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Giants vs. Washington: What to expect when the Giants have the ball

How dangerous is this Washington defense?

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It was a disappointing opening to the 2021 NFL season for the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium on Sunday. The offense scored a measly 13 points, six of which came on the game’s final play - well into garbage time. The offense struggled to sustain drives, create explosive plays, and run the football.

New York rushed for 3.0 yards per carry for 60 yards - 27 from Daniel Jones. Saquon Barkley struggled to find any rushing room in his long-awaited return. There always seems to be one blown assignment or missed block that results in a negative offensive play.

Daniel Jones had positive moments that will be forgotten by young mistakes that continue to plague the former Blue Devils’ career. He fumbled the football for the 30th time in 28 games. Jones also continues to lock onto primary targets. Adaptation during the post-snap phase of the play has been unstable.

The task doesn’t get much easier for the Giants on a short week where Big Blue travels to Washington. The Football Team suffered a 20-16 home loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. The Washington-Chargers game script was somewhat similar to the Giants-Broncos.

The Chargers ran 78 total offensive plays, possessing the football for 36:03 (to 23:57) and accumulating 424 total yards (to the Football Team’s 259). Washington, however, has an excuse - they lost their starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the first half.

Similar to the Broncos, the Chargers were efficient when it mattered on third-down. Los Angeles ended the game on a 15-play drive where it converted four third-downs. Washington’s defense was gassed, and Chargers’ wide receiver Keenan Allen continued to find soft spots in zone to move the chains.

After Washington’s opening second-half touchdown drive, the defense forced two Chargers’ turnovers. One was a strip-sack by Montez Sweat. The other was a red-zone interception by William Jackson III. Sadly for Washington, Antonio Gibson fumbled the football later, giving Justin Herbert and the Chargers an easy touchdown opportunity.

Nevertheless, the Chargers’ offensive line played well. They only had seven pressures and two sacks on 47 passing attempts - an efficient quick game helps mitigate pressure opportunities for the defense. Chase Young, Montez Sweat, and the defense will be hungry against this Giants offensive line. Let’s take a look at Football Team’s defense, a unit that ranked sixth in points against and fifth in yards against in 2020.

Defensive line

The strength of this Washington team may be its stout defensive line when combined with its quality EDGE rushers. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio runs many four-down fronts, so the EDGE rushers (Sweat and Young) will be grouped into this category.

Jonathan Allen is a heavy-handed, dominant force who played 47 snaps against the Chargers. He typically aligns at 3-technique but will 1-shade in passing situations. Allen had 50 pressures last season playing with Young, Sweat, and the rest of these talented defenders.

Daron Payne abused the interior offensive line of the Giants last season. Both Payne and Allen are Alabama interior defensive linemen - they’re violent, strong at the point of attack, and rarely get pushed off the ball. Payne played 61 snaps against the Chargers and typically aligned as a 4i-shade/5-T or nose.

Veteran Matt Ioannidis also saw 43 snaps on Sunday. Ioannidis is a savvy veteran who effectively uses his hands and executes his run assignments well. He missed most of last season but used to create solid pressure upfront. He’s still 27 years old and could be headed for a quality season rushing alongside these other defenders.

Tim Settle is a rotational defensive lineman with solid initial quickness for a player of his size, but fails to have the same impact as Payne and Allen. Settle played 12 snaps on Sunday and had 19 pressures last season.

Montez Sweat played 53 snaps against the Chargers and is a disruptive force. He had 49 pressures last season. Like Chase Young, he can convert speed to power, has an array of pass-rushing moves, and uses his incredibly long arms well. These EDGE rushers are mismatches against the Giants’ tackles.

Young is the most known player on the defense - rightfully so. Young played 70 snaps against the Chargers. He may come away with no pressures and no sacks (he had one pressure against the Chargers and one against the Giants in week six last season), but his impact is felt in the offensive play calling. Offensive coordinators call plays to mitigate Young’s impact.

