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Giants at Redskins: 8 things to watch on Sunday

Can the Giants control Adrian Peterson?

NFL: Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles
Mark Sanchez handing the ball to Adrian Peterson is likely to be a big part of Washington’s game plan on Sunday.
Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

What are some of the keys to victory for the New York Giants on Sunday vs. the Washington Redskins. Here are a few things to look for.

The Giants without Odell

The Giants have been playing much better on offense in recent weeks. They have averaged 24.25 points over their last eight games, and 29.25 over their last four. How well will the offense perform with Odell Beckham Jr. sitting out the game because of a bruised quad, an injury apparently suffered in Week 12 against the Philadelphia Eagles when he was leg-whipped on the game’s final play?

Beckham, one of the game’s premier receivers, leads the Giants in receptions (77), targets (124), receiving yards (1,052) and touchdown catches (6). Can the Giants continue to function well on offense without the player defenses scheme for in the passing game?

It was a different offense and different head coaches, but the Giants averaged 19.75 points when Beckham played in 2017 and 13.9 when he did not.

Beckham caught only three of nine passes last week against the Chicago Bears for a season-low 35 yards. It seemed like Eli Manning was just out of rhythm throwing to Beckham, but now you have to wonder if the quad was a factor.

Regardless, it will be interesting to see whether the Giants can pass the ball efficiently without Beckham. How heavily the Giants lean on Saquon Barkley will also be worth watching.

Getting after The Sanchize

Mark Sanchez signed with the Redskins on Nov. 19. That’s less than three weeks ago. There is zero chance he knows the full Washington playbook at this point. Sanchez’s game action on Monday in relief of Colt McCoy (13-of-21, 100 yards, one interception) was his first since he mopped up for two games with the Dallas Cowboys in 2016, going 10-for-18. Sanchez last started an NFL game in 2015, when he did so twice for the Philadelphia Eagles.

The Giants simply cannot let the 32-year-old Sanchez, who does have 72 regular-season NFL starts, get comfortable.

Unfortunately, even after a breakout five-sack game Sunday against the Chicago Bears the Giants are tied for 30th in the league with only 19 sacks. They are also tired for 30th in the league with an Adjusted Sack Rate of just 4 percent.

Olivier Vernon had perhaps his best game of the season vs. Chicago with two sacks, six total pressures, a forced fumble and four stops against the run. The Giants will need Vernon, B.J. Hill and others to make Sanchez uncomfortable, especially without safety Landon Collins.

“I was with Mark Sanchez for more than a year, so he’s very capable of leading a team to victory. I watched it happen,” said Giants coach Pat Shurmur. “They’re going to try to do what Mark can do best, and try to play to the strengths of their team. I know they’ve got probably a soon-to-be Hall of Fame running back, so you can just connect the dots and see what they’ll probably do on offense to compensate for some of the injuries they have.”

Speaking of Adrian Peterson

The amazing 33-year-old Peterson is that “probably a soon-to-be Hall of Fame running back” Shurmur was talking about. And you can forget the “probably.”

Three seasons removed from his last All-Pro season (1,485 yards with the Minnesota Vikings in 2015), Peterson is enjoying a renaissance with the Redskins. After having had to wait to find a job until late August, Peterson has rushed for 856 yards and averaged 4.5 yards per carry. He had a 90-yard run Monday against the Philadelphia Eagles, and he is almost certain to crack 1,000 yards for the first time since that aforementioned 2015 season.

Back when Sanchez was the quarterback of the New York Jets, then-coach Rex Ryan wanted to employ a “Ground and Pound” strategy on offense. You would expect something similar from the Redskins on Sunday.

The Giants will likely load up the box in anticipation of that on Sunday — and they know they better not mess it up. Peterson had 26 carries for 149 yards the first time the teams met, 20-13 Washington victory.

“It’s still crazy because when I was in high school and college, I was an AP fan, that’s the crazy part. Just playing against him, you just know how explosive he is and you know he’s a little bit older now, he still has it,” defensive tackle Dalvin Tomlinson said. “You have to come prepared just knowing you have to be gap leverage and disciplined out there just so you can make sure you can stop him.”

