The Washington Redskins will head up north this week to take on the New York Giants in their first division matchup of the season. The pressure on RGIII will be greater in every respect, as he faces a team that is hands down one of the fiercest competitors in the league. Both the offense and defense will face new and greater challenges in perhaps the most important game they have played thus far.
Osi Umenyiora, who famously stated during the offseason that Robert Griffin III had not earned his nickname of “RGIII”, seems to have come around with a newfound respect for the rookie, who he referred to as “Bob” up to this point. This week he stated that he has indeed earned a nickname and has been impressed enough by his performance to dub him “Sir Robert.”
While it is a good feeling to have a quarterback who is more the talk of the NFL than the joke, it is also an indicator of just how much teams come into a game armed with an arsenal of plays aimed at taking down the quarterback sensation.
Win or lose, this game should be interesting.
It is no secret that the Giants defense relies heavily on the pass rush. And after RGIII’s performance last week there is no doubt in my mind that they tailored their defense almost entirely around stopping him. Griffin III’s greatest weapon this week will be to establish a ground game. A strong performance from Alfred Morris is crucial in getting into the rhythm that has helped the Redskins to have successful drives. It will also help them in setting up the play action passing game, despite the likely absence of Garcon.
The likely absence of the Redskins starting receiver will again give way to opportunities for other guys to step up. There has yet to be a game in which a receiver sets himself apart from the rest, but if the Giants defense forces Griffin III to throw from the pocket, there will be ample opportunities for them to make some noise on offense. Santana Moss, who was written off as third-string early on, has been making a case for himself in recent weeks. What he lacks in youth he has made up for in experience, making big plays when it matters most. Given the amount of youth on the team he could prove invaluable in a situation he is used to: a big division matchup on the other team’s turf.
Jason Pierre-Paul has been outspoken about targeting RGIII, warning him “Don’t bring it to my side. Go the other way.” A crucial component of the rookie quarterback’s success is the protection he receives from the offensive line. They will need to step this up to a new level this week against some of the most impressive pass rushers in the NFL. Many of the big plays we saw last week were made possible not only by the offensive line, but by exceptional blocking by guys like Josh Morgan and Alfred Morris. If these guys can play as cohesively and unselfishly as they did against the Vikings, the offense will have a much better chance.
One of the biggest differences between these teams is in rushing versus passing yards. The Redskins have significantly more rushing yards, while the Giants have many more passing yards. The Giants offensive line has been fantastic at giving Eli Manning enough time to throw the ball without being sacked (he has only 4 this season). Add in an array of very talented receivers and the Redskins defense has their work cut out for them.
This is an area of concern for a team that continues to struggle with the pass rush. This game will be their biggest and most important challenge thus far. With targets such as Hakeem Nicks, Domenik Hixon and Victor Cruz, they need to apply as much pressure as possible on Manning for the Redskins to stay in the game.
Many of the Giants players pose a substantial threat from their sheer size alone. This makes for a difficult matchup for guys like DeAngelo Hall (5’10) and Josh Wilson (5’9). One of the “biggest” examples of this size advantage is the Giants 6’6 tight end Martellus Bennett. He will also be a key player to stop this week.
Ahmad Bradshaw is currently listed as questionable due to his foot injury. If he plays, the defense will certainly have their hands full with him. The past 2 weeks he has put up big numbers, including a 200 yard game against the Browns. The defense did a pretty good job containing Adrian Peterson last week, and has improved in limiting rushing yards and big plays in general.
Of note is the Giants scoring percentage. They have scored touchdowns 44.83% of the time they have made it to the red zone, making them the 22nd in the NFL. The Redskins were effective in this department last week, forcing field goals instead of touchdowns for the Vikings until the 4th quarter. However, Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes has made an impressive 17 out of 19 field goals so far this season. It is especially important for the Redskins to limit any opportunities the Giants have to get into the red zone. This includes not incurring penalties, an area which continues to plague the Redskins. This should be an area of emphasis for both the offense and defense.