|?Washington Redskins (0-0)||
||New York Giants (0-0)|
KICKOFF: Thursday, 7:00 ET
TV: NBC, Al Michaels, John Madden, Andrea Kremer
SERIES: 150th meeting. Redskins lead series, 85-61-4. Giants have won three of the last four meetings. The first game last season, third of the season, enabled the Giants to end a season-opening two-game losing streak and set them off on a six-game winning streak, courtesy of a last-minute goal line stand that preserved a 24-17 victory.
PREDICTION: Giants 23-13
KEYS TO THE GAME: With QB Jason Campbell still learning coach Jim Zorn's West Coast-style offense, look for the Redskins to lean heavily on RB Clinton Portis and the underneath passing game. Zorn doesn't want to expose Campbell to the Giants' pass rush, which is strong even without injured DE Osi Umenyiora. The key will be the interior of the line clearing holes for Portis, who averaged 93 yards on 4.8 yard per carry in two meetings last season. Giants QB Eli Manning won't see as many blitzes from the Redskins under new defensive coordinator Greg Blache as he did from predecessor Gregg Williams. LT David Diehl will be the focal point of the pass protection working against RDE Andre Carter, who had three sacks in the two meetings last season. But with LDE Jason Taylor's status unknown, the Redskins might not be able to apply the consistent pressure with backup Demetric Evans, leaving Manning to attack a secondary that showed some vulnerability during the preseason.
KEY INJURIES: Redskins: Taylor (sprained knee) is a game-time decision, but unlikely to play; WR Antwaan Randle El (broken bone in left hand) will play; rookie WR Malcolm Kelly (knee) is out. Giants: K Lawrence Tynes (knee) is expected to be replaced by 44-year-old John Carney.
FAST FACTS: The Redskins kept 10 draft picks on the final roster, more than their past five drafts combined. ... Thirteen of 15 draft picks have made the final roster in two years under Giants GM Jerry Reese.
-- DE Jason Taylor tried to practice on his injured knee Tuesday, and coach Jim Zorn said he'd probably be a game-time decision since he still isn't able to go full speed. "He was just seeing how it would be," Zorn said. "He had a little brace on it to protect it. The braces have different degrees of straightening his leg out, so he'll wear the most comfortable one. I think there is more hope, but it's easily 50-50 whether he plays or not. He wants to be full speed too, and from what I saw today he's not 50 percent yet. He's trying to get out there and he's doing everything right in the training room. He's listening to our athletic trainers and he's listening to his body as well. As you can see, he's pushing. He's an NFL player. There will be a limited rotation, and I think some of it will be how he warms up pregame and how it feels pregame. It's mainly an irritation than structural, so it's not a matter of being tentative with him. If it feels good and he can go, he'll go."
-- CB Shawn Springs was kicked in the shin during practice and was limping Tuesday. Coach Jim Zorn said Springs would have an x-ray and he wasn't sure of the severity of the injury.
-- WR Antwaan Randle El will play with a broken bone in his left hand.
-- LB Khary Campbell, the leading special teams tackler the past three years, will play with a thigh bruise.
-- QB Jason Campbell is 0-2 against the Giants although he has three touchdowns and just one interception in those two games.
-- RB Clinton Portis saw the highs and lows against the Giants during his first four years as a Redskin. Portis carried four times for a career-low nine yards at the Meadowlands in 2005. But he ran for 126 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries in Washington's critical 22-10 victory there last year.
-- TE Chris Cooley is a Washington staple, but he didn't top 50 yards or five catches in any of his eight games against the Giants during his previous four seasons.
-- WR Santana Moss, who played home games at Giants Stadium for the New York Jets, had 24 catches for 493 yards and four touchdowns in his first six games as a Redskin against the Giants.
-- DE Demetric Evans is expected to start just his second game since 2005 in place of the injured Jason Taylor against the Giants.
-- FS LaRon Landry, who missed the entire preseason with a hamstring injury, is set to start against the Giants.
-- CB Carlos Rogers, who missed the final nine games of 2007 and the wild-card playoff loss with torn knee ligaments, will start or at least play extensively against the Giants.
-- LB Rocky McIntosh, who tore his left ACL last Dec. 16 against the Giants, will start.
--With the exception of K Lawrence Tynes (knee) the Giants expect the rest of their players to be ready for Thursday night. Others who missed practice were CB Terrell Thomas (hamstring), WR Domenik Hixon (back) and rookie LB Jonathan Goff (transverse process).
-- The Giants signed former Eagles first-round draft pick DE Jerome McDougal the day after final cuts and he will be inserted into the rotation of ends that includes Justin Tuck, Mathias Kiwanuka and Renaldo Wynn. He is the player the Giants attempted to trade up to get in the first round of the 2003 draft. The Giants settled for defensive tackle William Joseph (now with Oakland) later in the round. Both were %%MATCH_65%% (Fla.) products.
-- RB Brandon Jacobs will still be the starter, but his campaign for a new contract a year before his old one runs out fell on deaf ears. He will become a free agent at the conclusion of the season and vows to get "the most I can." This might explain why the Giants kept five running backs -- including Jacobs, they retained Derrick Ward, Ahmad Bradshaw, Reuben Droughns and Danny Ware.
-- Reserve OT Adam Koets acknowledged that he has been tried at all five offensive line positions. Which one does he like the most? "The one I am going to start at," he smiled. "I am here to win a job."
-- Newly-acquired DE Jerome McDougal will wear the same jersey number he wore in Philadelphia, 95, but rookie CB Terrell Thomas, the second-round pick, switched from 30 to 24, the number he wore at %%MATCH_66%%. It became free when RB-FB Robert Douglas was waived.
