ReFo: Giants @ Redskins, Week 13
Seasons can turn on games like these. The New York Giants were presented with the opportunity to put both the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys at arm’s length, but spurned that chance and blew the race for the NFC East crown wide open once again.
Both teams struggled at times, but on the back of a lucky bounce and some hard running in the second half the Redskins made more of their periods of dominance to edge a 1-point ball game. Washington established their lead early in the fourth quarter, once again making devastating use of play action and, by controlling the ball for seven of the game’s final nine minutes, displayed their poise and composure for what is sure to be a gritty and nerve wracking run in.
Here are some of the key performances that blew the NFC East wide open heading into the final four games of the season.
New York – Three Performances of Note
No Answer on the Ground
The Giants’ defense is prone to blowing hot and cold, and when it gets hot it can be devastating. Last night was definitely a cold night as the Giants’ defense simply couldn’t get to grips with the Redskins’ running game and force them into passing the ball more often. Tackles were missed, blocks struggled to be shed and they were stung for big plays both inside and out by the read option.
Each of the Giants’ four defensive ends graded negatively for their run defense, with each of them a passenger rather than pressing Robert Griffin III into quick reads to disrupt the offense. Combine that with some slow reads and poor angles taken by the safeties and linebackers and you have the perfect recipe for the 200-yard rushing game that New York let up in this one. The Giants now have plenty of tape to work with should they face the Redskins again, but on the evidence of this that may not be something they’re hoping for.
Failure to Finish
The Giants’ offense showed ability to move the ball, and there were solid individual performances throughout, but no one really rose up to help them finish drives. In fact, even their score was more about the coverage of the Redskins than an individual play by the Giants. Martellus Bennett was left alone at the front of the end zone and of course Eli Manning (+4.0) comfortably found him for the go-ahead score. Outside of that, the potential game breakers or momentum builders that the Giants created were wasted either by overthrows of open receivers by Manning or by dropped passes from the Giants. The drop of Victor Cruz was his 11th of the season matching his regular season total from last season with four games to go.
The Giants leaned more heavily on their run game this week, trying to shorten the encounter rather than looking to go pass heavy and really pepper a Redskins secondary that has been suspect at times this season. The response from Ahmad Bradshaw (+1.5 rushing) and his offensive line was a strong performance, but one that never really looked like taking over or breaking the game open. The Giants’ offensive line consistently got the better of the Redskins up front’ but they were never able to turn this control into a long run. A direct snap to Bradshaw at the end of the first quarter was the Giants’ longest rush of the game, and one of only three of 10 yards or more.
While the ability to consistently pick up solid gains was a concern for the Redskins, on the other side the Giants were being given fits by the big gains and hard running of the Washington ground game. The difference in the two ground games, at the center of each offense, ended up being a key deciding factor in the game.
Washington – Three Performances of Note
The Washington offense has been driven this season by their pair of impressive rookies lining up next to, and behind each other, in the backfield. Both RG3 and Alfred Morris put the ball on the ground in the game, but both showed their resolve to fight back and grind out a pivotal divisional victory. Griffin was fortunate that his fumble was not only recovered by his own team but resulted in a score; when things are going right for you, they go very right for you. Between the two of them they gained 196 of the Redskins’ 207 rushing yards and Griffins’ sleight of hand was pivotal in opening up the Giants against the read option.
However, the true measure of a running game is being able to run the ball when the defense knows its coming. The Redskins did just that late on, and credit has to go to the hard running of Morris and Darrel Young (+0.6 rushing). Morris’ hard running was the key deciding factor in the Redskins’ ability to run out the game, but Young’s lead blocking, and going two for two on short yardage conversion, cannot be underestimated. The Giants and Manning are deadly on late game drives, but the Redskins’ ground game ensured he never got to prove that point in the final two minutes.
Improved Pass Rush
Ever since the Redskins lost Brian Orakpo for the season their pass rush has been a weakness for them, and while they were far from overpowering this week they got just enough contributions to knock Eli Manning off his stride. The Redskins got pressure on close to 40% (12/35) of Manning’s drop-backs and they were led by interior pass rushers, as Barry Cofield (+2.0 pass rush) in particular had a strong game against his former employers.
The Redskins are clearly aware of their deficiency as a pass rushing unit and sent 11 different players on pass rushes, with only three of those (two defensive linemen and London Fletcher) coming up empty on those pass rushes. Washington made what pressure they got count, with Eli going 4 of 10 on passes under pressure, and that will be the key for this defense in the final month. They aren’t going to magically find a stud pass rusher, so they have to find a way to make the pressure they do get count.
He may have played in only six games this season due to injury, but Pierre Garcon (+2.4) has been on the field for five of the Redskins’ six victories. That is no coincidence, with Garcon putting up 100-yards receiving, or close to, in three of those victories and he once again displayed his threat after the catch on Monday Night Football.
Garcon forced two missed tackles as a receiver and though he blotted his copybook with a drop he also collected 31 yards after the catch and was the man to get open for the game-winning touchdown, exploiting the Giants’ poor coverage off play action. This is exactly the sort of impact that Garcon was signed for, and all the Redskins can ask for is that he is on the field for more games down the stretch to give them a chance of winning some crucial upcoming divisional games.
– Think the Redskins highlighted the DRE position as the one to target this week on the ground? Washington collected 9.4 yards per carry on 12 carries off left tackle and left end last night, encompassing both conventional running and the read option.
– The 9-yard reception for Jerrel Jernigan was his first catch and target since the Giants’ Week 5 win at home to the Cleveland Browns.
– Josh Wilson kept things quiet on his side. On two targets, Wilson yielded only a 6-yard catch to Victor Cruz. This marked the sixth time this season that Wilson has been targeted fewer than five times in a game, and the third time he has yielded only a solitary catch.
PFF Game Ball
His performance was dogged by that fumble, but his immediate response and hard running at the end of the game to close it out make Alfred Morris this week’s player of the game.