First and foremost among them is a defensive scheme in which the corners and safeties are asked to lay back and dissect the formation pre-snap, and then react to the various options of the play as they happen. For a group that features players such as Sam Madison, Will Demps, Gibril Wilson, and Corey Webster, who were brought up in more aggressive, physical systems, this has not been a smooth transition.
In fact, it's been disastrous, as the league's 29th-worst pass defense has allowed a total of 843 yards and a league runner-up eight passing touchdowns.
The question this week is whether things will change back there, especially since they go against a fleet, quick receiver in Santana Moss, who took three of his four receptions against a supposedly good Jacksonville defense in for touchdowns. The Giants are well aware of Moss' prowess, anyway, considering he caught five balls for 160 yards and three touchdowns against them in last year's meeting at FedEx Field, a 35-20 Redskins win. A move to bump-and-run coverage would be a good start.
Making matters worse will be the healthy presence of running back Clinton Portis, whose 112 yards and a touchdown added a sense of balance to a previously unbalanced Redskins. The Giants haven't done poorly against the run. Rookie nose tackle Barry Cofield has made good strides in clogging the middle, and Michael Strahan has actually been more active stopping the run than rushing the passer.
But to the outside of Strahan is LaVar Arrington, who has not only had problems in run defense, but is still being dropped into coverage. If Portis gets going, he may be impossible to stop. And that means a continuation of the long, energy-sapping drives the Giants have allowed since the season's start. They've allowed seven scoring drives of 10 or more plays, not to mention several other long ones that didn't result in points.
Turnovers would do the trick. But the Giants have created only five takeaways, three of which came in the Seattle blowout. They are minus-2 in turnover differential, ranking them in the bottom third of the league.
On the offensive end, the Giants need to get off to faster starts. Part of that could entail establishing Tiki Barber on the ground and sticking with the rushing game longer than they have the last two games. Barber rushed for 51 and 64 yards against the Eagles and Seahawks, respectively. But a healthy Plaxico Burress, back from the back spasms that knocked him out of the second half in Seattle, should help open things up. So should the reliable Amani Toomer.
A real key to the offense will be how Jeremy Shockey is used. Tom Coughlin said Shockey won't be punished with a partial benching for his blast of the coaching staff after the Seattle game. But that still leaves the question of whether he can do what he does best -- work the middle pass routes -- on a creaky right ankle that received a full bye-week of rest.
Shockey hasn't been a factor early in games this year, recording zero, zero, and one catch in the first halves. He has complained again about his usage as a blocker. But if that changes, and he hangs onto some balls, it would make moving the chains that much easier for an offense that has been outscored 68-17 in the first half.
This is a game the Giants need. They could go 2-0 in the division. But besides that, two tough road games lie ahead in Atlanta and Dallas. A loss here could foretell a 1-5 mark. And with the team on the brink of dropping off the emotional table, the Giants probably would never recover from that.
SERIES HISTORY: 147th meeting. The Giants have played the Redskins every year since 1932 and are 82-60-4 in the regular season series. They are 1-1 in the postseason. With 148 meetings the Redskins are the Giants' most frequent rival. The series was split each of the last three years, with the home team winning their games the last two seasons. While last year's meeting in Giants Stadium was not the most important in terms of postseason ramifications, it proved one of the most emotional victories in franchise history. The 36-0 win on Oct. 30 came at the end of an emotionally wrenching week following the death of team patriarch Wellington Mara. The defense dominated, allowing Washington just 125 total yards of offense and seven first downs. The offense rushed for 262 yards, led by Tiki Barber's 206. All the scoring took place over the first three quarters, with Barber handing the final touchdown ball to Mara's grandson, Tim McDonnell, with 1:07 remaining in the period. Barber had led off the game with a 57-yard run.
--MLB Antonio Pierce, the heart of a faltering defense, said he had no worries about that hole-stricken unit getting any worse the rest of the season. "We're at the bottom right now," Pierce said. "How much lower can you go? Defensively, we're finger-pointing at one another, blaming everybody but ourselves. If you think about it, we got that all out of the way. We sorted it out among ourselves last week. With the bye week, it's sort of a fresh start. You just have to remember how fun it is to play this game."
--WR Amani Toomer, who caught three passes for 29 yards against the Seahawks, became the first Giant in history to receive for 8,000 yards. He is also tied with Joe Morris for second on the Giants' all-time touchdown list with 47, and is one behind franchise leader Kyle Rote.
--RB Tiki Barber, who rushed for 64 yards against the Seahawks, became the 21st player in league history to go over 9,000 rushing yards.
--LB LaVar Arrington, who has yet to have a breakout game, would like nothing better than to have it against the Washington team that benched him for a couple of games last year. He left the Redskins on an acrimonious note, and has a heavy revenge factor in this one.
--TE Jeremy Shockey, who blasted the coaching after the Seattle debacle, will have his starting status against the Redskins determined by the condition of his sprained right ankle, not his mouth. Tom Coughlin said, "If he can go, he'll start," after being asked if Shockey would be punished by loss off playing time. Coughlin then abruptly ended that line of questioning. Shockey made progress this week, practicing without a wrap on the ankle and without a limp.
--CB Sam Madison, who will face Redskins WR Santana Moss straight up, hinted that the Giants might be going to a more aggressive bump-and-run coverage against him. "He's like a punt returner in open space," Madison said. "Once he's out there, it's hard to get him down. We have to get our hands on him."
--Tom Coughlin, whose team is 3-14 in games immediately following the bye, was in no mood to look at history. "You know what? When I was looking through some of my material from a year ago, that came up. But that's not the main issue in this game. I think it's getting our team going, moving forward and trying to find a way to win."
BY THE NUMBERS: 3-14 -- The Giants' record in games immediately following a bye.
