Giants run defense faces major test against Washington
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) If the New York Giants are going to get back into the NFC East race, they are going to have to limit Washington's running game and make the Redskins' top-ranked defense work more than 22 minutes.
After giving up late scores in losing their first two games, the Giants need their defense to step up in Thursday night's nationally televised game, particularly the run defense.
Washington (1-1) is playing old-time football these days.
Coach Jay Gruden's team is pounding the ball inside with Alfred Morris and rookie Matt Jones and that's translating to some unbelievable time of possession statistics. The Redskins are averaging nearly 38 minutes of possession.
It's a big reason their defense is ranked No. 1 in the NFL. Opponents have run only 101 plays, scored 20 points and had the ball just over 22 minutes per game, gaining a total of 469 yards.
While the Giants are ranked next to last in defense, the surprising strength of the unit has been the run defense. After a pitiful performance last season, Steve Spagnuolo's unit is giving up an average of 68 yards.
The Redskins are averaging 171.5 yards on the ground. Jones and Morris each have had a 100-yard game. The style has allowed quarterback Kirk Cousins to pick and choose when he throws.
''If we let them run, they are just going to keep running it,'' Giants defensive end Robert Ayers said. ''They are running it in third-and-long, and they are going to stick to what they do. It starts up front and we have to come with our `A' game. We've done fairly good so far.''
Redskins left tackle Trent Williams said this isn't going to be a game won with trick plays.
''It's going to come down to who can play the best football, who can be penalty free,'' he said. ''Who can run the ball. Who can protect the quarterback. And who can make tackles.''
The Giants' offense also needs to improve. It has scored 29 points this season, with Odell Beckham Jr. providing most of the spark in the loss to Atlanta. New York's defense was responsible for 17 points against Dallas.
''Their offense has held the ball and they've been great on third down getting guys off the field,'' quarterback Eli Manning said. ''We're going to have a challenge to stay on the field, have some drives, convert on third downs and block their guys up.''
Redskins defensive end Kedric Golston knows the Giants are going to be desperate after an 0-2 start.
''You have to know that going into it, and they're not just going to lay down because they're 0-2,'' he said. ''If anything, they feel as though their backs are up against the wall.''
Here are other things of interest for the game at MetLife Stadium:
GIANTS RECEIVERS: With the release of Preston Parker on Tuesday, Manning is going to have a new slot receiver this week. Rueben Randle has gotten off to a slow start this season so the Giants could elect to move him inside in an effort to get him going. It also will be interesting to see if rookie Geremy Davis plays more. He would give the Giants another deep threat.
FEWELL BACK: Washington should have a good insight in stopping the Giants offense. Their defensive backs coach is Perry Fewell, New York's defensive coordinator last season when Ben McAdoo put in the new West Coast offense.
''Any information that he can give us will help, but obviously they do have a different scheme, so we'll take it for a grain of salt,'' Gruden said.
DONNELL FACTOR: The previous time the Giants and Redskins played in prime time, New York tight end Larry Donnell had a huge game in a 45-14 win. The former free agent had seven catches for 54 yards and caught three of Manning's four touchdown passes. In three seasons, Donnell has seven TD catches, including one this season.
GIANTS O-LINE: With first-round draft pick Ereck Flowers nursing a sprained ankle, the Giants might have to shuffle things. Left guard Justin Pugh, who played right tackle in his first two seasons, shifted to left tackle after Flowers left the game against Atlanta. John Jerry, who started every game at right guard last season, replaced Pugh at left guard. The line struggled protecting Manning late last week, but it also seems to be on the verge of getting the running game going.
PLAYOFF CHANCES: Since realignment in 2002, more than 60 percent of the playoff teams (94 of 156) started the season at either 1-1 or 0-2. That includes six of the eight division champions from last year: Dallas (NFC East), Green Bay (NFC North), Indianapolis (AFC South), New England (AFC East), Pittsburgh (AFC North) and Seattle (NFC West). So the Giants and Redskins have a chance to get back to the postseason.
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