EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Sometimes it seems the NFL set its 2020 schedule so the Giants would face every one of the league's top defensive lines and/or pass rushers.
Five games into the season, the Giants' offensive line has squared off with Pittsburgh's T.J. Watt and Budd Dupree, Chicago's Khalil Mack and Robert Quinn, San Francisco's Arik Armstead, the Ram's Aaron Donald (the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year) and, last week, Dallas' DeMarcus Lawrence and Aldon Smith.
The Giants have faced four defenses currently ranked among the NFL's top nine: the Steelers (third), Rams (fourth), 49ers (fifth) and Bears (ninth). The Cowboys are the outlier at No. 27 and the Giants scored a season-high 34 points against them in a three-point loss last week.
Despite the impressive credentials of the players and defenses they've already confronted, the offensive linemen might face their most daunting challenge of the season Sunday, when the Washington Football Team invades MetLife Stadium to take on the Giants.
Washington's defensive front features five – count 'em, five – former first-round draft choices. They are starting ends Montez Sweat and rookie Chase Young (the second overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft), tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne, and reserve and long-time Giants tormentor Ryan Kerrigan (whose 11.5 sacks of Eli Manning were the second-highest total of any Giants opponent). Washington's 15 sacks are the league's sixth-highest this season.
"They have a very, very talented front," coach Joe Judge said. "Really for them, it all starts up front. We've seen a lot of teams like that this year. This team is extremely talented. Maybe the most talented, and that says a lot. They have explosive players on the edge who can play with speed, they're athletic enough to counter and come back underneath. You have to protect and prevent these guys from their counter moves and double moves. Then inside, obviously, there's the size. But it's not just the size of their D-tackles. It's really the athleticism and the short area quickness and power they can play with to shed single blocks, work through double teams, and keep pressing the pocket back into the quarterback. I don't care who you put in there. Whether it's the four that may be listed first on the depth chart or anybody else they have on their roster, they're all very, very capable players."
"It's a big challenge for us," offensive line coach Marc Columbo said. "We have to be ready for this challenge."
While the entire line will have its hands full, the most concentrated scrutiny will again be directed at left tackle Andrew Thomas, the Giants' first-round draft who was selected two spots after Young. On Sunday, they will meet on the field for the first time.
"Obviously, very talented guy, but not just him," Thomas said. "Their whole front, I think is like five first round draft picks. It's going to be a good matchup for our tackles and our inside guys. It's going to be a good game."
"I'm sure Andrew's going to be fired up for it," Colombo said. "I'm sure they'll both be fired up for it. He'll be ready for the challenge, and it will be a challenge. It's a good pass rusher, really good pass rusher. It'll be exciting to see that matchup. I'm looking forward to it."
Like all rookies, Thomas has had his share of positive and negative plays. The most visible of the latter occurred last week, when Lawrence blew by him, sacked Daniel Jones and forced a fumble that Anthony Brown returned 29 yards for a touchdown. While Colombo later used the play as a teaching tool, he was pleased with the young player's immediate reaction in the game.
"The very next play, he must've thrown his hands violently a number of times, and it was really good to see," Colombo said. "He had some fight in him. If you watch that Dallas game, he was aggressive and it's what we're looking for.
"Andrew is young. He's really young. He's going through some growing pains but he's getting better. He did a lot of good things in the game the other day. There are a few things we need to clean up. But for the most part, it's really harping on the details. Consistency in the NFL is going to be the biggest thing for all these young guys. We need to be more consistent as a group. You see it. There are flashes of it. And it's getting a little better every week."
Thomas is reserved and soft-spoken and not particularly interested in publicly critiquing himself.
"I think I see progression, but there are definitely things that I need to get better at," he said. "Things that I've been working on, just focusing on, because it's every week in the NFL. There are no days off, there are no plays off. I'm just trying to cut down my negative plays as much as possible."
That hasn't been easy with the tremendous players he has faced every week.
"I think it's actually been good for me, to see it so early so I can understand how it goes and how it is week in and week out," Thomas said. "I think that will make me better in the long run."
Those who work closely with Thomas are confident he will become a premier player.
"Andrew's doing a great job," said Will Hernandez, the guard who lines up next to him. "He's improving every single week. He's taking every single coaching point that he's given after every week. Of course, just like everybody else, you have mistakes, you mess up on things, you don't execute things at times. Everybody has that. Every single body that's ever been on the field has those problems. What's cool about him is that he learns from them every week. He corrects his mistakes, he corrects the technique and he gets better at it. That's something we really like about Andrew is he takes coaching very well."
That's good trait to have when you're preparing to block Chase Young, who has 2.5 sacks and one forced fumble this season.
"This guy, first off, he's really athletic, which enables him to do a variety of things," Judge said of Young. "His speed off the edge is very good, his reaction on the counter moves, the way he plays off contact. He has great instincts to find the ball, which is very important because this is a guy, you go to the Eagles game, they really chipped him a lot with the running back and the tackle and they try to get the double teams to slow him down. You watch him in that and his ability to spin off and get inside and really still isolate and make it a one on one matchup and get to the quarterback. He has a great knack for finding the ball in the pocket and really going and attacking the quarterbacks as they're trying to step up in the pocket. He has versatility to drop in the pass. He can really play in the zones. He has good breaking speed, he's a good tackler. This guy plays with a high motor. Look, whether it's him or Sweat on the other side, these guys come off the edge, they're dangerous players."
The kind the Giants' O-line has faced all season.
*The Giants listed three players as questionable on their final injury report of the week: wide receiver Darius Slayton (foot), defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence (knee) and safety Adrian Colbert (shoulder). Slayton and Lawrence were limited in practice today while Colbert was a full participant. The other players on the injury report are linebacker Kyler Fackrell (ankle) and safety Jabrill Peppers (ankle), who were limited in practice.
*Although clear weather is forecast for Sunday, Judge had the Giants practice outdoors today in a steady rain.
"Today is a great opportunity for us to work on fundamentals," Judge said. "When you go on wet grass, you really emphasize your players playing with their feet under them, ball security as ball handlers, quarterbacks and receivers making sure we're sharp on that. Defensive players make sure we really get our cleats in the ground, we don't slip and slide all over the place. Just in general, any chance you get the opportunity to work in weather, you have to use it, use it to your advantage. Whether it's wind, snow, rain, hard sun, whatever it may be, you may not get this opportunity again. The next time we see rain may be in a game on Sunday. So, we always use every situation we have to prepare ourselves."
*The Giants have launched "A Giant Hero" campaign, presented by Quest Diagnostics, in which fans can nominate frontline workers for their efforts during the coronavirus pandemic. Simply fill out the form at Giants.com/gianthero and provide a description of how this person is a hero in the community. Submissions will be accepted from Tuesday, October 13, through Friday, October 23.
View rare photos of the all-time series between the New York Giants and the Washington Football Team.