As it so happens, the Giants are in a stretch in which five of six opponents will be division rivals.
The Giants have fared well against Washington in recent years, controlling the series 3-1 over the last two seasons. Like the Giants, Washington is a deeply flawed team that hopes to make its hay with its defense for the time being.
So what are the Gants facing in a defense that added one of the most highly-touted defensive prospects in recent years?
Dealing with Washington’s defensive front
If there’s once constant throughout the Giants’ 2020 schedule, it’s that they face one great defensive line after another. Their Week 6 game against Washington is no different, featuring a deep rotation of big, athletic, and technically savvy pass rushers across their front.
The Giants might have caught a slight break with the injury to DT Matt Ioannidis, but the next man up, Tim Settle, has played well enough in Ioannidis’ absence. And while the absence of a defensive tackle coming off 7.5 and 8.5 sacks the last two seasons might make an offensive line breathe easier, the presence of players like Montez Sweat, Ryan Kerrigan, Chase Young, and Jonathan Allen still presents a formidable challenge for just about any offensive line in the NFL.
Most of the attention will go toward Young, who was widely hailed as one of the — if not the — best pass rushers to enter the NFL in recent memory. And indeed, Young has a rare blend of traits and has the kind of technical polish we’ve come to expect from the school that produced Nick and Joey Bosa. So far Young has produced 2.5 sacks in 4 games to go with 5 pressures, 3 tackles for a loss, and a forced fumble.
Young has the ability to give even veteran starters fits.
But for all the attention paid to the highly-touted rookie, sophomore EDGE Montez Sweat is a massive threat as well. Sweat brings absolutely absurd athleticism to the pass rush, measuring longer, faster, more explosive, and more agile than Jadeveon Clowney. Sweat is — as of now — Washington’s best pass rusher, leading the team with 3.0 sacks, 4 tackles for a loss, and 7 QB hits. Sweat had 7.0 sacks as a rookie and is on pace to improve his sack, TFL , and QB hit totals in his second season.
Sweat not only uses his athleticism to beat blockers, he knows how to use his length to keep linemen from being able to fully engage before he sheds the block and bursts into the backfield.
Giants fans also know what kind of player veteran EDGE Ryan Kerrigan is. Kerrigan still a productive player despite being bringing veteran savvy as well as a high-revving motor, and athleticism that belies the 145 games he’s played since being drafted in 2011.
Washington freely rotates their EDGE rushers, with Sweat, Young, and Kerrigan each playing about 50 snaps a game. They each also rush from both the offensive left and right, so both Andrew Thomas and Cam Fleming will have to prepare for all three players.
Washington also features Jonathan Allen and D’Ron Payne on the defensive interior. Allen takes the role of the disruptive 3-technique in Jack Del Rio’s 4-3 based defense, while Payne controls the interior gaps as the 1-technique.
There have been concerns about the Giants’ offensive line throughout the season, and this week doesn’t look to be a break for them.
Washington often rotates its coverages after the snap, but generally seems to play in zone-based schemes. Given their pass rush, it makes sense that they want to put their defensive backs in position to capitalize on mistakes caused by their defensive front. And Washington does have an opportunistic defense. So far this year they’ve forced 4 fumbles and made 6 interceptions.
Kendall Fuller is the biggest coverage threat, with 3 interceptions and 4 passes defensed on the season, but the Giants will also need to keep an eye on S Landon Collins.
While Collins has never matched his historic 2016 season, he is playing well this year. So far he has an interception, a pass defensed, a sack, 3 tackles for a loss, and 32 total tackles. He is used all over the Washington defense, sometimes lining up on the line of scrimmage, as a psuedo-linebacker, or in the deep half of a Cover 2 defense. Del Rio will frequently use Collins as his rotating defender, having him move just before the snap to chance the look for the offense at the last second.
Collins remains one of the best run defenders in the NFL (at any position), with lightning fast processing, a quick trigger downhill, and impressive physicality. However, he also presents a potentially exploitable match-up in coverage. If the Giants can pin him down and isolate him in coverage, he is (as he has always been) a better run defender and blitzer than a coverage player. Golden Tate or Evan Engram should be able to find separation and room to run if they can get matched up on Collins in coverage, but Daniel Jones will need to be careful with the ball, because Collins is absolutely capable of capitalizing on poorly placed passes or jarring the ball loose if the quarterback leads him to the receiver.
Missed assignments and miscommunications
If the Giants can keep the Washington pass rush from blowing up their plays long enough to execute them, Washington’s coverage scheme should give them opportunities for chunk plays.
While the Football Team’s defensive scheme can help them come up with turnovers, their frequent use of soft or rotating coverages can leave them prone to giving up explosive plays. Their tendency toward zone coverages and large cushions often given receivers free releases off the line of scrimmage and do little to reroute receivers once in motion. What’s worse (for them) is that they also seem to be prone to miscommunications and missed assignments.
It’s unlikely that Washington will be able to get these issues cleaned up in just a week of practice, making it likely that opportunities for big plays will be there for the Giants.
The Giants have been powered by big plays in their victories over Washington in the previous two seasons, but they’ve found those harder to come by without Saquon Barkley on the field. The Giants will want to exploit Washington’s leaky secondary for chunk plays through the air, but they will need to beware the pass rush. The temptation will be there to take 5-7 step drops and test the Washington defense deep, but that will make life harder on Thomas and Fleming. The Giants’ best bet might be to try and engineer run-after-catch opportunities in the intermediate area of the field for Tate, Engram, and Devonta Freeman.