Ok, big game. We’re not exactly done if we fall to 1-3, but it will certainly be an uphill climb. After this, we play at Atlanta and at Dallas, and if we lose to Washington, you wouldn’t really expect us to win both of those games. After that, we have a bit of a soft spot in the schedule as we host Tampa Bay and Houston. 

So if we lose this game and win three out of the next four, which is optimistic, but not unrealistic, we’ll be 4-4. Not exactly what we expected, but still probably on track to make a second half run. If we win, we can take three of the next four and move to 5-3, which would pretty much places us right on track to where we wanted to be at the beginning of the season, after the brutal opening 6 games. So, to state the completely obvious, it’s, uh… better if we win this game.  

Offense:

The past few years, the ‘Skins have boasted an excellent defense and a mediocre offense. This year, it’s more like the other way around. After a slow first couple of weeks in which they went 0-2 and threatened to get buried in the tough NFC East, the Redskins have turned it around on the strength of their offense, who have scored 31 and 36 points the past couple of games. This year, they rank 7th overall in the NFL with an 18.2% DVOA. The good offense is led by their passing game (26.3% DVOA), but their running attack is no slouch (8.5% DVOA).

This is a tough offense that has been playing great the past couple of games. And they are playing against a Giants defense that has not shown much, posting a 9.8% DVOA, 27th in the league. Obviously, it’s been the pass defense that’s killed us. Not that anyone needs a statistic to show this, but the G-Men have been really, really terrible in pass defense, with a 35.9% pass DVOA. The run defense has actually been very good, with a -19.4% DVOA – but it’s a little hard to judge the run DVOA because on a decent number of defensive plays this season, we’ve been getting blown out, whether it was during the Eagles game or the Seahawks game.

 

Quarterback:

Bill Simmons hits the Mark Brunnell enigma on the head in his weekly column: “The past few years, no athlete has vascillated from ‘completely horrendous and inept’ to ‘totally rejuvenated’ more times than Mark Brunnell. Do you think the rest of his life is like this? Like, he’s a fantastic husband one week, then the next week, he’s peeing on toilet seats and refusing to take out the trash, then he’s right back to being a good husband again?”

So who knows which Brunnell will show up. The one who was brutal and looked totally over-the-hill during the first two weeks, or the one who came back to complete 22 straight passes in week 3, and then went 18-30 for 329 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Jags’ excellent defense? The one who was 11-28, for 65(!) yards against the Giants last October? Or the one who came back with a respectable effort to lead an offense that put up 35 points on the Giants later in the year?

Nobody knows with Brunnell, but overall, the guy isn’t bad. Last year, he threw for 3,050 yards, 23 touchdowns, and only 10 picks. Of course, it helps to have Santana Moss and Chris Cooley.

He’s not as mobile as he used to be, but he can still break big first down runs, and he’s very good at throwing on the run. He has the tendencies to fumble and throw picks, so the Giants pass rush must show up.

 

Offensive Line:

A pretty good run-blocking unit that isn’t so good in pass protection. Last year, they finished 5th in the league in Adjusted Line Yards, a FootballOutsiders stat designed to separate running back performance from O-Line performance. And judging by their 8.5% rush DVOA this year, the run blocking is strong again this year.

Last year’s performance in pass blocking was another story, though. While the Redskins ranked a respectable 16 in Adjusted Sack Ratio, another FootballOutsiders stat that measures how many sack attempts an offense allows per passing play, Mark Brunnell was hurried a NFL-high 128 times.

This year, however, they’re doing a good job protecting Brunnell. He’s been sacked only 6 times in 4 games, tied for 8th fewest in the league.

 

Receivers:

A formidable group, led by Santana Moss, who absolutely lit the Giants up last December for 160 yards on 5 catches. Santana’s up to his old tricks again: He had 138 yards last week against Jacksonville, including the game-winning 68-yarder. According to the end of this Sean Lahman article, the Giants might stick Corey Webster on him and try to jam Moss at the line. Disrupting the timing of the routes and getting pressure on Brunnell might be the only way to neutralize the Skins’ potent passing attack.

