1. Colt McCoy’s health, performance: The quarterback left last week’s game with a sprained neck after sustaining a blindside hit in the fourth quarter. He is expected to start despite entering the week unable to move his neck. Improvement has come daily, his throwing motion has not been affected, and he has received the green light from doctors. But can McCoy absorb contact and play effectively? The Redskins were shut out by the Rams last week, and McCoy said it was the first time in his life that he had failed to lead an offense to scoring drives. He must get back on track with the efficient play that he displayed in his previous outings if he wants to remain the starter.
2. Pass coverage: Eli Manning threw four touchdown passes and connected with tight end Larry Donnell early and often in the Giants’ earlier victory. The Redskins continue to struggle to cover tight ends, thanks largely to communication issues between their defensive backs and linebackers. Washington’s defensive backs also must brace for talented rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr., who was injured and did not play in their last meeting. And of course, Washington’s pass rushers must have an effective day as they try to harass Manning to ease pressure on the secondary.
3. Morris’s production: Running back Alfred Morris seemed to have turned the corner as the second half of the season began, running with the authority he showed in his first two seasons. But all of that went out the window last week. The Rams limited Morris to one yard in six first-half carries, stacking the box with eight and nine defenders. Sunday, the Redskins must do a better job of establishing the run, because that in turn helps them in the play-action passing attack. It’s extremely important that the offensive line does better than last week. They did not attack with any signs of aggression or authority last week and instead got knocked off the line. That is a recipe for disaster whether you’re running or passing.
4. Special teams blunders: The beleaguered unit is coming off one of its worst performances of the season, surrendering a 78-yard punt return, and giving up a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. Coordinator Ben Kotwica must get more out of his players. He was brought in to instill discipline and aggression, and so far, very little of that has shown. The struggling offense could use better field position, and the defense would benefit if the coverage units pinned the Giants deep in their own territory. That should lead to more aggressive play-calling from defensive coordinator Jim Haslett.
5. Jay Gruden’s leadership/decision-making: The coach has continued to preach accountability and the need for greater effort, concentration and execution. But his message is not getting through. The first-year coach must do a better job of setting the tone for his players on Sunday. Gruden also must do a better job of setting up his offense for success. Several desperate, head-scratcher decisions in the last couple weeks have wound up crippling the unit. Last week more than ever, it appeared that Gruden was in over his head. Early in the season, he showed his skills as a game planner and play caller, but he appears to have few answers at the season has dragged on. It’ll also be interesting to see how Gruden handles McCoy. If the quarterback struggles, will the pressure from ownership and management prompt Gruden to pull his hand-picked passer in favor of Robert Griffin III?