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NFL Preview - Washington (3-3) at NY Giants (4-2)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Judas Priest said decades ago he's on the top "as long as the music's loud."
Well, the music must be blaring for the New York Giants because they're perched alone atop the NFC East standings. The Giants, though, look to avoid falling into an 0-3 hole in division play when they host the rival Washington Redskins Sunday afternoon from MetLife Stadium.
The Giants lost to Dallas in Week 1 and later dropped a decision in Philadelphia on Sept. 30, but their 4-2 record is the best in the NFC East -- one game better than the Redskins and Eagles. The defending Super Bowl champions will visit the Cowboys next Sunday.
Since opening the season with a loss to Dallas, New York has won four of five games and is fresh off this past weekend's beating of the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park. In a rematch of last year's NFC Championship Game won by the Giants on the same field, the defense refused to allow the 'Niners to exact revenge by holding them to 314 yards, including just 80 rushing.
Giants safety Antrel Rolle had two of the stop unit's three interceptions, with cornerback Prince Amukamara registering the other pick. Jason Pierre-Paul chipped in on the harassment of 49ers quarterback Alex Smith by posting a pair of sacks. New York sacked Smith and Colin Kaepernick six times in the 26-3 victory. After San Francisco opened the scoring with a field goal, the Giants' defense did the rest and the offense piled up 26 unanswered points.
"All week coach preached that we have to come out here and do our jobs, don't try to do anything extra," Pierre-Paul said afterward. "And that's what we did. We kept saying it's coming, it's coming, even though nobody expected us to win. But as a team we know where we stand and we're just getting better and better each day."
Pierre-Paul had only 1 1/2 sacks in the first five games of the season and leads the team with 3 1/2. New York suffocated San Francisco's heralded ground game by holding Frank Gore to 36 yards on eight carries and allowing only 80 yards on the ground. The 49ers couldn't do much in the second half and were forced to pass most of the time. They ran the ball 17 times.
New York has held opponents to less than 85 rushing yards in four of the previous five games.
The Giants had 37 rushing plays and 149 yards on the ground thanks to Ahmad Bradshaw, who had another big day with 116 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries. In a previous win versus Cleveland, Bradshaw racked up seasons highs of 200 yards on 30 touches and a touchdown. His effort Sunday pushed the Giants to ninth in the league with 125.0 rushing yards per game. The Giants are 10-0 when Bradshaw hits the century mark in rushing.
"Just stick to the run and something's going to open," Bradshaw said. "We knew when we came out the second half, we knew if we came out strong and ran the ball that we could make some things happen. We came in and talked about it at halftime and we were able to figure some things out."
Because of the successful ground attack, Eli Manning didn't have to do much and went 15-for-28 with a season-low 193 passing yards and one touchdown. Manning could be in for a big passing game versus the Redskins because they are ranked last in the league against the pass, allowing 328.3 ypg. The Giants are averaging nearly 300 yards through the air each week (289.7). Washington, though, is eighth in run defense (88.8 ypg).
Another statistic to observe is total yards. New York is third with 414.7 per game and the Redskins are 27th, yielding 417.2.
The Redskins will play back-to-back games on the road and really need to tighten up their defense, which is one of the worst in the league except for defending the run. But they must devise an authoritative plan to slow down Bradshaw regardless of how well they're playing in that category.
In Sunday's 38-26 victory over the Minnesota Vikings, the Redskins allowed 94 rushing yards and have kept opposing teams under the century mark over the past four weeks. They have done that five times in six games in 2012.
Safety Madieu Williams had a 24-yard interception return for a touchdown and Lorenzo Alexander had 1 1/2 sacks for a defense that recorded four on the day. The Redskins have four defensive scores on the season. DeAngelo Hall registered an interception and London Fletcher ended with two of the Redskins' six deflected passes.
"They made a lot of plays," Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan said of the defense. "We had obviously a turnover for a touchdown, we had a turnover at the 6-yard line. They stepped up and made some plays. A number of people made plays today."