Brandon Lloyd, their second receiver, has always had better talent than production. He makes some spectacular catches, but this year, he has only 75 yards on 6 catches.

Antwaan Randle-El is an excellent slot/third receiver. He’s a quick, tough, playmaker, who is good at getting through bump coverage. The Giants safeties and nicklebacks will have a tough time with him: He’s a guy that can get some big first downs. Randle-El is also an extremely dangerous punt returner, arguably the best in the NFL.

Finally, they boast an excellent Tight End in Chris Cooley, who is going to put pressure on our linebackers and safeties. Cooley catches everything thrown his way: last year, his 69% catch percentage was better than Antonio Gates, Jeremey Shockey, Tony Gonzalez, and Todd Heap, trailing only Jason Whitten among top-flight tight ends. A guy like Cooley means that blitzing linebackers and safeties becomes a very risky proposition, making it all the more important that we get pressure from our front four.

 

Running Backs:

It looks as though Clinton Portis is over the shoulder injury he suffered during the preseason. Two weeks ago, he rushed for 86 yards on just 16 carries, and last week, against a tough Jaguars defense, he carried the ball 27 times for 112 yards. Portis is a quick back who runs low and hard. He hits holes quickly and with authority, breaks arm-tackles, and can break big runs. The Giants defense will have its hands full.

 

 

Defense:

While the Skins’ offense has been good, the defense has been shaky. This is surprising: Four out of the last five years, the Redskins have boasted a defense in the top 10 of the NFL. But this year, because of a pass-defense that’s been almost as inept as the Giants pass-D (20.6% DVOA, 25 in the league), the once-vaunted defense has slipped.

Despite the bad pass defense, the Skins’ run defense has actually been really good: their -21.5 DVOA places them 8th in the league. They were very good against the run last year, too, ranking 9 in the league with a -14.5% DVOA.

 

Defensive Line:

The Redskins front four struggles rushing the passer – their down-linemen registered only half of the team’s sacks last year, the lowest percentage for teams that ran a 4-3 defense. This year hasn’t been much different. The ‘Skins have seven sacks this year, which places them in the bottom third of the league.

Andre Carter will line up on one end against Kareem McKenzie. Carter is a quick pass-rushing type, but his lack of strength makes him susceptible against the run. Nevertheless, he enjoys a substantial quickness advantage over McKenzie and could present problems with his speed-rush.

At the other end is Philip Daniels, a big, strong, physical end who is better against the run than the pass. He shouldn’t present too much of a problem for Petitgout in pass protection.

The tackles are former Giant Cornelius Griffin and John Salave’a.

 

Linebackers:

Outside linebacker Marcus Washington is one of the better outside linebackers in the league. He can do many things, including rushing the quarterback, and already has two forced fumbles this year.

Middle linebacker Lemar Marshall is a little undersized at 227 pounds, but he is a quick guy who is good in pass coverage.

The other outside ‘backer, Warrick Holdman, is solid. He’s a quick good player in space, but like the other linebackers, can be blocked.

Overall, this isn’t the most physical linebacking corps – the Giants could be able to power-run against these guys.

 

Defensive Backs:

This has been a real weakness for the ‘Skins because Shawn Springs, one of the best cover guys in the league last year, is still out with an abdominal tear that he suffered in August. In his place, Mike Rumph and Kenny Wright have been vulnerable. The ‘Skins 20.6% DVOA against the pass speaks for itself – they’ve been very bad (though not nearly as bad as the G-Men). In their last game, Byron Leftwich went 21-35 for 289 yards (for an average of 83 yards per attempt), and 3 touchdowns. They’ve been getting passed on all year in Springs’ absence.

The other corner, Carlos Rogers, is a good up-and-coming player. But at 5-11, 200 lbs, he’ll have a tough time with the 6-5, 232 lb. Plaxico.

The Redskins have a couple of intimidating hitters at the safeties in Sean Taylor and Adam Archuleta. Both of them are also good against the pass.

The key to the Giants success against this defense is giving Eli time to pick them apart, and then picking on the corner spot that’s been left vulnerable by Springs’ injury.