843 -- The number of passing yards allowed by the Giants' 29th-worst pass defense in the league.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Every week is different. That doesn't mean anything. If a team can put up 36 points every week, great. But you've got to go by what happens when you're out there, not the week before." -- Giants DE Michael Strahan on why the Giants aren't worried about the Redskins, even after Washington put up 36 points against a good Jacksonville defense.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A defense that is trying to get its pass defense together won't always be helped by putting a rookie in a key position. But that's exactly what the Giants will have to do this week as they insert third-rounder Gerris Wilkinson into the weak side linebacker spot while Carlos Emmons heals his strained left pectoral muscle.
Wilkinson, at 6-foot-2, 234, has mostly played special teams so far. But he had a handful of snaps at the beginning of the season opener against Indianapolis and, for the most part, acquitted himself well. He also played well once Emmons came out of the Seahawks game before the bye, making four tackles. At this point, though, he'll be called upon to make the majority of tackles and rush the passer. Unfortunately, he replaces the one linebacker who had been playing well, what with Antonio Pierce having trouble getting free and LaVar Arrington relegated mostly to coverage rather than pass rush. Wilkinson is a lot more mobile than his main competition, Brandon Short, who is still getting over last year's knee surgery.
--WR Plaxico Burress, whose sprained back kept him out of both bye-week practices, said he's "100 percent" and ready to get back to a full workload.
--WR Sinorice Moss, whose strained quads that kept him out of training camp acted up again, has been shut down indefinitely and is not ready to get back to work.
--LB Carlos Emmons, whose strained left pectoral muscle will keep him out at least through next week in Atlanta, will not work this week.
--TE Jeremy Shockey, whose sprained right ankle kept him inside for the bye-week workouts, worked without a wrap on the ankle and was not limping during practice. If he can't start, Visanthe Shiancoe will.
--RB Derrick Ward, whose broken foot has kept him out since training camp, is still not ready to resume work.
--S James Butler, whose sprained left knee kept him out of both bye-week practices, did not practice again. He will likely miss the Redskins game, with Jason Bell taking his place in the dime defense.
GAME PLAN: It doesn't get much simpler this week. Start fast on offense, play hard on defense.
Tom Coughlin would love to see an offense that should have both WR Plaxico Burress and TE Jeremy Shockey back from injury get a fast start to reverse a trend that has seen opponents outscore the Giants 68-17 in the first half. Those numbers have produced large deficits in each of their three games, only one of which (against Philadelphia) they were able to climb out of. For Eli Manning, that means taking care of the ball and staying away from situations that caused him to throw three interceptions in the first half against Seattle. Burress must be more sure-handed than he has been, a task made easier since his back spasms subsided during the bye week.
Defensively, a secondary that has given up far too many big plays and a pass rush that has netted just two sacks all season need to tighten up. That won't be easy, considering the Giants will likely start rookie Gerris Wilkinson at weak-side linebacker in place of the injured Carlos Emmons. A change in the secondary to a more physical bump-and-run coverage, which suits corners Sam Madison and Corey Webster better than read-and-react could be in order. LB LaVar Arrington, no friend of the Redskins since he was ridden out of Washington after last season, would love to have his breakout game here. That would entail him pressuring the quarterback, Mark Brunell, and making tackles, neither of which he has accomplished in the first three games.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Giants LB LaVar Arrington, who was benched last year in Washington for playing outside the defensive scheme, against Redskins RB Clinton Portis, who rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown against the Jaguars in his most effective performance this year. The two don't hate each other, but Arrington would love to have his breakout game against the team that he claims drove him out of town. He'll have to not only run down Portis around the strong side, but also cover him in space, something Arrington has had an unsuccessful time doing against the likes of Brian Westbrook and Shaun Alexander so far. Arrington has no sacks, and has been used on the pass rush only about 25 percent of the time, far less than he should be.
--Redskins S Sean Taylor, who has a reputation as one of the hardest-hitting, but dirtiest players in the league, against Giants WR Plaxico Burress, who comes off two weeks of battling back spasms. Burress, with 11 catches for 217 yards and two TDs, got back to a full workload this week after having to come out of the Seattle game following only one catch for 23 yards, a tipped ball that wound up being intercepted, and a fumble. Burress said he's 100 percent back, though a good lick from Taylor could change all that in a heartbeat. Taylor, a third-year veteran and first-round pick in 2004, will knock the head off anybody with the temerity to challenge him over the middle. But Jags wide receiver Reggie Williams last week proved Taylor can be had, holding onto a touchdown reception despite a vicious blow.
--The Redskins offense, which ranks third in the league and 10th in passing, against the Giants' secondary, which is as leaky as a worn out tin cup. The thought of WR Santana Moss running free through a read-and-react zone that hasn't stopped anybody so far should send shivers down the spine of Giants defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, especially after watching Moss bring three of his four catches into the end zone last week. Moss has big play ability, something the Giants have given up regularly and far too easily.
INJURY IMPACT: TE Jeremy Shockey rested his sprained right ankle throughout the bye week and appeared to be moving well this week. And that's good news since a healthy, or at least useable, Shockey will allow him to exploit the middle seams like he used to. If the coaching staff can free him of blocking responsibilities early in the game and get him into the pass patterns consistently, Shockey would be an invaluable addition to a passing game that is looking to get the offense off to faster starts than in the past. But that's a big if. Shockey has been babied throughout the practice weeks since injuring the ankle in the final preseason game against New England, only to have it wear down in the second half. The week of rest may only help him so much. It's a big question whether Shockey, with 11 catches for 134 yards and a touchdown, will ever be healthy and fully effective this year.
Inside Slant, Notes, Quotes, Strategy, Etc.
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