Still, they’ve struggled to win games at FedEx Field including back-to-back, nationally televised defeats to Pittsburgh (23-6 on Nov. 3) and Dallas (14-10 on Nov. 16). That’s where the Redskins will find out on Sunday, when the visiting Giants come to Landover, Md., just how much progress they’ve made during their first season with Jim Zorn in charge.
The former Seahawks quarterback, a position coach the previous seven seasons with Seattle, has Jason Campbell playing almost mistake-free football in his second full season as a starter. A career year from former Pro Bowl running back Clinton Portis has helped as well, while their defense has mostly succeeded, in spite of knee and calf injuries that have hampered star defensive end Jason Taylor throughout the season.
Washington has struggled at home, however, because they haven’t been able to score touchdowns on a consistent basis. They’ve averaged only 11.8 points in their last four home games.
“I don’t care how good your defense plays,” wide receiver Santana Moss told the Washington Times recently. “You’re not giving yourself a chance and you’re not giving your defense a chance if you’re not scoring points. We’re not getting our behinds whipped up and down the field. We’re just coming up short. We just have to find a way.”
WHEN THE GIANTS RUN EDGE: GIANTS
After running through the Ravens’ reliable, rugged run-stoppers, the Giants will look to improve to 3-0 in 2008 against teams from the Maryland/D.C. area.
Brandon Jacobs rushed for 116 yards on 21 carries and Derrick Ward added 39 yards on nine attempts during the Giants’ 16-7 victory over Washington on Sept. 4. FS LaRon Landry certainly hasn’t forgotten how Jacobs ran him over en route to a 17-yard gain that helped set up the Giants’ first score in that game. That was one of three Jacobs runs that accounted for 16 yards or more that night.
The Redskins have, however, been relatively successful in neutralizing running games since their failure on opening night.
They shut down Pro Bowlers Marion Barber (eight carries, 26 yards) and Brian Westbrook (12 carries, 33 yards) during respective back-to-back defeats of Dallas and Philadelphia in September. Then they prevented Pro Bowlers Steven Jackson (22 carries, 79 yards) and Willie Parker (21 carries, 70 yards) from exceeding 80 yards in respective home losses to St. Louis and Pittsburgh.
Nonetheless, the Redskins need better play from DTs Cornelius Griffin and Kedric Golston if they’re to contain Jacobs and Ward this time around. Griffin, a former Giant, and Golston, a first-year starter, combined for only three tackles in the first meeting.
WHEN THE GIANTS PASS EDGE: REDSKINS
LT David Diehl has consistently kept some of the league’s top RDEs away from Eli Manning this season, but he did struggle against speed-rusher Andre Carter in their first game. Carter dropped Manning for an 8-yard sack on the first play of the fourth quarter, one he shared with Landry. Carter was also credited with three hurries, so look for the Giants to help Diehl in their protection packages.
With LDE Jason Taylor still nursing a calf injury, the Giants should be able to afford to pay more attention to Carter. Demetric Evans is clearly an easier assignment for RT Kareem McKenzie than even a 34-year-old Taylor would’ve been if he was at full strength. Taylor, whom Washington acquired for a second-round and a sixth-round pick just before training camp, has barely been a factor due to his injuries.
The Redskins’ pass defense has been bolstered by another acquisition, though.
DeAngelo Hall, signed to a one-year contract after odd Oakland owner Al Davis released him on Nov. 5, gives Washington four corners who can contend even with teams extremely deep at receiver. Starters Shawn Springs and Carlos Rogers, Fred Smoot and Hall all could start on any NFL team, although Springs (calf), Rogers (calf) and Smoot (groin) have all been slowed by injuries at times this season.
WHEN THE REDSKINS RUN EDGE: REDSKINS
A more mature, focused Clinton Portis has been one of the league’s elite tailbacks all season.
The seventh-year pro rushed for at least 121 yards in five straight games from Sept. 28-Oct. 26, four of which Washington won. Though bothered recently by a knee injury, he is on pace to eclipse the career-high 1,591 rushing yards he gained in 2003, his last season with Denver. He was above average for the Redskins during an injury-plagued 2006 season (523 yards, seven touchdowns in eight games) and in 2007 (1,262 yards, 11 touchdowns). But he is averaging almost 5.0 yards per carry this season, about a full yard above the 3.9 yards he averaged last season.
The Giants limited him to 84 yards on 23 carries on Sept. 4, but Portis has been successful against the Giants in their recent meetings at FedEx Field. The former University of Miami star has run for 316 yards and three touchdowns on 72 carries in his last three games against the Giants there.
Ladell Betts, Portis’ backup, has been serviceable, though his opportunities have been limited. He ran the ball only once on opening night, but Betts scored a 14-yard touchdown in Washington’s 22-10 road victory over the Giants 11 months ago. Betts also gained 1,154 yards in 2006, when he started nine games in place of an injured Portis (hand).
WHEN THE REDSKINS PASS EDGE: GIANTS
WR Santana Moss exploited RCB Aaron Ross’ over-the-middle collision with MLB Antonio Pierce to catch a 12-yard touchdown, Washington’s lone score in their 16-7 loss at Giants Stadium.
Overall, though, the Giants’ defensive backs did a better job of keeping Moss from getting open deep. His longest catch of the night was that 12-yard score. Otherwise, Moss averaged just 6.3 yards on four catches.
Sinorice Moss’ older brother averaged 26.2 yards per catch on six receptions in their two meetings in 2007, including a 49-yard reception against RCB Sam Madison that helped set up a touchdown in their first game, and 36-yard and 34-yard catches against Madison and nickel back Kevin Dockery that moved Washington into range for a field goal and a touchdown in the second game.
Antwaan Randle El, Washington’s other starting WR, caught seven passes in that game, yet neither he nor TE Chris Cooley hurt the Giants all that much. The Giants’ linebackers helped contain Cooley (one catch, 7 yards), who has a history of getting open down the middle of the field against them.
QB Jason Campbell, meanwhile, has protected the ball much better this season than in 2007 (13 fumbles, eight lost). He hasn’t been protected nearly as well, though. He was sacked seven times in a loss to Pittsburgh on Nov. 3.
SPECIAL TEAMS EDGE: GIANTS
Randle El is only an adequate punt returner these days, yet P Jeff Feagles will likely continue trying to keep the ball away from him.
Randle El is averaging barely more than the 6.1 yards per return he recorded in 2007, though the five punts he has returned for touchdowns during his seven-year career with Washington and Pittsburgh still resonate with special teams coaches. His last score on a punt return came in 2006, an 87-yarder.
He returned only one of Feagles’ four punts in their first meeting this season, and was dropped by LB Chase Blackburn for a 2-yard loss. Feagles booted two other punts out of bounds, while the other was downed.
Washington K Shaun Suisham has been less accurate than last season. He does get good distance on kickoffs, however, which limits return yardage.
The Giants, meanwhile, have made two significant switches on special teams since their first meeting.
K John Carney drilled each of his three FG attempts, from 24, 25 and 47 yards, that night, but Lawrence Tynes has regained his spot. WR Domenik Hixon has supplanted CB R.W. McQuarters as their primary punt returner, too. McQuarters brought back one punt 14 yards against Washington, yet his two other returns accounted for just four yards combined.
Idec’s pick: GIANTS 20, REDSKINS 13