Five story lines to follow as the Redskins prepare to face the Giants

October 19, 2012

Trent Williams and Kory Lichtensteiger face another tall task in limiting an aggressive Giants pass rush. (John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

The Washington Redskins will put the finishing touches on their game planning today for their meeting with the New York Giants.

Sunday, they play their first NFC East matchup of the season, on the road. The 3-3 Redskins enter the game against the 4-2 Giants as seven-point underdogs.

The Redskins won the last two meetings, but before that, the Giants won six consecutive games against Washington. The Redskins are 2-1 on the road this season, and the Giants are 2-1 at home. Both teams average 29.7 points a game. Meanwhile, the Redskins allow 28.8 points a game while the Giants hold foes to 19 points an outing.

Here are five story lines to follow Sunday:

1.) Robert Griffin III’s first divisional game – The rookie quarterback has taken each challenge in stride so far, and this week he said he’ll approach his first NFC East game the same way he would any other game. This likely will be one of the toughest matchups the Redskins will face all season. But so far, no moment has been too big for Griffin. Can he remain as unflappable as he expects and create more highlights?

2.) Rushing attack — Griffin leads the way for the Redskins, but everything starts with the run for Washington, whether it’s Griffin on quarterback keepers, Alfred Morris barreling through the line out of the I-formation, or the Griffin-Morris-Brandon Banks-led triple-option attack. Getting the ground game going would help set up the play-action passing game and also would help keep New York’s fearsome pass-rushers at bay. The Giants yield 106 rushing yards a game. The Redskins average 166 rushing yards per game. Things could play in Washington’s favor. New York likes to run the ball as well. Gone is Brandon Jacobs, who steam-rolled so many Redskins in the past. But Ahmad Bradshaw remains a threat, averaging 4.9 yards a carry to lead a rushing attack that averages 125 yards per game. Washington’s defense ranks among the best in the league against the run (89 ypg allowed). The defense, however, has struggled to get off the field, playing 85 and 87 snaps in each of the last two weeks.

3.) Pass protection – Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul will have their ears pinned back as they lock in on Griffin. Referring to himself and right tackle Tyler Polumbus, Washington left tackle Trent Williams said, “We’ve got our work cut out for us.” The Redskins have done a better job protecting Griffin in recent weeks, but they haven’t faced a trio like this. Look for tight ends and running backs to frequently chip in on pass protection. Griffin also will likely do a lot of rolling out to make throws on the run so he’s not a stationary target. On the other side of the ball, Washington’s defense will try to do something that few teams succeed at – sacking Eli Manning. The Giants have gone 13 quarters without surrendering a sack. A lot of it has to do with Manning’s ability to slide around in the pocket while feeling the pressure. The Redskins used a lot of creativity last week and recorded a season-high four sacks, so expect Jim Haslett to continue mixing things up.

4.) Pass coverage – The Redskins continue to allow quarterbacks to rack up yards through the air. Manning is averaging 290 yards a game, and has connected with Victor Cruz 43 times for 496 yards and six touchdowns in six games. Tight end Martellus Bennett is a big target (6-foot-6, 265 pounds), who has 20 catches for 226 yards and three touchdown catches. Washington’s defensive backs could be in for another long day. Recently they have managed to limit the big plays. Haslett also would like them to start getting more stops on third downs so teams can’t move up and down the field against them.

5.) Special teams – This hasn’t exactly been an area of stability for the Redskins, who are on their second long-snapper and second kicker, and could feature their second punter/holder of the season Sunday depending on the health of Sav Rocca, who has been limited this week by a knee injury. The team is working out former Eagle Chas Henry Friday in case Rocca can’t play. It will be interesting to see how the field goal operation goes with so many new pieces. Banks has been ineffective in the punt return game, averaging just 5.4 yards per return. The Redskins rank 31st in the league in punt return average and could use a big return or two Sunday to set up the offense with more manageable field position.

POST SPORTS LIVE: Bold predictions for Redskins-Giants game

Mike Jones covers the Washington Redskins for The Washington Post. When not writing about a Redskins development of some kind – which is rare – he can be found screaming and cheering at one of his kids’ softball, baseball, soccer or basketball games.
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