The Washington Redskins (0-2) travel to MetLife Stadium to face the New York Giants (2-0) in their first road game of the season. The poor start has caused frustration in the locker room and unrest among fans. An 0-3 start — and an 0-2 start to division play — would trigger full-blown panic. Here are five story lines to follow:
1. The feud resumes: The Redskins are expected to task Josh Norman, arguably the NFL’s top cornerback, with covering Odell Beckham Jr., arguably the league’s top receiver. Trash talking and shoving highlighted their last meeting, a Week 15 matchup at MetLife Stadium, and yielded three penalties on Beckham and one on Norman. Ideally Sunday’s resumption of the rivalry will bring out the best in each other without leading to a slug-fest that lands either or both on the bench. Norman, signed to a five-year, $75 million deal in the offseason, has been the Redskins’ best defensive player so far. While no single defensive back can win a game, shutting down the Giants’ top receiver would go a long way toward keeping Washington in the game.
2. Pressure up front: The Redskins’ offensive line has done a terrific job buying time for quarterback Kirk Cousins, whose rocky start can’t be attributed in any way to poor protection. Expect Cousins’s window to tighten Sunday against the Giants, who, unlike the Redskins, invested heavily in their defensive front in the offseason spending a reported $141 million to bolster its defensive line. Cousins will have to be sharper than he has been through two games. Moreover, Giants’ new-look defensive front, anchored by ends Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, represents the biggest test to date for the Redskins offensive line and a running game that has hardly been given a chance to make an impact.
3. Jackson’s health: The chief reason for Redskins fans to be optimistic about their team’s chances of repeating as NFC East champions at the season’s outset was the deep, talented corps of receivers. To date, Cousins hasn’t taken full advantage. While his 693 passing yards rank fourth in the NFL, apart from a 57-yarder to rookie Josh Doctson, Cousins hasn’t thrown a ball over 40 yards. Wide receiver DeSean Jackson is his most explosive target, but Jackson was limited in practice this week by knee and ankle injuries suffered in the third quarter of the 27-23 loss to Dallas. Jackson said Thursday he intends to play Sunday. If he’s full-go, the Redskins’ big-play potential is vastly improved.
4. Balancing the play-calling: Through two games, the Redskins offense has employed a 25-75 run-pass formula. It has been a losing formula, resulting in a predictable, one-dimensional offense (why should opponents fear the run, when the Redskins have carried the ball less on than 25 percent of their plays?) and tiring out Washington’s defense, which lacks the depth up front to slog for 33 minutes a game. Sunday at MetLife Stadium will be a tough time and place to run it, given the Giants’ beefed up defensive front. But the Redskins must mount a semblance of a threat, with more carries for second-year back Matt Jones, who’s well suited to pound the ball in the red zone.
5. The Giants’ triplets: The brash-talking, big-playing Beckham may get the headlines, but he’s hardly the only explosive target at the disposal of Giants quarterback Eli Manning. Salsa dancing returned to the NFL in Week 1 with Victor Cruz’s first touchdown reception since being sidelined two years by surgeries on his right knee and a torn calf muscle. Also making noise is rookie Sterling Shepard, a second-round pick from Oklahoma, who has 11 catches for a team-high 160 yards. All told, the trio accounts for 31 receptions and represents a handful for the Redskins defensive backfield. So there’s no reason for Bashaud Breeland to feel left out if Norman tracks Beckham all day. Breeland is sure to have plenty on his plate.
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