Shanahan should still be concerned with the defense's inability to defend the pass, stop teams from scoring (29th, 28.8 ppg) and racking up yards (27th, 417.2 ypg). Washington has surrendered 421 yards of total offense in consecutive weeks against Atlanta and Minnesota -- two surprise teams in the NFC. Now the Giants are on the docket and can do even more damage.
Washington, which will play its first division game this Sunday and halted an eight-game home losing streak, has on offense that can be reckoned with as well. Rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III has led the offensive resurgence with both his legs and arm, and ran for 138 yards on 13 carries with two TD runs, including a game-sealing 76-yard scoring scamper with less than three minutes to go. Griffin is second in the NFL with six rushing touchdowns and Washington is first with 11 total.
RG3 only passed for 182 yards with a TD and an interception, and is first in the NFL with a 70.2 completion percentage and third with a 100.5 QB rating. Griffin also played after taking a huge hit in a loss to the Falcons the week before. The elusive signal caller has caught the eyes of every defensive coordinator in the league and, most importantly, his coach.
"He puts pressure on the defense. Hopefully we can keep growing on offense and he keeps growing," Shanahan said. "He knows what's best for the football team."
The Redskins, slated to visit Pittsburgh next week, are second in the NFL in rushing (166.0) thanks to Griffin and second in points scored (29.7). They evened their mark at 3-3 and sit tied with Philadelphia for second in the division behind the G-men.
Washington swept the 2011 season series from the Giants, who had won the past six matchups dating back to 2008. In 15 career games against the Redskins, Manning owns 3,250 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, a 55.2 completion percentage and a 72.5 QB rating.
"They're a division rival and we just want to go out there and do the best we can against them," Redskins veteran receiver Santana Moss said. "We know that they're the Super Bowl champs and all that other stuff comes with it, but it's New York.
"They're in the NFC East and we've got to take care of business."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Manning was truly awful against the Redskins a year ago, throwing for 525 yards in two games with four interceptions and no touchdowns. He was sacked seven times in last year's season series with a 2011-low 56.8 rating. Manning has been solid this season and has unfinished business on his mind. Manning, who is third in passing yards (1,772), eighth with a 94.9 rating and 12th with a 63.6 completion percentage, hasn't been sacked in three straight games.
The Giants did not have a turnover for the second time this season. They have won their last nine regular-season games -- three postseason games -- in which they did not commit a turnover. New York must keep Manning unscathed and got a big boost with tackle David Diehl returning from a knee injury. Sean Locklear made his fourth straight start at right tackle against the 'Niners. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks was back in action after a foot and knee issue, and gives the team an added boost against Washington's weak pass defense. Don't forget about Victor Cruz, whose got five TDs in his last three games.
New York's line must prepare for Redskins linebacker Ryan Kerrigan. Kerrigan has a team-high 3 1/2 sacks for a Washington team that has intercepted a pass in seven consecutive games.
"NFC East games are always a battle," Kerrigan said. "They're a lot of fun to play in, too, because so much is on the line each NFC East game, and it's good to get a win this week to boost our confidence going into the Giants game."
As good as New York's offense is, so is Washington's.
Griffin III will keep the defense on its heels and may force Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell to use a spy, much like teams used to do with Donovan McNabb or a younger Michael Vick. RG3 draws similarities to both and has the ability to improvise when things go awry. Griffin, who tied a career high in rushing attempts (13) and set a career high with 138 rushing yards with two rushing TDs, has a team record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a single season so far (379 yards).
He won't be able to break a 76-yard TD run every week, but his scramble Sunday was longest by a quarterback since Kordell Stewart rushed for an 80-yard touchdown against Carolina on Dec. 22, 1996. Because of Griffin III the 'Skins are one of the best in rushing, points scored and total yards (5th, 394.0).
The Giants may get some ammunition on the defensive side of the ball, as defensive lineman Rocky Bernard and Chris Canty could return from injury.
There should be no shortage of offense when these two rivals collide this weekend. In a matchup of elite NFC quarterbacks, it will be settled on which defense breaks first. And in this case it will be Washington's. Griffin will deliver his usual weekly stats, but turnovers will be the deciding factor. New York's ground attack may be too much for the Redskins to handle.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Giants 26, Redskins 19
10/18 11:58:56 ET