Jim Haslett and the Redskins defense prepare for the Giants
What: Giants (4-7) at Redskins (3-8)
Where: FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
When: Sunday, 8:30 p.m.
Redskins Kickoff and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet: 7:30 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.
A year after claiming the NFC East title with a scintillating second half run, Robert Griffin III and the Redskins have been all but eliminated from the postseason picture in 2013.
In fact, a loss to the Giants on Sunday night will officially extinguish any hope.
In reality, though, the Redskins’ players and coaches won’t be playing to keep alive their faint postseason hopes. In the words of head coach Mike Shanahan, they’ll be playing to keep their jobs.
“I think the players are smart enough to understand that if you are 3-8, everybody is playing for their jobs,” Shanahan said. “That’s the nature of our business. I don’t care if it’s players, coaches, support staff. The nature of this game is to find a way to win. And if you don’t win, everybody is accountable.”
Indeed, auditions for spots on next year’s team are set to begin. And with an expected $20 million in cap space this offseason, change is almost certain to come to a team that brought back 21 of 22 starters from last year’s division winning roster. The only question remaining, it seems, is to what extent things will change.
“We’ve just got to make a conscious effort to decide over these next five weeks that we’re going to get better and it starts by going to work,” Griffin said this week. “It started [with the first day of preparation for the Giants on Wednesday]. We had a nice practice, good practice. Guys were locked in and that’s all you can ask for at this point right now.”
He added: “We’ve got to win. We’ve got to win and let everything else take care of itself. We’ve just got to control what we can control.”
The Giants, meantime, saw their momentum halted a week ago with a 24-21 loss to Dallas. Now, at 4-7, Eli Manning and Co. are in similarly dire straits as the surging Cowboys (7-5) and Eagles (6-5) jockey for the lead in an NFC East where the script as been flipped.
A year ago, the Redskins and Giants finished 1-2. Sunday, they’ll be fighting to stay out of the basement in one of the NFL’s weakest divisions.
With that as a backdrop, here are the three keys to Sunday’s game:
- How will the Redskins’ Griffin-led offense respond after the worst second half any team has produced this season? The 49ers held them to only 30 yards of offense, one first down and no points in the final 30 minutes of a game in which Shanahan said his team got “embarrassed.” Griffin, meantime, passed for a season low 118 yards and was sacked four times for the third consecutive contest. He is still looking for his first rushing touchdown of the season (after scoring seven times as a rookie). The Redskins will face another stiff challenge this week against the Giants’ Antrel Rolle-led defense, which has limited opponents to 14.2 points per game the past five weeks.
- Jordan Reed could provide Griffin with a significant boost if the rookie tight end is cleared to return from the concussion that sidelined him against San Francisco. Reed rejoined his teammates for practice on Wednesday and Thursday, and if there’s no setback, Shanahan said he expects him to suit up against the Giants. Reed has produced 30 first downs on his 45 receptions this season. Much of the Redskins’ struggles on Monday night were the result of failing to covert on third down. In fact, they were 0 for 6 on third downs in the second half against the 49ers. [Sunday update: Reed has been cleared to play, according to a FoxSports.com report.]
- Although the Giants’ ground game has been non-existent for much of the season, it got on track in last week’s loss to the Cowboys. Andre Brown rushed for a season-high 127 yards on 21 carries (6.0 per) while Brandon Jacobs gained 75 yards on nine attempts (8.3 per). The 202-yard output was by far New York’s best of the season. Washington’s rush defense has been solid the past four weeks, yielding an average of 90.5 yards during that span. But this will be the unit’s first full game without starting defensive end Stephen Bowen. [Sunday update: Jacobs has been ruled out due to a knee injury.]
Those are the big storylines but they’re not the only ones the team at CSNWashington.com will be monitoring. Here are three more:
1—After a stretch of overall health, it’s been one hit after another for the Redskins in recent weeks as they’ve lost wide receiver Leonard Hankerson and, most recently, Bowen to season-ending knee injuries. The players to keep an eye on over the next 48 hours are Reed, fullback Darrel Young (hamstring) and tight end Niles Paul (illness). Young and Paul were both withheld from practice on Wednesday and Thursday.
2—Wide receiver Pierre Garçon needs 29 yards to break his single-season record for yards and 81 yards to post the 27th 1,000 yard season in franchise history.
3—Since placing Bowen on injured reserve and cutting cornerback Jerome Murphy earlier this week, the Redskins have been one player short of the roster maximum of 53. In all likelihood, that means the team intends to sign a player off of its eight-man practice squad. Based on need, defensive end Dominique Hamilton and cornerback Chase Minnifield would appear to be candidates for promotion. [Sunday update: Minnifield was signed off the practice squad Friday.]