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Giants-Commanders, Week 13: What to expect when the Giants have the ball

How can the Giants move the ball against the Washington defense?

Washington Commanders v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The 7-4 New York Giants host the 7-5 Washington Commanders on Sunday in a pivotal Week 13 game. Washington has won three straight games over the Atlanta Falcons, Houston Texans, and Philadelphia Eagles, and they’ve won five of their last six games.

Starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke is 5-1 on the season as a starter after replacing an injured and now healthy Carson Wentz, who was 2-4 as a starter. Heinicke’s ascension back to the starting role is one reason why Washington has turned its season around.

However, the primary reason for Washington’s revival is the growth and development of its defensive unit. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s defense was a laughing stock through the first five games of the season. Washington’s defense surrendered 124 (24.8 points per game) points in the first five games of the season. In the seven games since then, Washington has only surrendered 108 points (15.4 ppg).

Commanders’ edge defender Chase Young has not played since he suffered a torn ACL and MCL a year ago. Many anticipated his return in Week 12 against Atlanta, but an illness helped hold him out. His return could take place this week against New York.

Washington is on a hot streak heading into MetLife Stadium, and the Giants have lost three of their last four games. New York had a few more days to game plan after playing on Thanksgiving, and reinforcements should be coming at key positions; they’ll be much needed in this NFC East battle.

Defensive statistics

On the season, Washington has the 10th-best scoring defense, with an average point margin of 19.7. For reference, the Giants allow 21.1 points per game, ranking them at 14th. In the last three games, Washington has only allowed 14.7 points per game.

Washington allows the eighth-least yards, with an average of 310 yards per game. The Giants are 22nd with an average of 355.2 yards allowed per game. Washington is one of the better run-defending teams in the NFL, allowing only 108.4 yards on the ground.

Against the pass, Washington allows 201.6 yards per game, 10th in the NFL. Washington ranks 12th in sacks with 30, 10 more than the Giants. Washington has seven interceptions on the season and two pass rushers with 40 pressures or more.

Both edge defender Montez Sweat and defensive tackle Jonathan Allen have more than 40 pressures. Sweat has 48, Allen 43, and Daron Payne 33; this trio on the defensive line is dangerous, powerful, and can stop the run while doing an excellent job pressuring the quarterback.

Payne and Allen give the Giants an issue every time these two teams meet twice a season. Last week, Payne got his hand on the football to tip a pass that was intercepted by Kendall Fuller, which sealed the victory for Washington.

The Commanders have the fourth-highest pressure rate in the NFL, behind the Cowboys, Patriots, and Chiefs. Washington has a pressure rate of 25.2 percent. They’re also first in quarterback knockdowns per pass attempt; the Giants are second.

New York’s offensive line has struggled to own the point of attack. The identity of the Giants’ offense is predicated on running back Saquon Barkley and the rushing attack; it could be tough sledding against this defensive front on Sunday.

Defensive philosophies

Del Rio mostly employs a four-down OVER front, and the Commanders love their NICKEL personnel package. Washington runs NICKEL 75.3 percent of the time, DIME 18 percent of the time, and they are hardly ever in BASE personnel. New York’s JUMBO offensive line and 13 personnel sets could give a NICKEL package some problems, and that’s something I’m certain Giants offensive coordinator Mike Kafka will attempt to exploit.

Washington does align five on the line of scrimmage with three down linemen in a TITE front on early downs - similar to the Giants. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Del Rio attempt to stifle the Giants’ rushing attack with a similar approach; it will be on the Giants' passing game to take advantage of a loaded box.

Washington has played without starting linebacker Cole Holcomb, who was placed on IR earlier this week. Holcomb has not played since Week 7, which opened up more snaps for veteran Jon Bostic. Bostic and second-year athletic linebacker Jamin Davis aren’t overly gap-sound, so pre-snap motion and misdirection runs - something the Giants have successfully used - may be a way to create cutback lanes and set up the play-action passing attack.

Washington’s defense uses match principles which can be manipulated through route combinations and varied releases off the line of scrimmage. Washington runs a lot of Cover-3 Match and Quarters coverages, as well as some Cover-1. Washington has run Cover-3 25.8 percent of the time, Quarters 22.4 percent of the time, and Cover-1 18.3 percent.

