The New York Giants 2021 season is almost finally, mercifully, over.
It should be a bigger deal than it is, but the Giants’ first ever Week 18 game is a matchup against the soon-to-be renamed Washington Football Team.
Right now we’re looking ahead to the Giants’ inevitable GM and offensive coordinator searches, potential head coach search, and of course free agency and the 2022 draft process. It’s just natural to want to concentrate on potential good news, as opposed to three more hours of bad football.
But we do still have three(ish) more hours of football to get through before Black Monday and the ensuing days, weeks, and months of speculation.
Who’s gonna be the one?
This is the second time in about a month I’ve used this sub-head (or something similar to it), and it isn’t just because I like the song by Jinjer.
Once again, the Giants have pretty major questions as to who will be on the field for them. We already know that Mike Glennon’s season is over thanks to wrist surgery. We don’t know whether Kadarius Toney will play again this year after he was sidelined last week by a shoulder injury.
As of this writing, the assumption is that Jake Fromm and Brian Lewerke will man the quarterback position for the Giants this week. Of course, we should probably expect Saquon Barkley to be active after his 102-yard performance against the Bears.
It’s entirely possible that the Giants could decide to just put their best (healthy) 11 players out on the field, dispense with the quarterback position entirely, and let Barkley run the Wildcat. I wish I was joking, but the Giants’ best offensive bet might just be to turn the clock back by about 120 years and run a Single-Wing offense.
Who’s going to play for Washington?
The Giants are the most beat up team in football, but everyone is hurting after 17 weeks.
The Washington defense is in pretty good shape with most of their (current) starters healthy. However, they have three big question marks heading into the final week of the season: starting EDGEs Montez Sweat (personal) and James Smith-Williams (illness), and CB William Jackson III (calf).
Given how the Bears’ defensive line set up shop in the Giants’ backfield, whether or not Sweat plays could make a world of difference for the Giants’ offensive line. Jonathan Allen is already enough of a problem, but Sweat’s length and explosiveness could force the Giants to have to decide which player to double-team.
Sweat, like Giants’ center Billy Price, missed last week following a family tragedy.
James Smith-Williams was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list prior to Washington’s game against the Dallas Cowboys three weeks ago and wasn’t ready for action yet last week. Smith-Williams moved into a starting role following Chase Young’s season ending injury back in Week 10. And while he isn’t nearly the player that Young is, the 2020 7th rounder is important depth. With Sweat and Smith-Williams sidelined, the Football Team was forced to rely on Bunmi Rotimi and Casey Toohill as their starting EDGEs.
Finally we come to Jackson III, who suffered a calf injury in Week 15 against the Philadelphia Eagles. Jackson has been having, arguably, the best year of his career since coming to Washington. He is giving up a career-high 59.1 percent completion, but he’s given up the fewest total yards and yards per target of his career. Likewise, his 2 interceptions in 12 games is his high water mark as well.
Like Sweat and Smith-Williams, Jackson III was listed as questionable for last week’s game against the Eagles. And like Smith-Williams, he wasn’t quite able to make it back to the field in time to play. Much like hamstring injuries, calf injuries can be tricky and have a habit of lingering. While we shouldn’t expect much from the Giants’ passing attack this game, Jackson’s status is something to watch. He is their best cover corner, and, with Kendall Fuller and Bobby McCain allowing a much higher completion percentage.
What will the Washington defense look like?
Lets’ leave all the questions surrounding the personnel on both teams aside. We don’t know exactly who will or won’t be paying for either squad. But whoever does play will almost certainly be asked to fit in the established scheme. It’s been a long time since the Giants last played Washington, so let’s check in on their schematic tendencies over the last 14 games.
Washington’s defense is almost exclusively uses four down linemen, most commonly using 4-2-5 and 4-1-6 alignments (with the occasional 5-2 or 5-1 front).
That makes all kinds of sense looking at Washington’s defensive personnel. They’re well stocked with versatile defensive tackles and players like Young and Sweat — as well as their backups — are almost custom built for a modern 4-man front.
Likewise, they have athletic linebackers like Cole Holcomb and Jamin Davis who can cover a lot of ground at the second level. Holomb plays almost every snap and is third on the team with 7 passes defensed (to go with 2 interceptions). That said, it is worth noting that Davis, Washington’s 2021 first round pick has been a disappointment, playing just over 50 percent of their defensive snaps.
They’re also most commonly playing under zone coverage shells, usually Cover 3 or Cover 4.
Considering all the questions surrounding the Giants’ passers, pass protectors, and pass catchers, we should expect the Giants to resort to quick passes when they have to resort to passing the ball at all. Not only will quick passes get the ball out before pressure can leak through (and hopefully minimize the danger of turnovers) they can attack the soft areas and voids between the coverage zones.
Tosser concepts (two slant routes run on the same side of the field) or crossers, flat routes, and digs can also be effective when paired with vertical routes to clear out coverages. Of course, how well the Giants will be able to execute any passing plays remains a question.
I fully expect the Giants to lean even harder into their running game than they did last week against the Bears. It might not be as successful as Barkley’s 102-yard effort last week, as Washington has a much better run defense than the Bears do. Washington is 14th in ESPN’s Run Stop Win Rate (compared to the Bears at 30th), and rank 8th, just behind the Philadelphia Eagles, in total rushing yards allowed (1,681 to 1,663). They’re also tied for ninth in the NFL, giving up 4.2 yards per carry.