What will it take for the New York Giants to get their first victory of the 2015 season when they face the Washington Redskins on Thursday night? Here are five things to watch during the game.
The fourth quarter
Well, this one is pretty obvious. The 0-2 Giants who should be 2-0 are 0-2 because, bluntly, they have completely screwed up two consecutive fourth quarters.
"Seventy-five percent of the games in the National Football League, 24 out of 32, are seven points or less in the fourth quarter," head coach Tom Coughlin said thsi week. "The game is a fourth quarter game in the National Football League. We've got to be able to be productive when the game is on the line and the pressure is there to perform. That's exactly what it is."
Can the Giants finally manage the clock properly? Can they not commit a fatal turnover? Can they generate a couple of first downs when they need them late? Can their defense get a big stop?
They haven't done those things in the first two games, which is why they are 0-2.
"Sooner or later, we just have to settle down and play the way we're capable of playing when the game is on the line," Coughlin said.
If they can, they still have a chance in the muddled NFC East. If they can't, this season will slip quickly away.
The Redskins' rushing attack
Through two games the Redskins lead the league with 171.5 yards rushing per game. The Giants are third in the league against the run, giving up just 68 yards per game. Two games is not enough to declare the Redskins a great running team or the Giants a great run-defending team. It is, however, enough to indicate that it will be critical for the Giants to control Washington's running game.
The Giants have had difficulty defensively getting off the field, with Alex pointing out that one result is their offense has been on the field fewer times than any offense in the league except for the San Francisco 49ers.
Quarterback Kirk Cousins is an impressive 44-of-58 (75.9 percent) in two games. Can he win games if you throttle his running attack and make him try to do it himself? That's what the Giants need to find out.
Who mans the slot for the Giants?
It won't be Preston Parker, who took his league-leading five dropped passes to the unemployment line this week. A person losing his job is never cause for celebration, but that was a move the Giants needed to make. With Parker gone, who will play in the slot for the Giants on Thursday night?
Most likely, the Giants won't employ a true full-time slot receiver. Most likely, they will use a variety of formations that feature different players as the slot receiver. Odell Beckham will probably line up in the slot on occasions. so will Rueben Randle. Dwayne Harris, who does not have a catch in two games, should see more action on offense. Perhaps rookie Geremy Davis will, as well. With Cruz not playing, those are the only four wide receivers who will be active Thursday. With tight end Daniel Fells back in the lineup this week, perhaps we will also see Larry Donnell in the slot -- a position that suits him much better than being an inline tight end.
The impact of Jon Beason
The veteran middle linebacker is expected to make his 2015 season debut on Thursday. What can Beason, who isn't the same athlete he was a few years ago, offer the Giants' defense?
For the Giants and Beason it might not be able the plays he can make himself. He doesn't have the speed or the range he might have had early in his career. It might be more about the plays he can help others make. Beason is the defensive captain, the signal-caller, the guy the Giants counted on to help them get lined up and acclimate to Steve Spagnuolo's new defense. Undrafted rookie Uani 'Unga was thrust into the role of signal-caller in the first two games -- a huge responsibility for a player just getting his feet wet in the NFL.
Perhaps Beason's presence could have made a difference in the fourth quarters of the first two losses, when the defense surrendered several critical long scoring drives. Perhaps it's just a calming influence, a check into the right defensive alignment or maybe it's just using veteran savvy to come up with a key play.
We should find out Thursday if Beason's presence makes a difference on defense.
The absence of DRC
The cornerback tandem of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is the strength of the Giants' otherwise questionable defense. Behind them, the depth has been considered a question mark ever since training camp began. That depth is going to be tested Thursday night as Rodgers-Cromartie (concussion) won't play.
Much-maligned Jayron Hosley filled in for Rodgers-Cromartie Sunday against Atlanta. He came away with a -1.9 Pro Football Focus grade in 63 snaps, -0.9 in pass coverage. Hosley did surrender completions all five times he was targeted and posted a 107.5 passer rating against, but kept everything in front of him and gave up just 22 yards after the catch.
"Hosley made some plays and didn't make some plays, but the ones that he didn't make, I thought he was playing against an outstanding player, obviously, and he gave perhaps sometimes a little bit too much room, but overall he competed and he played hard," said head coach Tom Coughlin. "I thought that was a good step forward."
No matter how well he plays, Hosley is a step down from Rodgers-Cromartie.
The other factor here is that without DRC the Giants will dress only four cornerbacks. With three corners on the field in most nickel or dime situations, that leaves the Giants with only Trevin Wade as an extra corner in the event of an injury.