Last season, the New York Giants and Washington Football Team had two defensive struggles that resulted in two of the six Giants victories.
Washington head coach Ron Rivera went for a 2-point conversion that failed in week six after linebacker Tae Crowder returned a fumble for a touchdown. New York won 20-19 with only 240 yards of total offense.
Just three weeks later, the Giants forced five Washington turnovers. Logan Ryan secured a 23-20 victory over Washington as quarterback Alex Smith threw into the middle of the field against a Cover-2 Robber defense--Ryan obliged, and the Giants won the game. Neither affair was a potent offensive attack; this was probably by design.
Left tackle Andrew Thomas and the combination of Cameron Fleming and Matt Peart at right tackle were turbulent and unproven. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett had to devise a game plan to limit the pass-rushing ability of Chase Young and Montez Sweat, a pair of pass-rushers who had 24 pressures in five games heading into that first meeting with the Giants.
Sweat had seven pressures in the game but failed to sack quarterback Daniel Jones. The Giants were able to grind out an ugly victory against a tough defense. I expect a similar run-oriented, quick game approach against the Football Team on Thursday Night Football.
Washington joined the Giants in the loss column after failing to defeat the Chargers in Washington. Justin Herbert and the Chargers moved the football to a tune of 424 yards en route to a 20-16 victory.
The Chargers ran 78 total offensive plays, possessing the football for 36:03 (to 23:57) and accumulating 424 total yards (to the Football Team's 259). However, Washington sort of has an excuse as they lost their starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the first half to a hip injury that has landed him on injured reserve.
Washington's offense had to adapt to new quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who will square up against the Giants on Thursday. Like the Giants' defense against the Broncos, Washington's defensive unit struggled with their efficiency on third down, allowing Keenan Allen and Herbert's quick passing attack to move the chains. Washington only had seven pressures on defense; for reference, the Giants had 28, the fourth-most in Week 1.
The Football Team is more known for its ability to generate pressure and disrupt the pocket. They were fundamentally sound in 2020, ranking sixth in points against and fifth in yards allowed.
Their offense wasn't as dangerous, but an upgrade to Ryan Fitzpatrick seemed like it could take the unit to another level. Unfortunately, the hip injury will hold Fitzpatrick out for a while.
Let's look at the offense and speculate on their approach against this Giants defense.
Quarterback: Taylor Heinicke gained national notoriety when he faced the eventual Tampa Bay Buccaneers at FedEx Field in the Wild Card round last season. Heinicke was 26 of 44 for 306 yards with a touchdown and an interception while adding 46 additional yards with his legs. He made the game competitive, but the Buccaneers were too good for the former Old Dominion quarterback to overcome.
Heinicke now finds himself as the starter on a short week, after going 11 of 15 for 122 yards and a touchdown against the Chargers last week. The offense struggled to move the football against head coach Brandon Staley's defense.
The Football Team was 3-of-10 on third down and couldn't get into a rhythm. Washington's defense forced two turnovers, and the offense rewarded them missed a field goal, and fumbled the football with those opportunities.
Heinicke is better than most backup quarterbacks. He can provide a spark with his legs, and he has command of this team's philosophy since he spent time in Carolina with Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner.
The Giants defense should win this matchup against a mediocre starting quarterback option, but a short week on the road in the division can pose a problem for a unit that disappointed in week one at home.
Running Backs: Washington's duo of Antonio Gibson and third-down specialist J.D. McKissic is a dynamic duo. Gibson could be a true three-down back; he's 6'2, 220 pounds, and he's coming off a 20 carry 90-yard performance, albeit his costly fumble destroyed the chances for Washington.
Gibson is powerful, sturdy, explosive, and still new to playing running back. He was an all-purpose weapon at Memphis, but he can't be slept on in this matchup. Look for him to be the primary rusher who can be dangerous in space when Washington throws the ball in his direction.
McKissic played 20 of the 55 snaps, mostly on third down. He's a slippery receiving option that's dangerous against linebackers. Blake Martinez is a great linebacker, but McKissic can make him miss in space if given an option route. McKissic wasn't targeted in week one, but Gibson received five, catching three for 18 yards.
Wide Receivers: Curtis Samuel just landed on the short-term IR list. Samuel, another former Carolina Panther, was one of the significant acquisitions in the off-season, but he is dealing with a groin injury.
The most notable wide receiver on the team is a third-year star in the making, Terry McLaurin out of Ohio State. McLaurin is a smooth route runner who combines explosiveness with impressive tracking ability. He's got speed and can defeat defenders at all three levels of the field.
One of the few broken plays from the 2020 Giants defense was a long McLaurin touchdown. If the Giants decide to run man coverage, McLaurin can best Bradberry or Jackson from time to time, but the matchup isn't disproportionate either way.
