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Giants-Commanders: When Washington has the ball

Washington Commanders v New York Giants Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images

The 1-5 Nw York Giants host the 3-3 Washington Commanders in a Week 7 matchup on Sunday with an over/under of 39.5. The Giants are two-point home underdogs after narrowly losing 14-9 to the Buffalo Bills in Week 6. Washington earned a road victory against the Atlanta Falcons last week with a score of 24-16.

Washington and New York tied, 20-20, in their first matchup last season. Two weeks later, in Week 15, the Giants won 20-12 in Landover, Maryland. Kayvon Thibodeaux had a strip sack fumble for a touchdown, and Saquon Barkley concluded an 18-play, 97-yard, drive with a 3-yard touchdown run.

On the season, the Commanders have a point differential of -46. The Giants have a point differential of -96, by far the worst in the NFL. New York hasn’t scored an offensive touchdown since Week 3 against the San Francisco 49ers.


A lot has changed for both teams over the last year. As of right now, the status of Daniel Jones remains uncertain for the Giants’ offense. Sam Howell is the signal caller for Washington, and he’s thrown for 1,500 yards on 214 attempts with nine touchdowns, six interceptions, and a 67.8% completion rate. Howell was a fifth-round pick in his second season out of North Carolina.

Last week against the Falcons, Washington only dropped back to pass 29 times. Howell completed 14 passes for 151 yards and three touchdowns while eating another five sacks. Typically, though, Washington likes to throw the ball, and Howell can get greedy, which results in sack opportunities for the defense.

Washington currently has the third-highest pass rate in the league (66.67%). With all that passing, Howell ranks first in the league in sacks with 34. Daniel Jones is second with 28. According to Pro Football Focus, Howell is first in the league in QB own pressures allowed and quarterback fault sacks.

Former Chiefs offensive coordinator, Eric Bieniemy, is now calling plays for Howell and the offense. Washington’s offense is 15th in scoring, 22nd in total yards, 15th in passing yards, 16th in passing yards, and 25th in rushing yards.

Similar to his former team, Bieniemy’s offense doesn't shy away from targeting the tight end. Washington ranks eighth in the league in tight end target rate (24% of targets), and that’s with a game and a half absence in Weeks 2 and 3 from primary tight end Logan Thomas.

Thomas has 25 targets, athletic tight end Cole Turner has 12, and blocking ace tight end John Bates has nine. Running back targets aren’t as frequent in Bieniemy’s offense. Washington has a running back target share of 15%, which ranks 22nd in the league. However, three of Howell’s nine passing touchdowns have gone to Antonio Gibson or Brian Robinson. Two of Howell’s touchdowns were received by Logan Thomas.

Terry McLaurin is still the catalyst for Washington’s offense. He has 31 catches on 43 targets for 342 yards and a touchdown, after battling through a toe injury in training camp and into Week 1. In his seven matchups against the Giants, McLaurin has caught 50 of 67 targets for 650 yards and three touchdowns.

Curtis Samuel has assumed the number two wide receiver role in the offense. He’s caught 27 of 31 targets for 285 yards and two touchdowns this season. Samuel also aligns in the backfield and is used creatively. The ascension of Samuel in the offense comes at the expense of 2022 first-round pick Jahan Dotson.

The second-year wide receiver has disappointed this season. He only has 17 catches for 140 yards and a touchdown on 28 targets. He has a 43.8% slot rate, but he does mostly play in 12 personnel packages, albeit Washington is in 11 personnel 79% of the time.

In his two games against the Giants, Dotson has nine catches on 15 targets for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

Washington has a solid running back tandem with Brian Robinson and Antonio Gibson. The former has 69 yards (4.3 yards per carry) on the ground with three fumbles and is used more in a receiving role, while the latter has 302 yards (3.9 YPC) and three touchdowns with one fumble.

