Let's take a look at Thursday night's match-up between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins and see what we can learn as the Giants get ready for their first NFC East contest of the 2014 season.
When The Giants Have The Ball
Heading into Sunday's game against the Houston Texans we harped on the idea that the Giants' biggest obstacle to success was themselves. In two season-opening losses they simply killed themselves with turnovers, dropped passes and penalties. Against the Texans the Giants had one costly fumble by Larry Donnell and one dropped pass, but that was it. It was not a perfectly clean game for the offense, but it was the cleanest the Giants have played thus far.
In by far their best offensive performance of the young season, the Giants compiled a season-high 419 yards rushing against Houston. Eli Manning went 21-of-28 for 234 yards and two scores, and Rashad Jennings carried 34 times for 176 yards and earned a nomination for FedEx Ground Player of the Week. Can the Giants repeat that kind of success against Washington? After carrying so many times on Sunday, it figures that Jennings will need some help from rookie Andre Williams this week.
After three games the Redskins are fourth in the league in yardage allowed, surrendering 282.7 yards per game. They give up only 64.7 yards per game on the ground. Washington has allowed 64 points, more than half of those on Sunday in a 37-34 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
The Redskins will be without cornerback DeAngelo Hall (achilles tendon) and safety Duke Ihenacho (fractured heel), both placed on injured reserve this week. Hall was Washington's best cornerback.
The Giants' offensive line will be challenged again this week. Washington's Ryan Kerrigan is tied for the league lead with four sacks, and the Redskins lead the league with 10 sacks overall. Former Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jason Hatcher has 2.5 sacks. The Giants surrendered only one sack vs. J.J. Watt and the Texans, and did an excellent job keeping the pocket clean for Manning.
When The Redskins Have The Ball
Washington certainly is a different team with Kirk Cousins at quarterback instead of the injured Robert Griffin III. Cousins went 30-of-48 for 435 yards and three touchdowns Sunday against the Eagles. He has compiled a passer rating of 105.2 since taking over for RGIII during Week 2.
The Giants' vaunted secondary will once again be challenged by a quality group of receivers. Pierre Garcons (22 catches), Niles Paul (18 receptions), the explosive DeSean Jackson (14 catches) and Roberts (nine catches) form a dangerous group. Jackson had an 81-yard touchdown catch against the Eagles last week and has, of course, been a Giants-killer in the past. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie might wind up shadowing the speedy wide receiver.
The Redskins also still have outstanding running back Alfred Morris, who has 253 yards on 59 carries (4.3 yards per carry) thus far.
The Redskins are second in the league in yards per game (444.0) and fifth in points (27.0), so the Giants will have their hands full.
Can they make Cousins look like the backup quarterback he has been the past three seasons? Or, will Cousins continue to play like a guy trying to Wally Pipp RGIII? That could be the biggest factor on Thursday night.
Damontre Moore did block a punt Sunday against Houston, but special teams have cost the Giants points the past two weeks. Against the Arizona Cardinals there was a 71-yard punt return for a score by Ted Ginn and a kickoff return fumbled by Quintin Demps that cost the Giants 10 points. Against the Texans a bad Zak DeOssie snap ruined what should have been a chip-shot field for Josh Brown. Rookie Corey Washington was also victimized on a fake punt by the Texans, although that did not cost the Giants any points.
Can the Giants top hurting themselves on special teams? This might be a good week to find out. The Redskins are surrendering 35.2 yards per kickoff return, so perhaps Demps (21.8 yards per return thus far) can finally find room to run.
The Giants will also be hoping that punter Steve Weatherford, playing despite torn ligaments in his left ankle, does not struggle due to lack of recovery time during a short week.
Washington return man Andre Roberts is averaging 23.0 yards on kickoff returns and 10.1 on punt returns.