– Jim Bearor
Kirk Cousins and an 0-2 Washington team will head into the Meadowlands on Sunday, and their hopes of defending their NFC East title already is kinda sorta in the balance. It’s a long season, but a loss here would put them three games behind the Giants with an 0-2 divisional record. Big Blue has an opportunity to start 3-0 for the first time since 2009, or they’ll fall back to the pack and restore disorder to the NFC East. This is one of those games that only gains importance in the months after it’s played. But even just looking at it in the scope of the 2-3 Week old season, this is a big deal.
Kirk Cousins might only be a bad game or two away from being completely ostracized by his teammates. Odell Beckham Jr. has posted fairly pedestrian stats to this point, and he’s (probably) about to be tested by his potential-nemesis Josh Norman for the first time since Norman joined the Washington Professional Football Team this offseason. The Giants offensive line is still fighting for credibility, even though the defense they’re facing – especially up front – is arguably no better than those of the Cowboys or Saints. Washington has scarcely handed the ball off, and the impressive run defense of New York will do their best to keep it out of the equation.
Jay Gruden’s team is going into Week 3 with the least balanced offensive attack in the league. Washington has only rushed the ball on 24.6 percent of their snaps, and while they have been trailing for a larger-than-desired portion of their season, not all of their ground woes can be attributed to playing from behind. Cousins has managed to put up yardage, but he has been very inefficient so far in 2016. His poor accuracy and his tendency to lead short unfulfilling drives have the offense all out of whack. The organization has acknowledged the lopsidedness of the offense, and we can expect a shift in coming weeks, but I don’t know if that change in approach would do them any good this weekend.
The defensive line of the Giants has been a black hole for running backs to this point. Hankins and Harrison have done a great job of clogging up the middle in the first two weeks. Jason Pierre-Paul looks great and is the best of the front four, according to PFF. Olivier Vernon has gone toe-to-toe against two of the league’s premier left tackles in Tyron Smith and Terron Armstead, and performed admirably. I’m going to go out on a limb and say this is the worst offensive line New York has faced so far, even though Washington does seem to have a good squad.
Cousins has been well-protected (only 2 sacks so far), and PFF and FBO agree that Washington’s offensive linemen have been able to get some push in the mostly-neglected run game. This would give me pause if the Giants rolled out last years group, but now this is a battle I foresee Big Blue winning. Time changes things, I guess. I think they’ll stuff the run for the third week in a row and force Kirk Cousins to beat them while he’s under pressure. If this unit can execute and put the clamps on the ground game, I will be making giddy little squealing noises (like what you’d hear from dolphins or guinea pigs) every time Cousins drops back to pass. Spagnuolo will be sending the heat, and Cousins do well with pressure. I’m aware that this matchup is only a piece of the big picture, but if New York’s front four can come close to matching their pace from Weeks 1 and 2, not much else matters.
Washington’s defense has been bad up to this point, and the biggest enemy of New York’s offense is itself. Last week’s matchup with the Saints saw three fumbles and some red zone stalling from the boys in blue, but in both of their games so far, their play has inspired confidence in Eli Manning and the receiving corps. Victor Cruz has been a consistent contributor, Shephard is living up to the hype, and Beckham hasn’t completely fallen of the map either. The offensive line has managed to keep a clean pocket for Eli, and as a result of that, he’s been the most accurate passer in the league through two games. Things aren’t so pretty when the Giants line up to run the ball though.
Rashad Jennings (who is banged up now) and Shane Vereen split carries against New Orleans, and neither one of them were able to get into a rhythm. If they struggle to pick up chunks of yardage on first and second down again, it puts the passing game in undesirable positions like third and long. This is akin to the issues I’ve mentioned about Washington’s offense, but I have more confidence in the Giants. Yes, I’m biased. I also have seen it from players like Eli, OBJ, and Cruz, so it’s easier for me to imagine. Desean Jackson scares me and has scarred me, but I don’t believe in Cousins and I doubt I ever will, because I think his window is closing.
As for Norman and Beckham, I have heard rumors that Norman will be shadowing him for the majority of the game, but I don’t think it matters much either way. If Eli plays well, he’ll be going through his progressions and hitting other open receivers instead of trying to force the ball to Odell to make a statement. That being said, there probably will be a jump ball or two that decides who “wins” this chapter between Beckham and Norman, and I’m sure we’ll hear way to much about it in the post game chatter. Oh well, go Giants.
NYG: 27 – WAS: 14
– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)