYE ON POSSIBLE WILD CARD OPPONENTS
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Giants fans have been spending the week debating which team they prefer to face – or avoid – in the opening round of the playoffs, but the team’s players and coaches have been preparing for the regular-season finale Sunday in Washington.
For defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, that means devising a plan for what could be the NFL’s most explosive offense.
“They might have more weapons than anyone that we’ve faced so far,” Spagnuolo said this week. “Every week, we put up the players that we need to stop. This week, the list was really long. Usually, you have three or four, but this week we ran out of room on the page. They’re scary good on offense. We have to figure out a way to slow them down enough so that our team can win a football game. They can move the ball and score points.”
That they can. The Redskins are third in the NFL in yards-per game (411.3), second in yards-per-play (6.5), and second in passing yards-per-game (300.8). They have scored 386 points – 95 more than the Giants. Quarterback Kirk Cousins is second in the league with 4,630 passing yards, has completed 67.3 percent of his passes, and has thrown for 24 touchdowns against just 10 interceptions. Washington has three wide receivers (Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder and Desean Jackson), two tight ends (Pro Bowler Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis), and a running back (Chris Thompson) with at least 42 catches. Rookie running back Robert Kelley has been an impressive No. 1 back in the second half of the season, and the offensive line is huge from tackle to tackle and features Pro Bowlers in Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff.
“We’ve played some teams that have had some skill outside, but the O-line has struggled, so you attack them and win that way,” Spagnuolo said. “This team doesn’t really have a weakness. They all can take short passes and go long. We know DeSean Jackson has been doing it forever. We just have to go in and do what we need to do. We have to be the best us. Try and stop the third-ranked NFL offense.”
Garcon leads Washington with 75 receptions, Crowder has a team-high seven touchdown catches, and Jackson is first in the league with an 18.0-yard per-catch average. Eighteen of Jackson’s 54 receptions – exactly one-third — have gained 20 or more yards.
“When I look at him, he kind of lulls guys to sleep,” safety Landon Collins said. “He doesn’t use his actual speed when he is running his routes and stuff like that, and then when he knows he is about to go deep, he hits it and hits you while you are asleep basically. He gets behind you and Kirk just has to throw it up and he will go get it.
“(Cousins’) receivers are making big plays, making big catches. He’s keeping his eyes downfield, and not worrying about the pass rush that is coming at his feet.”
The Giants defense should give him plenty to think about. The unit allowed just three touchdowns in the previous three games (one of Philadelphia’s scores last week was on an interception return) and the Giants are ranked third in the NFL in points allowed (18.3 a game).
“We have a chance to keep getting better,” Spagnuolo said. “We’re going against one of the best offensive units in the league. There is only a couple that are better. Let’s go find out what we are and how we stack up against them. This is going to be a heck of a challenge.”
*The Giants are 25th in the league in points-per-game (19.4), and there is a common perception the offense has not approached its capability, efficiency, production and points. Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan didn’t dispute that this week.
“I absolutely feel that there are things that are frustrating to all of us as coaches,” Sullivan said. “The players are frustrated because we do see – as we really dig deep and you sit in this room and look at the tape and go into individual meeting rooms – you see where we’re so close. (I) hate to keep saying that as well, but we do sincerely feel that way, and we’ve seen those instances when we can be that type of an offense. It’s a frustration, but it’s a healthy frustration, because it’s not one where there’s desperation, ‘Oh, woe is us, what are we going to do?’ It’s more of a, ‘Hey, you know what? We have it, let’s just keep grinding, let’s just keep scratching, clawing, fighting and it’s going to come.’
“The important thing is that we’re in that position, where now the stakes are going to be very high, and certainly the room for errors is not very great. We are optimistic and we’re, like I said, making sure it comes across as a positive frustration. We know that there’s potential there and we’re working hard to get it fixed, and we’re excited about the opportunities.”
*Because the Giants are locked into the NFC’s No. 5 playoff seed, some players and coaches have been asked why the Washington game is big or important to them. Spagnuolo had a ready answer.
“Because you want to win football games in the NFL,” said Spagnuolo, who has coached in the league since 1999. “It is game 16, get to 11-5. There are a lot of reasons. If you aren’t going out there to win a football game, then you probably ought to not go out there.”
The Giants won’t know their wild card round opponent until Sunday, so the coaches haven’t had another team to study this week. But even if they did, their primary focus would be on Washington. Ben McAdoo has made it clear the Giants are playing to win.
“The only film that I have watched, the only players that I am looking at, are the guys that wear a Washington Redskins jersey and that is it,” Spagnuolo said. “I have always believed this and I talked to the guys about this the other day, on defense, in this game, our job never changes. It doesn’t matter whether we are up by 50 or behind by 50. It doesn’t matter what the game means, what it doesn’t mean. Our job is to go out there and stop the team that is trying to score. It never changes in the course of the game, during the season, in-between games. That is all that we are doing, that is all that we can control, and that is what we try to do.”
*Defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (core muscle) and safety Nat Berhe (concussion) have been declared out of the game in Washington. JPP will miss his fourth consecutive game, and Berhe his fifth in a row.
Four players are questionable: cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins (back) and Coty Sensabaugh (ankle), linebacker B.J. Goodson (concussion) and tight end Jerell Adams (shoulder).
*Jenkins did not play last week in Philadelphia, but coach Ben McAdoo said he had a good week, but no decision has been made regarding his availability for the Washington game.
“He moved around well yesterday, had a good mental day today,” McAdoo said. “Tomorrow’s going to be a big day for a lot of the guys, as it is this time of the year for a lot of players to get out there, get that launch speed going before we jump on the train.”
Could McAdoo make another game-time decision regarding whether or not Jenkins plays?
“Certainly, may come down to that, yes,” McAdoo said.
*The Redskins announced that linebacker Su’a Cravens (upper arm) and cornerback Quinton Dunbar (concussion) will not play Sunday. Cravens’ interception of an Eli Manning pass at the Giants’ 43-yard line with 1:02 remaining sealed Washington’s 29-27 victory in MetLife Stadium on Sept. 25.