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Giants-Commanders: What to expect when New York has the ball

NFL: Washington Commanders at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The 2-8 New York Giants travel to Landover, Md., to play the 4-6 Washington Commanders this Sunday. This is the second matchup between the teams. The Giants earned one of their two wins with a 14-7 Week 7 victory where the Giants’ defense sacked Washington quarterback Sam Howell six times.

The Giants could have defeated Washington in a more convincing fashion if it weren’t for an uncharacteristic Saquon Barkley fumble in the red zone, and a second-half muffed punt by Sterling Shepard, who typically does not return punts.

Daniel Jones was out with a neck injury, and backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns against a Washington defense that currently ranks 29th in passing yards allowed (264 passing yards per game).

A lot has changed for both teams since Week 7. The Giants are starting rookie undrafted free agent Tommy Devito at quarterback.

Washington traded both their high-profile pass-rushers after their 38-31 Week 8 loss against the Eagles. Chase Young was sent to the 49ers for a compensatory third round selection, and Montez Sweat joined the Bears for a second-round pick. Bears’ general manager Ryan Poles proceeded to extend Sweat to a four-year, $98-million contract. Both former first-round picks were impending free agents.

The Commanders are returning home after a two game road trip where they split the games. They defeated the New England Patriots, 20-17, before losing to the Seattle Seahawks with a last second field goal, 29-26.


Washington’s defense has not played well. Heck, the Giants had 356 yards of offense against them. They currently allow the second most points in the league, just ahead (or behind, I guess) of Denver, who allowed 70 points against them in Week 3 vs. the Dolphins.

Washington allows 27.4 points per game. They allow 380.9 points per game, which ranks 29th in the NFL. Washington’s pass defense is the major issue, as highlighted above (264 PYPG, 29th in the league). However, the Commanders still surrender 116 rushing yards per game, which ranks 21st in the NFL.

Saquon Barkley did not have a ton of rushing room against Washington in Week 7, but he did damage. He had 77 yards on 21 carries (3.7 YPC), but his three receptions for 44 yards and a score was the difference maker for the Giants.

Their pass rush looks a lot different than Week 7, but Washington has 26 sacks on the season, which ranks 15th in the NFL. The Giants only have 15; six of them were against Sam Howell.

The Commanders blitz at the 12th highest rate (26.5%) and they get pressure on 21% of their opponent’s dropbacks, which is tied with the Giants at 19th in the NFL. Both Washington and the Giants have six interceptions on the season.

With Chase Young out of town, defensive linemen Jonathan Allen leads the Commanders in pressure with 33. Defensive lineman DaRon Payne has 19, and James Smith-Williams has 14. The combination of Smith-Williams, Casey Toohill, and Efe Obada have now assumed the EDGE roles on defense. They have 27 pressures between the three of them.

Safety Kamren Curl leads the defense with 81 tackles. Linebackers Jamin Davis and Cody Barton have 68 and 61, respectively, but the latter is out with a high-ankle sprain. Former Giant David Mayo now starts next to Davis, and had six tackles against Seattle.

The most penalized Commander is cornerback Benjamin St. Juste. The former Golden Gopher was flagged seven times this season, but also has 11 pass break ups, which ranks second in the NFL. Rookie first-round pick Emmanuel Forbes is second on the team with seven.

Forbes had a bounce back game against the Patriots where he had three passes batted down and only allowed two catches on seven targets. However, he was ejected in Week 10 after a helmet-to-helmet collision with Seahawks’ wide receiver Tyler Lockett. It’s been a rough year for the rookie; he only played five snaps against the Giants in Week 7.

What the Giants should do

Two Six - that’s what they should do if they want to win this football game. Yes, Washington’s run defense with Allen and Payne is better than their pass defense, but victory with the current Giants’ personnel is always going to centralize around Saquon Barkley.

Barkley will see a lot of Kamren Curl in the box. The Commanders aren’t shy to load up the line of scrimmage or rotate safeties from a quarters look down into the box to gap themselves out defensively; this will be especially true with Devito as the signal caller for the Giants.

Barkley’s 32-yard touchdown catch in Week 7 can be replicated if the Giants can catch Washington in man or match coverage. That play was a first-and-ten palms coverage with Davis assigned to Barkley. The deep route concepts cleared out space for Barkley, who won his one-on-one matchup for the long touchdown. Any isolation concept to Barkley in the passing game should be welcomed by the Giants’ offense.

The Dallas Cowboys often employed a five-man front against the Giants in Week 10. Allocating an extra defender to the line of scrimmage gave the Giants more space and opportunity to work their quick passing concepts, which coincided well with their game plan to get the football out of Devito’s hands before the pass rush got home.

Unfortunately for the Giants, Devito was sacked five times, struggled to move the football until the deficit ballooned, and there was little to write home about offensively (or defensively).

The options on offense are scarce for the Giants. They’ll attempt to employ the PONY wildcat package with Barkley. Washington will be ready. I expect to see more GH-counter runs, and a run-heavy approach from Mike Kafka and the offense.

Commanders’ defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will likely focus his coverages toward the middle of the field and the boundary side when the ball is on a hash. It’s difficult, but the Giants have to try and find ways to attack the field side (wide side) where the coverage is neglected.

Devito did throw a few passes to the field side; mostly flat routes in two man route combinations. If Del Rio continues with his shenanigans to the field side, then the Giants should look to attack off quick concepts. What do they have to lose at this point? Make the defense respect space off the quick game.

Final thoughts

It’s a sad state of affairs for the Giants, who are 9-point road underdogs. Yes, you read that correctly; 9 points to the Commanders. The Giants have dominated the Commanders in recent memory, sans the 2021 season; that makes one team in the division, since Philadelphia and Dallas have dominated the Giants.

Still, the current Giants’ roster, and state of the team, are poor. New York looks poised to seize a top two selection in the upcoming NFL draft. There’s still a lot of football to be played, but finding offensive success - even against a defense that shipped their best players out of town - will be difficult on Sunday. If the Giants pull off the upset, it’ll likely come via a strong defensive effort.