Another off-season signing is slot receiver Adam Humphries, best known for crisp savvy route running in the short to intermediate parts of the field. I expect Turner to attempt to match Humphries with Crowder or Martinez in the middle of the field.
He should, however, see a solid amount of Darnay Holmes. Humphries is at a disadvantage athletically in that matchup but is a more established veteran who can be deceptive with his routes.
Rookie Dyami Brown is a dangerous deep threat who showcased only a few routes in Phil Longo's system at UNC. However, he has the fluidity and footwork to run a multitude of routes. He could be a sneaky name in this game--he played 51 snaps but did little with his four targets last week.
Cam Sims, DeAndre Carter, and Dax Milne all saw some snaps, but Brown, Humphries, and McLaurin are the real threats that Bradberry, Holmes, and Jackson have to worry about.
Tight Ends: Washington ran a lot of 11 personnel, and their primary tight end is quarterback convert Logan Thomas. Thomas is one of the premier tight ends in the NFL. He caught 77 of 114 targets last season for 744 yards and six touchdowns.
Thomas is big and athletic, traits the Giants' safeties struggled to deal with against Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam of the Broncos. Expect Washington to utilize the middle of the field with Thomas, as the former quarterback will likely use his big body to box out Giants' safeties.
Ricky Seals-Jones is the second tight end and another very big body. Seals-Jones is a solid blocker, as is Boise State rookie Johnny Bates. Seals-Jones only played ten snaps, most of those in 12-personnel, and Bates was only out there for two. Expect a heavy dose of Thomas, especially after Turner gets a hold of how Pat Shurmur utilized the Broncos' tight ends.
Offensive Line: The rookie out of Texas, Samuel Cosmi, and veteran Charles Leno Jr., are the starting tackles. Cosmi is a 6'8" long tackle who can be soft on his feet but struggled with bend a bit as a longhorn. Leno is a former Chicago Bear who is a solid starter.
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However, if the back end of the defense can hold up against this passing attack, I believe Leonard Williams, Lorenzo Carter, and Azeez Ojulari can affect off the edge. Cosmi gave up four pressures in the game, albeit he was squaring up with Joey Bosa. The Giants don't have a Bosa, but New York should be able to get a little bit of pressure against this team.
The guards are former Giants' first-round selection Ereck Flowers and Pro Bowler Brandon Scherff. Flowers' deficiencies are masked by playing inside in that he's rarely on an island. He's still lumbering, has questionable footwork, and has an inaccurate punch, but he's very large and is athletic enough to have success on the inside.
Scherff has been one of the better interior offensive linemen in the league. He is a smooth pass protector that plays with a low center of gravity while framing his blocks well and utilizing a good anchor. He's also skillful as a run blocker. He is the anchor of the offensive line, next to an up-and-coming talented center.
That center is Chase Roullier, who earned a four-year, $40 million contract in the off-season. His name isn't flashy, but he's always in a good position and is competent as a run and pass blocker. According to Pro Football Focus, he was the sixth-ranked center last season.
Defensive line: WFT defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio runs four-down fronts and he has excellent personnel to run a variety of effective techniques. Jonathan Allen is a dangerous and stout dual-threat player who fell to Washington in the 2017 NFL Draft because "long-term shoulder" issues. Well, he's on his second contract now.
He typically aligns at 3-technique but will 1-shade in passing situations. Allen had 50 pressures last season playing with Young, Sweat, and the rest of these talented defenders. He is a heavy-handed presence that does a good job striking with timing and violence. Allen played 47 snaps against the Chargers.
Daron Payne really popped on film last year against the Giants. He gave center Nick Gates a very hard time in the two matchups. Both Payne and Allen are Alabama interior defensive linemen--they're violent, strong at the point of attack, and rarely get pushed off the ball.
They also generate more pressure than typical big defensive lineman, albeit Allen is about 280 pounds. Payne played 61 snaps against the Chargers and typically aligned as a 4i-shade/5-T or nose.
Tim Settle is a 6'3, 328-pound rotational defensive lineman with solid initial quickness for a player of his size. He had 19 pressures last season as a rotational player. Settle played 12 snaps on Sunday.
Matt Ioannidis is still on the team after missing most of last season with an injury. He saw 43 snaps on Sunday. Ioannidis is a savvy veteran who effectively uses his hands and executes his run assignments well. He's still 27-years-old and could be in for a quality season rushing alongside these other defenders.
