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Giants at Redskins: What should the Giants expect from Washington’s defense?

Washington might not have a great defense, but they’re good at getting to the quarterback

NFL: Washington Redskins at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants will have their fifth divisional matchup this week as they travel to Landover, Md. to take on the Washington Redskins.

The Giants had an easy win in their first meeting against Washington, with an opportunistic game by the defense coming up with four turnovers (including one returned for a touchdown) en route to a 24-3 victory.

The Redskins have been playing better of late, with rookie Dwayne Haskins improving each game since being named the starter three weeks ago. They have won two of their last four games and very nearly came up with a victory over the Philadelphia Eagles last week.

The Giants’ offense will need to put up more than 17 points if Washington’s offense continues to play at a higher level than earlier in the year.

The offense put up 36 points a week ago, but while Washington’s defense isn’t elite, they are certainly better than the Miami Dolphins. So then, what — if anything — has changed over the last 10 weeks?

Stats at a glance

Keys to the game

Who will play quarterback?

As of this writing we don’t know for certain who will be the Giants starting quarterback. The coaching staff obviously wants to get Daniel Jones back on the field as soon as possible, even trying him in a limited capacity last week before ruling him out for the game against Miami.

Even though Jones’ injury was called a “moderate” high ankle sprain at the time, missing just two games for a high ankle sprain of any severity is unusually short. However, he took most of the first team reps in Wednesday’s practice and appears on track to start this Sunday.

The other side of the coin is that Eli Manning is coming off of a strong performance against the Dolphins. Granted, he threw three interceptions, but he also averaged more than 10 air yards per target, 9 air yards per completion, averaged nearly 2 yards beyond the first down marker, threw for nearly 3 percent higher completion percentage than expected (per NextGenStats’ player tracking), and only threw into coverage three times.

Assuming Jones does not have a setback and responds well to the increased workload, he will be the starter this week. The next question to be answered is how well Jones plays on an ankle that might not truly be “100 percent.” We saw Saquon Barkey return quickly from a high ankle sprain and did not have his usual agility and explosiveness for several weeks. There is a difference between moving well in a scripted practice and moving effectively in a chaotic game situation.

We will find out eventually who the starting quarterback will be, likely based on how Jones practices. The upside of the situation is that, for now, Washington doesn’t know which quarterback they should be preparing to see either.

Can Darius Slayton have another big game?

2019 has been a long and disappointing season for the Giants. There have, however been a few bright spots over the course of the season, and none brighter than rookie receiver Darius Slayton.

Slayton was something of a mystery throughout the off-season and pre-season programs as he dealt with a hamstring injuries. But once he was able to shake the injury bug and get on the field, he has taken advantage of the opportunities presented by injuries to other receivers. Slayton is currently third on the team with 44 receptions (one behind Saquon Barkley and two behind Sterling Shepard), while his 15.7 yards per catch and 8 touchdowns lead the team.

It hasn’t been the smoothest sailing from Slayton, as he has struggled some with consistency in route running and some dropped passes (he is tied for 14th in dropped passes, with his 4 being the fifth-most in the NFL, and Slayton’s catch rate is 82nd out of 121 eligible recievers and tight ends per NextGenStats). But that being said, his explosive athleticism allows him to gain separation vertically and generate instant offense. Those chunk plays have gone a long way toward making up for the Giants’ down-to-down offensive inconsistency.

Sterling Shepard had a thoroughly efficient (and productive) day against the Miami Dolphins, and that is the expectation for the veteran receiver. The question now will be whether or not the rookie will be able to step up against a stout Washignton pass defense (12th in passing yards allowed, 6th most interceptions, and 6th most sacks).

Deal with Washington’s defensive front

How the Giants’ offensive line holds up to the Redskins’ defensive front. While their defense as a whole has not been great, their defensive front is a young, athletic, and dangerous unit. They took a hit with the loss of EDGE Ryan Kerrigan, but they have been winning as a unit all season long. Washington has 42 sacks on the season, fifth-most in the NFL, but no one rusher is even in double-digits.

They are lead by defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis who is top-10 among NFL defensive tackles in pass rush win rate and has 8.5 sacks on the season.

That, in and of itself, isn’t great news for a Giants’ offensive line that could be missing guard Kevin Zeitler. Either Nick Gates and Mike Remmers will have to deal with Ioannidis, or they will have to win one-on-one battles if the team slides protection to Ioannidis’ side.

But Ioannidis isn’t the only player the Giants have to worry about.

Fellow DT Jonathan Allen has 5.0 sacks a season after having 8.0 as a rookie. Meanwhile rookie EDGE Montez Sweat has been improving as of late and has added another 5.0 sacks of his own to the tally. Washington also added veteran pass rusher Nate Orchard to the mix three weeks ago to account for the injury to the season-ending injury to Kerrigan. Since being signed by Washington, Orchard has 10 tackles, 2 tackles for a loss, 1 sack, 2 quarterback hits, and a fumble recovery while playing an average of 37 percent of the defensive snaps.

Washington’s defense might not rate highly on their ability to beat blockers in 2.5 seconds or less (pass rush win rate), but they have a high pressure rate and finish when they get pressure. So while no one player — besides Ioannidis — may rate highly, their pass rush is noteworthy. Per Football Outsiders, they have the fifth-highest adjusted sack rate (which accounts for penalties, down, distance, and opponent) at 8.4 percent. For reference, the San Francisco 49ers are first at 10 percent, the Minnesota Vikings are seventh at 8.1 percent, and the New England Patriots are ninth at 7.8 percent.

While Washington’s defense as a whole might not be a frightening unit, the Redskins’ pass rush should be respected. And the Giants’ pass protection and running game will need to show up to relieve some of that pressure.