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Giants-Commanders, Week 13: 3 keys to victory

It’s really about the basic things football is usually about

NFL: Houston Texans at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

In thinking about the three keys to victory in Sunday’s critical New York Giants vs. Washington Commanders game, the answers seem both straightforward and obvious. Run the football, stop the run, make the most explosive or game-changing plays.

When you think about the reality that the Giants’ formula for success all season has been a straightforward one, that makes sense.

Let’s look at the three keys.

Run the football

We have talked about this throughout the week — the Giants ran the ball exceptionally well while racing out to a 6-1 star, but have struggled to run it while going 1-3 the past four games.

See these two posts:

The Giants are built offensively to run the ball, control the clock and the pace of play, pass the ball on their terms and win games late. In the first seven games, the Giants ran for less than 100 yards just one time. In the last four games, they have been below 100 rushing yards in three of the four. The only time they passes that 100-yard mark win in their victory over the Houston Texans.

The Commanders have a talented front and a top 10 run defense in yards allowed, though they are 15th in yards allowed per running play (4.4).

The Giants should have right tackle Evan Neal and versatile tight end Daniel Bellinger back in the lineup Sunday, which should help. Unfortunately, the middle of the offensive line is in flux. With Josh Ezeudu and Shane Lemieux out, and Ben Bredeson not ready to return from IR, Nick Gates will likely start at left guard. Right guard Mark Glowinski showed up on the injury report Saturday with a back injury. If he can’t go, the guards could be Gates and Nick Anderson with Jon Feliciano at center.

“It starts with me, said running back Saquon Barkley. “Continue to trust the system, make sure I’m in good relationships with the linemen and sticking with the run. That’s the way we won games this year, so a lot of teams are going to come in and try to stop that, that’s going to be their focal point. There have been teams prior to the last two weeks that came in and that was their focal point, and we were able to still get the run game going, and lean on it. We’ve just got to get back to that and everyone needs to make plays when the plays need to be made and it starts with me.”

Stop the run

The Giants have not done that well at all this season. They give up 5.2 yards per rushing attempt, 30th in the league, and 138.9 yards rushing per game, 26th overall.

After a 1-4 start, the Commanders have increasingly become a run-oriented team. They have compiled more than 100 yards rushing in six of their last seven games, and had a season-high 176 rushing yards last Sunday in a victory over the Atlanta Falcons. Rookie running back Brian Robinson Jr. had his first 100-yard game (18 carries, 105 yards) against Atlanta.

The Giants don’t have a ton of depth behind Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence on the defensive line, and have struggled to get consistent play from the off-ball linebacker spot.

“We’re just going to have to get 11 hats to the football, and right now statistically, our run defense isn’t very good,” said defensive coordinator Wink Martindale. “We need to continue to work on fundamentals and technique and getting everybody to the football. When you start putting in all the other runs, the wide receiver sweeps and all the other plays off of it, I think run averages are up across the league, but I think we need to get better at it.”

Game-changing plays

Turnovers, explosive offensive plays, red zone and third- or fourth-down conversions, special teams plays. They all count in this category, and they could all make a difference.

The Giants are +3 in takeaway/giveaway ratio while the Commanders are neutral at 0.

In the return game, the Giants are 26th in kickoff return average (20.1 yards) and 21st in punt return average (5.5 yards).

The Giants have only 28 offensive plays of 20 or more yards. The Commanders, also not an offensive juggernaut, have 36.

Coach Brian Daboll knows the Giants need some explosive plays.

“The less explosive plays, the higher level of execution on a consistent basis you need to have,” he said. “But we’ve had quite a few long drives, and you have to have usually 11 guys doing the right thing to operate an efficient offense 14, 15 plays in a row. So, anytime you can get an explosive (play), whether that’s a run or a pass, that certainly helps because it just eliminates some of the situations that you’ll be in throughout the drive. Third downs where it’s usually advantage defense, and on the road in a tough environment against a defensive line like that that can get after the passer. You take away those, that helps you. No doubt about it.”