By Paul Dottino
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The Giants have a nationally televised road game against the Washington Redskins on Sunday night. That’s right, the rival Redskins.
Regardless of how anybody feels about the Giants’ very dim playoff possibilities, there is no doubt about the heat between each of the teams in the NFC East – no matter the strength or weakness of the division.
Washington coach Mike Shanahan already has thrown down the gauntlet in threatening some of his players’ future employment, although there’s no guarantee that he’ll be back himself.
Here are three keys to watch for in this weekend’s matchup:
1. Redskins RB Alfred Morris vs. Giants’ front seven. Washington prefers to get Morris to the outside whenever possible – not necessarily by running around the edges, but often inside the tackle and then making one cut to the outside and darting upfield. That’s a wise strategy against the Giants since MLB Jon Beason and the defensive tackles have done a very strong job of stuffing the run. Morris (third in NFL with 970 rushing yards) owns a 5-yard average and often does not go down until the second or even a third tackler get to him, so it will require a team effort to get the job done. Th Giants still haven’t allowed a 100-yard back since Carolina’s DeAngelo Williams in Week 3. Morris ran for 120 and 122 yards (each time on 22 carries) as a rookie against the Giants last season.
2. Giants RB Andre Brown vs. Redskins MLB London Fletcher. Brown is coming off his second 100-yard game in three contests and the Giants are trying to build off their first 200-yard rushing effort as a team in three seasons. The availability of Brandon Jacobs remains clouded because of his sore left knee, so Brown likely will be asked to carry the bulk of the load. Peyton Hillis may be called upon, as well. Fletcher (98 tackles) remains the anchor of a rushing defense that’s allowing 111.5 yards per game (14th in the NFL). While Fletcher may not be as quick or mobile as he once was, he remains savvy and makes the correct reads to clog the appropriate rushing lanes.
3. Giants WR Victor Cruz vs. Redskins LCB DeAngelo Hall. Hall has had somewhat of a bounce-back season, registering 75 tackles (third on the team) with three interceptions and a team-leading 12 passes defensed. Cruz was held to two catches for 27 yards against Dallas and has just one 100-yard game since Week 4 against Kansas City, the last team to allow him into the end zone. The Giants no longer can count on WR Hakeem Nicks (abdomen) to be available or to bank on how effective he might be – that’s a problem because a lack of production from Nicks has coincided with fewer big plays/touchdowns from Cruz over the past two seasons.
PREDICTION: Giants 27, Redskins 20
PREDICTION VS. THE SPREAD: 7-4