There will be more to Sunday’s matchup between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins than the long-simmering Odell Beckham Jr. vs. Josh Norman feud. So, let’s spend some time focusing on the other side of the ball. How does the Giants’ defense match up with the Redskins’ offense?
By the numbers
Here’s a brief statistical overview. We will get into more depth on a lot of this in a minute.
Let’s talk about Kirk Cousins
What is going on with the Washington quarterback? We know he’s getting bashed by his own teammates after the Redskins’ 0-2 start. There is no way to know if wide receiver Pierre Garcon is the anonymous basher, but this reaction doesn’t help.
The question with Cousins is really this: Was last year, when he completed 69.8 percent of his passes, threw 29 touchdown passes to 11 interceptions and had a 101.6 passer rating as Washington won the NFC East an anomoly? It was his first year as a starter after four years in the league. Is what we have seen this season, a 78.5 passer rating, one touchdown, three interceptions, the real Cousins? The Redskins obviously aren’t sure, a big part of the reason Cousins is on a one-year, $19.53 million contract rather than a long-term deal.
Here is ESPN Redskins beat writer John Keim discussing Cousins:
I don’t know about players grumbling a lot about Kirk Cousins, as Pro Football Talk reported. I do know that quarterbacks receive a lot of scrutiny from everyone, so if he’s struggling it stands to reason some would be upset, right? Right. There are other issues aside from Cousins, don’t forget that, and those have caused grumbles, too. Any time you start 0-2 -- here at least -- there will be moaning. But the passing game was supposed to be the one that made it all click and he was a primary reason for any optimism. I’ve never had anyone in the organization oversell his ability – there’s a reason they didn’t meet his contract wishes in the offseason. Like him? Yes. The point is, Cousins does not have a huge margin for error and questions are always right around the corner because he still needs to prove himself.
SB Nation’s Jeanna Thomas points out that red zone and third-down play have been at the root of Cousins’ difficulties through two games:
Washington has been inept offensively in the red zone, scoring just once in four trips during Week 1 against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and twice on six trips against the Cowboys. In addition to the end zone interception against the Cowboys, Cousins threw one in the red zone against the Steelers. His quarterback rating for the season so far is 78.6, but inside the 20-yard line, it’s a league-worst 19.6.
It’s more troubling when Cousins’ performance in the red zone is compared against last season, when he threw 22 touchdowns and no interceptions inside the 20.
Washington has also struggled to convert third downs. Last season, Cousins converted 69.2 percent of his third down passing attempts, and this season that percentage has dropped to 61.9 percent so far.
** Chart from Sporting Charts
Now, let’s move on to some other aspects of the matchup when Washington has the ball.
Redskins’ receivers vs. Giants’ secondary
Cousins has a number of receiving weapons to throw to, including long-time Giant killer DeSean Jackson and tight end Jordan Reed. Jamison Crowder and Reed lead Washington with 12 receptions each, while Jackson is averaging 15.8 yards per catch.
We know what Jackson has done to the Giants in the past, and that Reed caught 14 passes against an under-whelming Giant secondary in two games last season.
This, though, is not your 2015 Giant secondary. Brandon Meriweather, Craig Dahl, Prince Amukamara, Jayron Hosley and Trumaine McBride have been replaced by Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, Leon Hall, Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe.
The Giants have surrendered only three passing plays of more than 20 yards and no passes of more than 40 yards in their first two games. New York is surrendering a league-best 8.8 yards per completion, and the Giants are second in the league in opponent passing yards per attempt at 5.3. I mentioned this the other day, but a big part of that is that the Giants’ tackling in the secondary has been extraordinary during the first two games.
Generating a pass rush
The Giants’ only two sacks of the first two games came Sunday against the New Orleans Saints, and both were by defensive backs (Landon Collins and Leon Hall). After two games, the Giants are 30th in the league in sack percentage at 2.20 percent.
Coach Ben McAdoo said earlier this week that he wasn’t worried about the lack of sacks from the defensive line.
“We feel the sacks will come,” McAdoo said. “We may not be getting the sacks, but we’re getting some pressure on the quarterbacks. We’re doing a nice job challenging receivers in coverage. They may have to hold it a tick longer with some pressure in their face. It’s hard to be explosive that way.”
The fact that Olivier Vernon (hand) seemed limited Sunday while playing with a large wrap on his left hand and Jason Pierre-Paul played through a shoulder injury may have impacted the pass rush.
Getting some turnovers
Oddly, the Giants have won two games while failing to generate a turnover. And, no, for those of you who have questioned that statistic a blocked field goal is not considered a turnover. Fumbles or interceptions are considered turnovers. The Giants are -4 in takeaways/giveaway ratio, and their -2.0 ratio per game places them 31st in the league. That, obviously, will have to change before the season is over.