-- It is likely that TE Darcy Johnson has beaten out Michael Matthews for the backup job behind Kevin Boss. Johnson was in line to be the first reserve (behind the now-traded Jeremy Shockey) last summer when he injured his knee in training camp and spent the entire season on Injured Reserve.
-- Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was one of the reasons why the Giants signed McDougle. He was with the Eagles when McDougle was drafted and spoke highly of his potential when the player became available. "This is just great," McDougle said when he arrived at Giants Stadium. "To be with the Super Bowl champs and to be reunited with Coach Spags all in the same day."
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
Jon Jansen used to be the Redskins' rock. A second-round pick out of %%MATCH_63%% in 1999, Jansen didn't miss a practice, let alone a game, during his first five seasons.
But then the never-ending series of injuries began. A season-ending ruptured right Achilles' tendon in the 2004 Hall of Fame Game. Two broken thumbs in 2005. A torn calf muscle in 2006. A season-ending broken right leg and dislocated right ankle in the 2007 opener. And a sprained left foot in the Aug. 23 debacle this preseason at Carolina.
Given all that, it's not surprising that the 32-year-old Jansen isn't the stalwart that he used to be. And now he's no longer the starter as he had been for every game for nine years when healthy.
New coach Jim Zorn benched him on Aug. 31 in favor of Stephon Heyer, a rookie free agent in 2007 who finished last season as the starting right tackle and shut out Jansen's longtime nemesis, Michael Strahan, in the process.
"It was very tough because both players are capable," Zorn said. "We wanted to give Stephon an opportunity. He has really showed in pass protection that he can anchor."
That's something the Redskins don't think Jansen can do right now. He was overwhelmed by the Panthers, nearly giving up a safety on a play on which the unknown Charles Johnson beat him and sacked quarterback Jason Campbell. Tyler Brayton blew by Jansen and sacked Campbell on another play.
"I didn't play very well against the Panthers, but neither did anybody else," Jansen said of the 47-3 rout. "Until then, I've had a lot people in the organization tell me I was having the best camp I've ever had. I was disappointed that I'm not going to be out there. It really doesn't matter how I grade myself. They graded me as not the starting right tackle, so that his how it is."
Zorn, who was benched in favor of Dave Krieg in 1983 after seven-plus seasons as Seattle's starting quarterback, knows how Jansen is feeling.
"You (have to) come in and face your teammates," Zorn said. "That is very difficult. I thought Jon did an excellent job (Sunday) working through those issues because it is very emotional. Things changed and he has to be able to live up to that and keep working hard. It's not over for him. He still has to work hard and be ready."
That's what Jansen, who's taking some reps at left guard, too, is doing.
"I'm going to go out there every day and work as hard as I can, like I have done every day that I've been here," Jansen said.
As for Heyer, he was understandably pleased.
"I've had last season to get a lot of reps (at) right tackle and I do feel comfortable there," he said.
By winning the Super Bowl last February, the Giants earned the right to open this 2008 season a few days earlier, which they'll do at home on Thursday night against NFC East-rival Washington.
It is not the same team that took XLII, however. Since that magical moment (and who can deny the veracity of that statement?) veteran defensive end Michael Strahan has retired, Pro Bowl defensive end Osi Umenyiora was shelved for the year after a knee injury in Week 3 of the preseason schedule, weak-side linebacker Kawika Mitchell signed with %%MATCH_64%%, safety Gibril Wilson signed with Oakland, strong-side linebacker Reggie Torbor signed with Miami, tight end Jeremy Shockey was traded to New Orleans and, oh yes, Mathias Kiwanuka was moved from strong-side linebacker back to defensive end to replace Umenyiora.
Is that enough change?
There's still more. The backup quarterback Eli Manning (and the only other one on the roster) is former first-overall pick David Carr, giving the Giants the only pair of first-overall quarterbacks on any team in the league. Another free-agent acquisition, Danny Clark, will start at weak-side linebacker while last year's reserve, Gerris Wilkinson, moves into Kiwanuka's spot. Justin Tuck, who had 10 sacks as a reserve defensive end last year, is now the starter replacing Strahan.
Finally, the Giants are decided underdogs not only to emerge once again as the NFC champion but even to win their own division. "We are once again everybody's underdogs," said middle linebacker Antonio Pierce, "and that's just the way we want it.
Last season the Giants moved through the playoffs mainly by the use of their defense, a complex scheme orchestrated by coordinator Steve Spagnuolo that utilized a myriad of pass-rushing formations and moved players in and out of their accustomed positions. "We needed to get our best pass rushers on the field," Spagnuolo said.
There were numerous times when the front four on passing situations consisted of Strahan, Umenyiora, Tuck and Kiwanuka.
Can the offense hold up its end of the bargain? Manning emerged as a true leader over the last half of the season, and if he maintains that growth spurt he could graduate to superstardom. The running-game-by-committee has a gigantic committee -- Brandon Jacobs (6-feet-4, 260 pounds), Derrick Ward (5-11, 230), Ahmad Bradshaw (5-9, 200), Reuben Droughns (5-11, 220) and Danny Ware (6-0, 235).
The offensive line is back intact, and is one of the best units in the league. Instead of the recalcitrant Shockey, there are three tight ends -- Kevin Boss, the starter, along with Darcy Johnson and Michael Matthews. The wide receivers remain Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer, with backups such as Steve Smith, Domenik Hixon, rookie Mario Manningham and Sinorice Moss.
The Redskins are under a new head coach, Jim Zorn, and had a difficult summer struggling on the field and with the new coaching staff and system.