James Smith-Williams and Casey Toohill are two other rotational EDGE players who occasionally substitute for Young and Sweat. The former played 30 snaps, and the latter played nine.

Linebackers

The Football team employs a 4-3 front, with Cole Holcomb assuming the role as the every-down linebacker. Washington spent a first-round pick on athletic and long linebacker Jamin Davis out of Kentucky. Davis played 45 snaps, and Jon Bostic played 68 - I expect Davis to eventually be the every-down linebacker for this team.

Holcomb is a respectable, undersized player who brings a physical element to run defense. However, Davis’s athletic potential makes him an ideal fit as a modern second-level defender. Bostic is a bit undisciplined as a linebacker. He takes a decent amount of risks and can be susceptible to Saquon Barkley’s unique jump-cutting ability.

There could potentially be mismatches in coverage if Jason Garrett could isolate Barkley against Bostic or Holcomb. Overall, the defensive unit surrendered 5.4 yards per carry against the Chargers.

In the second Giants’ victory last season - a 23-20 victory - the offense was stagnant for the most part. However, they established an effective rushing attack with Wayne Gallman and Alfred Morris - something the Giants failed to do against the Broncos.

I expect New York to try and control the football, slowing the play down, and pass rush, down. Barkley’s athletic ability can best this linebacking crew, but the Giants’ offensive line must execute upfront.

Cornerbacks

Washington’s cornerbacks are solid. The addition of William Jackson III was monetarily comparable to the Adoree’ Jackson signing by the Giants. Jackson III is a long cornerback who figures to line up against Kenny Golladay - number 19 can win that matchup. Jackson III is disruptive at the catch point, but Golladay is one of the better receivers in the league in terms of contested-catch situations. This should be an exciting matchup.

Rookie Benjamin St-Juste is another vlong cornerback who plays on the outside. St-Juste should see a lot of Darius Slayton. Del Rio isn’t scared to play man coverage and trust his four-man pressure package to get home, with a robbing safety eliminating inside breaking routes up the seam.

Washington has a terrific slot defender in Kendall Fuller. His matchup against Sterling Shepard, who aligned 38 times in the slot against the Broncos, will be one to monitor. Shepard looked excellent against Denver, and he can realistically get the best of Fuller. These are the three primary cornerbacks the Giants will see on Sunday.

Safety convert Troy Apke and Torry McTyer are the other two cornerbacks who could see the field. Apke is a true SPARQ freak, and McTyer is a young 25-year-old who could be exploited by the Giants receivers if forced to see the field.

The Giants receivers are skilled enough to take advantage of this secondary, but many variables must be considered. In terms of route combinations, Jason Garrett hasn’t been the most proficient offensive coordinator. The offensive line has to hold up long enough against this pass rush to allow these receivers to win matchups in man coverage.

Safeties

A healthy Landon Collins continued his effective run defense at strong safety by playing 65 snaps on Sunday. Collins has always been a player targeted in coverage, but Kyle Rudolph isn’t challenging many defensive backs with speed. If the Giants had a healthy Evan Engram, then maybe that could be a matchup to exploit, albeit that didn’t materialize in 2019.

One of the more impressive players is the second-year seventh-round pick out of Arkansas Kamron Curl. The 22-year-old is athletic, sticky in man coverage, long, and isn’t shy to pop ball carriers. Curl played 37 snaps in Del Rio’s defense on Sunday.

Bobby McCain, someone Patrick Graham knows well from their time in Miami, plays free safety for Washington. McCain’s a solid player with adequate range as a center fielder. Similar to Graham, Del Rio also utilized McCain in the slot and the box.

Final thoughts

New York is going to call a conservative offense that features a lot of quick game. The Giants had 590 collective yards in both games - 240 in the week six-game and 350 in the week nine-game. Five Washington turnovers led to the Week 9 victory, and a Tae Crowder fumble return for a touchdown led to the first victory. Garrett’s offense had to account for the potent pass rush of Young and Sweat. I expect a similar run-heavy approach against Washington in primetime.