Del Rio isn’t a blitz-happy defensive coordinator. He relies on his front four to get after the quarterback. Washington ranks 18th in blitz rate, yet is fourth in pressure rate - they can get home with four.

New York’s offensive line must play in a more cohesive manner than it has in the last few games. Washington will attempt to win with four rushers by leveraging the skillsets of their heavy-handed and long defensive linemen, but they’ll also use twists/stunts up front to generate easy penetration and a potential free rusher in on Daniel Jones.

The Commanders’ front also aligns their edge defenders wide. The Giants will attempt to move Daniel Jones’ launch point and leverage his athletic ability by getting him laterally. New York will employ play-action bootlegs, slides, and RPOs where he has the option to run the football. I don’t expect Washington’s edges to fall victim to the play fakes too often (Chase Young excluded because it’s his first game back).


The Giants’ rushing attack has struggled in recent weeks, and Washington is a very formidable run defense. Their front is strong, but their depth isn’t great. Second-round pick Phidarian Mathis is out with an injury, and rookie nose tackle John Ridgeway is adequate anchoring in the middle.

Casey Toohill has mostly filled in for Young and has 12 pressures on the season. He has played admirably, but the upgrade Washington is receiving with a healthy Young is transformative. Efe Obada also played significant snaps without Young, and he has 19 pressures on the season. James Smith-Williams played 414 snaps this season with 18 pressures. These players will also spell Montez Sweat.

Sweat doesn’t play a full complement of snaps, so the Giants can opt to attack laterally with hopefully more effectiveness when he is off the field. MLB Jamin Davis and SS Kamren Kurl, along with CB Kendall Fuller, are defenders who rarely leave the field.

The secondary has played much better in recent weeks. Kurl and Fuller are both very underrated players who are sound run defenders with the necessary coverage skills; they also understand this Del Rio defense well and aren’t out of position often. If you’re the Giants, they’re the two to worry about on the backend.

Another underrated Washington defensive back is safety Darrick Forrest. He has three interceptions and three passes knocked away this season. The 2021 fifth-round pick has played 545 snaps this year.

Veteran Bobby McCain has played more than 700 snaps this season for Washington, and he doesn’t leave the field much. McCain started sat trong safety last week against Atlanta, but he also plays the nickel spot.

McCain is 5’-foot-9, and the Giants have receivers on their roster who are 6’-4; attempting to exploit the size mismatch when Washington is using match principles could be one way to win through matchups.

Starting outside cornerback Benjamin St. Juste missed Week 12 with an ankle injury, and his status for Week 13 is still up in the air. If he misses another week, Christian Holmes - who has played 61 snaps in his career - will be forced into action. The Giants could use Darius Slayton against the left cornerback and attempt to create explosive plays vertically and horizontally against the inexperienced rookie.

Final thoughts

The Commanders have the luxury of playing New York in consecutive games after a Week 14 bye; tough scheduling for the Giants. New York will continue to get creative with its passing attack by basing it off of the play action and attempting to get Jones on the move; selling the play action works much better when a team can establish the run, and doing so against Allen, Payne, and this defense will be difficult.

The Giants went full pads in practice on Tuesday in an attempt to hone the skills of the run blockers up front. Kafka and Daboll will continue a varied rushing attack approach with zone-reads, pin-pull, counter, and DUO schemes, and they may attempt to use some TRAP runs to catch Payne, and Allen off guard and allow other blockers easier access up to Jamin Davis and Jon Bostic.

TRAP/WHAM isn’t something that the Giants do consistently, but they have tried it a few times throughout the year. New York will likely also run weak side at times when Washington employs an OVER front; the Giants like to block down on the 1-Technique and pull the center around, even on zone types of run.

The Giants have a tough schedule remaining, and this home game against Washington is one of their more winnable remaining games. However, that doesn’t mean this win will be easy. Both teams are seemingly trending in opposite directions as the schedule turns to December. As a wise young rookie stated earlier this week:

And for the first time in a long time, the Giants are playing meaningful games in December. Let’s see if they can seize the moment to start this significant month of football off on the right foot.