Before the Redskins take on the Giants at MetLife Stadium, Redskins.com’s Jake Kring-Schreifels and Dante Koplowitz-Fleming provide the storylines and matchups to follow on Sunday.
1. Get the Giants into third-and-long
It’s been a long season for the Giants, and they’re obviously not where they’d like to be in terms of standings (1-6, last place in the NFC East). Another place they don’t like to be is third-and-long.
So far this season the Giants are converting 69.7 percent of third-downs when the yards to go are between one and five. When they need to gain between six and 10 yards, that number plummets to 25 percent.
A 25 percent conversion rate is not a recipe for success, and Washington can help itself by forcing the Giants into that scenario early and often.
Of course to get a team into third-and-long situations, you’ve got to do your job on first and second down.
The Redskins are allowing just over four yards a carry to opposing running backs on first down, and the Giants are averaging 4.3. Four yards on first down is an acceptable running play for an offense. It keeps your offense ahead of the sticks and sets you up for the much sought-after third-and-manageable situations, the third downs with two or three yards to go.
Nobody wants to be in those situations because third-and-long is always more difficult to convert, but the Giants in particular don’t want to be there. It has been uniquely difficult for the Giants to give Eli Manning enough time to throw deep routes, as his line has given up pressure, and sacks, at the quickest rate in the league.
Manning has been sacked in less than 2.5 seconds a league-leading 12 times this season, five more times than the next quarterback on that list. It is difficult to scheme receivers open in under 2.5 seconds, but Manning often doesn’t have more time than that. It has made third-and-long situations for New York even more difficult to convert than they usually are.
Washington could help itself by taking advantage of that after coming off a four sack performance against Dallas. Below is a clip of the Giants giving up a sack to Dallas on third-and-nine. The Cowboys rushed four and left the standard eight defenders in coverage, and Manning didn’t have time to look up before being pressured.
This Sunday could be especially big for Washington’s edge rushers. Starting outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith teamed up for a pretty spectacular sack, strip and fumble recovery for touchdown against Dallas last week.
This week, with the Giants inability to pass protect on the edges, they could both add some more highlights to their reel. The Giants have not done a good job of protecting the quarterback by any metric. They’re allowing pressure on 32.7 percent of pass attempts, the fourth-highest rate in the NFL according to Football Outsiders.
Pro Football Focus has the Giants offensive line as the second-lowest graded pass blocking unit in the league. ESPN has the two Giants’ tackles, Nate Solder and Chad Wheeler, as the worst duo in the league per their new pass rush win rate model.
Smith is still searching for his first sack of the season, while Kerrigan has slowly climbed to three sacks after having a notably slower start to the 2018 season, averaging almost 12 sacks per season from 2014-2017. Both of those guys could be in for a big showing in the Meadowlands this Sunday.
2. Win the turnover battle
In their sole win of the season, the Giants came out on the right side of the turnover battle against Houston by picking off Deshaun Watson and recovering a fumble from Lamar Miller.
In their other six games, all being losses, the Giants have turned the ball over nine times and only taken it away four times. Like most teams, the Giants live and die by turnovers.
Last week against Dallas, Washington recovered two fumbles and avoided turning the ball over. They currently are tied for the fourth-best turnover differential in the league with the 7-0 Rams with a plus-six differential. This is in large part to the offense’s ability to limit turnovers, as they have the second-fewest giveaways in the league with two interceptions and three forced fumbles. Despite Alex Smith’s up and down start to the season, he has continued his longtime strength of protecting the football.
On the other side of the ball, they’ve been about league-average in getting takeaways. Last week the Redskins weren’t able to pick off Dak Prescott, but they did get him to cough up the football twice.
On their second drive of the game, Dallas went for it on fourth-and-1. Prescott kept the ball on a quarterback sneak and got the yardage for the first down. The problem was D.J. Swearinger Sr. met him right when he got across the line.
“Yeah it was just a quarterback sneak, I’ve seen him and I was like ‘If he can get through that hole it’s mine, that’s my ball.’ He had the ball in his right hand, I tried to at least try to punch the ball while hitting him, or put my shoulder on the ball, it came out and it was a good play,” he said.
It was a good play, and while it didn’t directly lead to points for Washington, it stopped what could have been a momentous drive for Dallas.
Later in the game the Redskins did get the points-off-turnover they were looking for. On Kerrigan’s second sack of the game, he punched the ball out of Prescott’s hand while he was taking him down in his own end zone. Smith did the rest with a quick scoop and score, putting Washington up 20-10 after the extra point.
“I’m wrapping him up and I can feel my left hand on the ball so I just kind of push my hand, after that I roll over and see the ball is out and before I know it Preston picks it up and it’s awesome,” Kerrigan said when describing the play. “I just kind of wrapped around with my left arm, felt the ball, gave it a little push.”
That’s all it took for a game-changing play against Dallas in what ended up being a game decided by a missed field goal. A turnover here or a giveaway will easily decide the outcome of a game, and Washington can help itself a lot by winning that battle against the Giants.
3. Stay aggressive in the second half
It’s a tired story to this point – the Redskins have struggled to put the ball in the end zone in the second half of games. Through six contests, they’ve scored just one touchdown between the third and fourth quarters.
Because they’ve been so successful scoring in the first half, the Redskins have had the benefit of being rather conservative in the third and fourth quarters (a reason that they rank among the league’s best in time of possession). The offense starts off promising, but it rarely puts away an opponent, leaving the defense to make game-changing plays (a Preston Smith touchdown) and game-ending stops (a red zone stand against Cam Newton) that have produced two victories.
Ideally, this won’t be the formula to win games moving forward. It’s nice to lean on, but against a more beleaguered New York defense, this week presents an opportunity for the Redskins to shed some of their second half demons.
That should start with attempting some bigger plays. The “game manager” title that Alex Smith has been labeled isn’t the negative people like to believe it is – just look at the Redskins turnover ratio and how that’s impacted so many of these tight games – but it does sometimes preclude the offense from taking chances to extend the lead.
On the ground, the Redskins had three plays from Adrian Peterson of more than 15 yards last week and 11 during the entire season. In the air, Alex Smith only has 18 passes that have gone for more than 20 yards, many of which came from screen passes and shorter throws.
Counting the New Orleans game, Smith has completed just one pass longer than 30 yards, the 42-yard yard pass to Maurice Harris in the Superdome. Against the Cowboys last week, only two completed passes went for longer than 15 yards in the air.
With Paul Richardson Jr. likely to return to action this Sunday, as well as running back Chris Thompson, Smith should have more options to target downfield and more opportunities to find explosive plays via screen passes and play-action.
The Redskins have leaned on their defense and running back Adrian Peterson to extend drives, but some quick scoring, providing some cushion, like in the Green Bay game, would be prudent in a game many feel could be a trap for Washington.