Against the Giants last season, Robinson averaged 4.6 and 7.4 yards per carry with two fumbles and 185 yards rushing. Washington frequently ran counter (two-pulling blockers to the front side) against the Giants' five-man front last season; here’s a 15-yard example of that from Week 15:

On the surface, the Commanders offensive line appears weak; they’ve surrendered a lot of sacks and rank top-10 in pressures allowed. However, a lot of those statistics can be attributed to Sam Howell, who has a penchant for holding onto the football.

A familiar face anchors Washington’s line at center - Nick Gates. 2021 second-round pick Sam Cosmi struggled at tackle but was kicked inside to play right guard next to veteran Andrew Wylie. Wylie has allowed the most pressures on the team (22), but I was impressed with the Cosmi tape I saw relative to his tackle tape from earlier in his career.

Saahdiq Charles and Charles Leno Jr. are the left guard and left tackle, respectively. Leno Jr. did not play last week due to his wife having a miscarriage. Cornelius Lucas started at left tackle and looked good on film.

Washington’s offensive line may not have star-studded talent or a bevy of first-round investments, but they’re functional and tough. Still, their protection should be challenged by Wink Martindale, who, I expect, will dial up the blitz against Sam Howell and this offense.

What should the Giants do?

The Giants have a 38.1% blitz rate this season. That ranks fourth-highest in the NFL, but the Giants only have five sacks - Kayvon Thibodeaux has four of them, and Leonard Williams split the other with D.J. Davidson.

New York also only sports a 19.6% pressure rate, 25th in the NFL. The Giants are blitzing, they’re not necessarily getting pressure, but they’re forcing opposing teams to check the football down.

The Giants’ defense forces the fourth-lowest average depth of target (6.6 yards per target) in the league. They also force the fourth-lowest air yards in the league (558 yards), but they surrender the fifth-highest yards after the catch. Their 47 missed tackles are just two shy of their season total last year.

Applying pressure and the blitz against a quarterback in Howell, who holds onto the football too long and is starting in his eighth career game will likely be Martindale’s philosophy on Sunday. This wasn’t the gameplan against Miami or Buffalo, where the Giants were just about exclusively in sub-packages with a lot more two-high-shelled looks.

Bieniemy does employ more 11 personnel than previous Washington offensive coordinators, but I expect to see base personnel match anything heavier than a running back and tight end.

New York base personnel employs five guys on the line of scrimmage, allowing the Giants to gap themselves out upfront and deter teams from interior runs. Other than fitting counter power/gap, which the Giants have been better at over the last few weeks, New York has done well spilling runs outside in base personnel.

However, quick passing concepts vs. the Giants base personnel have worked to exploit the ample space near the second-level linebackers who are in a tough position. Arizona and San Francisco exploited the Giants' base package with simple West Coast passing concepts over the middle of the field.

New York typically sacrifices one extra coverage player to have an extra defensive lineman in base personnel; this stresses the linebackers and a safety who typically creeps down into the box.

If those passes are surrendered, the Giants must rally and tackle and mitigate the yards acquired after the catch; this has been a problem for the Giants all season. There will likely be more middle-of-the-field closed looks to gap the defense out versus Washington. This will create one-on-one matchups outside, and Howell isn’t shy when uncorking the football; the cornerbacks may be on an island, and the Giants can’t lose those matchups.

I expect Thibodeaux and Dexter Lawrence to get home against Howell, who, if the Giants execute on early downs, will be put into precarious situations against an exotic blitzing defense on third down.

As Martindale says, pressure breaks pipes; I expect that pipe to splinter on Sunday, until Howell can prove his worth as a crafty plumber.

Final thoughts

The Giants enter this game with one win under their belts. Their Week 6 matchup against the Buffalo Bills was well within their grasp, but ultimately, the grasp was feeble. Still, even with the rough nature of the Giants offensive line and the trajectory of the season, New York can escape this game with a victory over a Washington team who was blown out by the Chicago Bears two weeks ago.

This will likely be a low-scoring, field-goal, type of affair against a competent divisional rival. It’s by no means a certainty or even probable, as Vegas has the Giants as home dogs, but this is the most winnable football game the Giants have played since Week 2 in Arizona. Let’s see if they can seize their positive momentum that was established in Week 6.