Outside linebackers: Chase Young is a dynamic talent that the Giants will become all too familiar with over the next decade. Young played 70 snaps against the Chargers. He may come away with no pressures and no sacks (he had one pressure against the Chargers and one against the Giants in Week 6 last season), but his impact is still palpable in the offensive play calling. Offensive coordinators call plays to mitigate Young's impact, something we saw this last year with Jason Garrett.
Montez Sweat is very talented in his own right. He played 53 snaps against the Chargers, providing disruption like when he racked up seven pressures against the Giants in Week 6. He had 49 pressures last season for this defense.
Like Chase Young, he can convert speed to power, has an array of pass-rushing moves, and uses his incredibly long arms well. Sweat is in the 97th percentile for arm length and wingspan. These EDGE rushers are mismatches against the Giants' tackles.
Also, look for second-year seventh-rounder out of North Carolina State, James Smith-Williams, and second-year seventh-rounder out of Stanford, Casey Toohill. The former played 30 snaps, and the latter played nine. They will play some sub-packages and spell the two stars, but they shouldn't be on the field too often.
Linebackers: The Football Team employs a 4-3 front, with Cole Holcomb assuming the role as the every-down linebacker. Washington spent a first-round pick on athletic and long linebacker Jamin Davis out of Kentucky. Davis played 45 snaps, and Jon Bostic played 68--I expect Davis to be the every-down linebacker for this team eventually.
Holcomb is a respectable undersized player who brings a physical element to run defense. However, Davis's athletic potential makes him an ideal fit as a modern second-level defender. Bostic is a bit undisciplined as a linebacker. He takes a decent amount of risks and can be susceptible to Saquon Barkley's unique jump-cutting ability.
The defensive unit surrendered 5.4 yards per carry against the Chargers. The Giants will attempt to slow this game down and run the football, and I believe they can have adequate success doing so, but it may not be enough. New York struggled to dominate the point of attack against the Broncos, and Washington's front seven is arguably more powerful and has more talent.
In the second Giants' victory last season against Washington (the 23-20 win), the offense was stagnant for the most part. However, they established an effective rushing attack with Wayne Gallman and Alfred Morris.
This will likely be the game plan again, but it won't be easy. New York's passing attack will be centralized around the quick game, and hopefully, they can take advantage of the mismatches that could transpire with Holcolm and Bostic on the field.
I expect New York to try and control the football, slowing the play down, and pass rush, down. Barkley's athletic ability can best this linebacking crew, but the Giants' offensive line must execute upfront.
Cornerbacks: Washington's cornerbacks are solid. The addition of William Jackson III was similar to the Giants' adding Adoree' Jackson from a contractual standpoint, although they're two different players.
Jackson III is a long cornerback who figures to line up against Kenny Golladay, and No. 19 can win that matchup. Jackson III is disruptive at the catch point, but Golladay is one of the better receivers in the league in terms of contested-catch situations. This should be an exciting matchup.
Benjamin St-Juste is another very long cornerback who plays on the outside. St-Juste had an excellent Senior Bowl in 2021, and Washington selected him in the sixth round out of Minnesota. St-Juste should see a lot of Darius Slayton. Del Rio isn't scared to play man coverage and trust his four-man pressure package to get home, with a robbing safety eliminating inside breaking routes up the seam.
Kendall Fuller was one of the better slot corners in the league during his first stint with Washington and Kansas City. He's still a very solid player. His matchup will be against Sterling Shepard, who aligned 38 times in the slot against the Broncos, will be one to monitor. Shepard looked excellent against Denver, and he can realistically get the best of Fuller. These are the three primary cornerbacks the Giants will see on Sunday.
Troy Apke and Torry McTyer are the other two cornerbacks who could see the field. Apke is a converted safety who tested incredibly well at the combine and McTyer is a young 25-year-old who could be exploited by the Giants receivers if forced to see the field.
The Giants wide receivers are good enough to take advantage of this secondary if the offensive line and play-caller improve. From a skill-set standpoint, I believe the Giants have the advantage with Shepard and Golladay, but there's more to football than one-on-one matchups.
Safeties: Landon Collins is healthy, and he continued his effective run defense at strong safety by playing 65 snaps on Sunday. However, Collins has always been a player targeted in coverage, but tight end Kyle Rudolph isn't challenging many defensive backs with speed. If the Giants have a healthy Evan Engram, then maybe that could be a matchup to exploit.
One of the more impressive players is the second-year seventh-round pick out of Arkansas Kamron Curl. The 22-year-old is athletic, sticky in man coverage, long, and isn't shy to pop ball carriers. Curl played 37 snaps in Del Rio's defense on Sunday.
Bobby McCain, someone Patrick Graham knows well from their time in Miami, plays free safety for Washington. McCain's a solid player with adequate range as a center fielder. Similar to Graham, Del Rio also utilized McCain in the slot and the box.
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