When a New York Giants-Washington Redskins matchup was put on the schedule for Thanksgiving night, most figured it would be a highly competitive NFC East battle for two teams in playoff contention. It is not that. Still, there’s some things to like about this game. The Giants are coming off a win against Chiefs and while Washington has struggled to win, Kirk Cousins might be playing the best football of his career considering the supporting cast he’s been placed with this season. Even if the shine has worn off a bit from this primetime game, rarely are these divisional battles not hard fought.
By the numbers
Rushing: 102.6 yards per game (18th), 3.9 yards per carry (t-23rd)
Passing: 256.8 yards per game (seventh), 8.1 yards per attempt (fourth)
Total Yards: 359.4 yards per game (ninth), 31.90 yards per drive (10th)
Points: 23.8 points per game (12th), 2.12 points per drive (ninth)
Rushing: 132.7 yards per game (30th), 4.4 yards per carry (23rd)
Passing: 263.9 yards per game (29th), 7.7 yards per attempt (t-25th)
Total Yards: 396.6 yards per game (31st), 33.95 yards per drive (28th)
Points: 24.7 points per game (t-21st), 2.12 points per drive (26th)
A defensive end rotation might be nice
Let the San Francisco 49ers run wild. Keep the Kansas City Chiefs in check. This is the 2017 New York Giants. From week-to-week there’s really no telling which version of this defense is going to show up. Overall, of course, it hasn’t been good. The Giants are 28th in defensive DVOA and part of this have come from an inability to rush the passer, which puts more pressure on the secondary -- a unit that has also struggled this season.
The Giants are just 28th in defensive pressure rate after finishing eighth last season. Some of that can be explained by Olivier Vernon missing time and playing hurt. He was limited in practice on Tuesday after not practicing on Monday. Despite the injuries, once Vernon returned to action in Week 10, he was taking on close to his usual workload. Vernon has played 88.5 percent and 82.7 percent of the team’s defensive snaps over the past two games.
Jason Pierre-Paul has also been limited in practice over the past week. He was also limited on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of last week. Still, he played 94.7 percent of the defensive snaps against the Chiefs on Sunday.
Avery Moss started to develop with Vernon out, but in the past three weeks his playing time has gone down from 87.5 percent to 59 percent to 33.3 percent. Moss is clearly not on the level of Vernon or Pierre-Paul, but on a short week with both of the starters a little banged up, a more aggressive rotation at defensive end should benefit everyone involved -- keeping the two stars more fresh and allowing the rookie to get more work in against a patchwork offensive line.
The loss of Chris Thompson
Injuries in the NFL have been numerous and high-profile. Chris Thompson wasn’t the most high profile running back coming into the season and maybe he still isn’t as high profile as he should be, but Thompson has been the biggest piece of Washington’s offense this season outside of Kirk Cousins. Last week against the New Orleans Saints, Thompson fractured his fibula and will miss the remainder of the season. Thompson led Washington in yards from scrimmage -- second on the team in rushing yards (294) and second in receiving yards (510). He also had six touchdowns on the season while the next closest teammate has three.
Washington has struggled on third downs this season -- the 37 percent conversion rate ranks 22nd in the league -- which forced Thompson to be the go-to in that situation. Thompson trailed Jamison Crowder in targets (23-20) and receptions (14-11), but had eight first downs through the air opposed to Crowder’s six.
Per Football Outsiders, no running back had more DYAR -- their counting stat -- as a receiver than Thompson and he was second in DVOA behind Lamar Miller, who hasn’t been nearly as involved in the Houston Texans’ passing game.
Thompson played just over half of Washington’s offensive snaps -- 51.5 percent -- but he was the most important skill player.
A Josh Doctson breakout?
Thompson wasn’t the only player Washington had to put on injured reserve this week. They also lost Terrelle Pryor for the season. Pryor was expected to take over as the No. 1 target in this offense, but he spent much of the season struggling to fit in and find chemistry with Kirk Cousins. Over the past few weeks, that No. 1 target has turned out to be Josh Doctson, Washington’s 2016 first-round pick who missed most of his rookie season with an Achilles injury. Doctson has seven targets and four receptions in each of the past two games and while those have only combined for 111 yards, his role in the offense and the trust his quarterback has in him is growing.
At his best, Doctson is basically coverage proof. In college, Doctson was one of the best contested catch receivers when needed. Cousins has started to get let Doctson fight for some 50-50 balls like he did last week in New Orleans. By just letting Doctson try to make a play, the throw doesn’t have to be perfect and can still be completed for a big gain.
It’s likely Doctson will line up across from Janoris Jenkins on Thursday night. Jenkins’s play has been hit or miss in coverage this season. Per Sports Info Solutions charting, Jenkins still ranks 16th among 66 qualified cornerbacks in Success Rate. However, he ranks 62nd in yards allowed per play. This means, while Jenkins has limited the amount of passes completed against him, he’s been susceptible to the big play -- something his game showed during his time with the Rams, but was worked out last season.
Jordan Reed might not play. It might not matter.
Travis Kelce didn’t score a touchdown against the Giants last week, snapping the 10-game tight end touchdown streak, but he still had eight receptions for 109 yards. An appearance in the end zone or not, the Giants did not contain the tight end. Jordan Reed, the player who started that streak in Week 17 on 2016, has long been a struggle for Giants defenders, but Reed has not been healthy this season. He’s missed the past three games with a hamstring injury and he has yet to practice for Washington this week. With a short turnaround for Thursday night’s game, it’s unlikely he’ll suit up.
But Washington’s tight end position is like a Hydra, when one head cuts cut off, two more appear -- even as unlikely as those heads might be. Vernon Davis has reemerged as a productive tight end in his age-33 season. His 527 receiving yards leads the team and his 16.0 yards per reception is his highest since he averaged 16.3 in a Pro Bowl season for the 49ers in 2013. Davis, though, has just one touchdown on the season.