Can the Giants stand prosperity?

The Redskins have been ravaged by injuries and are using their third quarterback. They have lost three straight and are likely demoralized. They have to suffer the indignity of having the last-place Giants come into their building as the betting favorite.

The Giants have won three of four. They should be able to win this one. But ...

It wasn’t that long ago that the Giants were 1-7. A weaker schedule and some good fortune — facing three backup quarterbacks in four weeks — has helped the Giants. They face another backup, really a backup to the backup, this week.

The Giants had best not assume they will win simply because of the Redskins’ difficult circumstances. At 4-8 the Giants don’t have the right to take anyone for granted. Developing teams need to learn how to win, especially when they are expected to. Let’s see if the Giants can do that on Sunday.

Replacing Landon Collins

The Giants will be without Landon Collins, their leading tackler and a player who made the Pro Bowl in two of his first three seasons in the NFL, for the rest of the season. Veteran Michael Thomas and rookie Sean Chandler seem likely to get the bulk of the snaps in his place. How will they do, and how will the Giants fill the multiple roles Collins has played for their defense?

“For Sean (Chandler), for Mike (Thomas), for Curtis (Riley) or whoever else’s hand is going to be in the pile back there, we’re going to have a good and a mixture of guys and we’re going to have some personnel groupings where some other guys get some opportunities to play,” defensive coordinator James Bettcher said. “I’m excited for those guys because this whole time all those guys in that room have bought into the process and they’ve been working and preparing and just an opportunity for those guys to get on the field.”

Chandler, an undrafted free agent from Temple who has been getting some playing time in recent weeks, now has an opportunity to show whether or not he can be a player the Giants can rely on next season.

“Sean is not afraid to go put his face on somebody, he is not afraid to play physical and a guy that will run around and just continually has to learn how to play the position in this league,” Bettcher said. “He’ll have an opportunity to get more snaps here down the stretch.”

Milestone alert

  • Eli Manning (54,945) needs 55 passing yards to reach 55,000 for his career. Manning would become one of seven quarterbacks (Drew Brees - 73,580, Peyton Manning - 71,940, Brett Favre - 71,838, Tom Brady - 69,190 & Dan Marino - 61,361, Ben Roethlisberger - 55,010) to reach 55,000 in their career.
  • Saquon Barkley (954) needs 46 rushing yards to become the first Giants rookie in franchise history to rush for 1,000 yards. Barkley would also become the first running back since Ahmad Bradshaw (2012 - 1,015 yards) to rush for 1,000 yards.

Remembering that Saquon guy

In Week 8 against Washington, Saquon Barkley got only 13 carries for 38 yards. That was his second-lowest yardage total of the season, and tied for his third-fewest carries in a game. Only four of those carries came in the second half, despite the Giants never trailing by more than 10 points until there was 3:06 left and the Redskins scored to take a 20-6 lead.

That was one of a handful of games this season where the Giants inexplicably got away from the run game when they really didn’t have to. Perhaps it would be a good idea to balance things out on offense this Sunday and not ask Eli Manning to drop back to pass 54 times, like Giants did in their first meeting with Washington.

Which brings me to my next item.

Keeping Eli upright

In that first meeting with Washington, perhaps partially because the Giants ignored the run game and let the Redskins tee off on Manning, the quarterback was sacked seven times and pressured 16 times in 54 drop backs. All of those are season highs.

In the last three games, Manning has been sacked nine times in 99 drop backs and pressured 21 times, meaning that has had had acceptable pass protection far more often. The Giants have scored 30 or more points in two of those three games.

The addition of Jamon Brown and improved play from Nate Solder have helped the offensive line.

An increased reliance on the run game, with Barkley carrying 20 or more times in each of the games the Giants have won since Week 8, has also helped. The only game the Giants lost, vs. the Philadelphia Eagles, Barkley carried the ball only 13 times.

If the Giants can keep Manning comfortable in the pocket, good things should happen.