The Giants are coming off a heartbreaking 25-23 loss to the Buccaneers on Monday Night Football. After Daniel Jones led a 13-play, 70-yard touchdown drive in the final four minutes, a pass interference flag was picked up on a failed two-point attempt to end the game. Tampa Bay was held to 25 points after averaging 35 points per game over the previous four weeks.
Washington is coming off its Week 8 bye. Before the week off, Ron Rivera's squad snapped a five-game losing streak by defeating the Dallas Cowboys, 25-3. Dallas was held to just 142 total yards, including only 59 net passing yards.
This Week 9 matchup against Washington serves as the Giants' fourth division game of the season and their fourth in five weeks. It will be Washington's third NFC East game in four weeks.
Here are five story lines to follow heading into this battle:
DJ's ball security
Daniel Jones completed 61 percent of his passes for 256 yards and two touchdowns against the Buccaneers. The 256 passing yards was the most Jones has thrown for since Week 1, when he finished with 279 passing yards against the Steelers. Monday's game also represented the third time and the second in as many weeks that he's thrown for multiple touchdowns. Jones added 20 yards on the ground on three rushes, marking the seventh time he has ran for 20+ yards this season.
Jones also threw two costly interceptions in the second half that led to 10 points. He has a turnover in every game this season (nine interceptions and four fumbles).
"Daniel is our quarterback. What we have to do is make sure we keep improving everything around him, and that we coach every player the same way," head coach Joe Judge said after the game. "I told Daniel on both times those plays happened tonight to be patient with it, stay committed to it, we're going to need you down the stretch, we're going to need you to make plays. And obviously, in that final drive, he made a lot of big plays for us. We just got to keep moving on, things happen in games, we're not going to go and tolerate everyone on the team having a one-off type of deal, we can't have one-offs as a coaching staff, we all have to hold ourselves accountable, and the man next to us accountable. But Daniel is our quarterback, clearly put."
The last time Washington took the field, the defense held Andy Dalton to 75 passing yards on 9-of-19 passing. Following Dalton's injury, Ben DiNucci stepped in and went 2-of-3 for 39 yards. This strong performance by Washington's pass defense came a week after the unit held Daniel Jones to 112 yards on a 63.2 completion percentage in Week 6. Washington's defense ranks first in the league in passing yards allowed (185.9 avg.), and is tied for seventh in passing touchdowns allowed (10) and tied for eighth in interceptions.
Establishing the run
The Giants' rushing production against the Bucs was more impressive than it would appear. Tampa Bay sports the league's top rush defense and entered the Week 8 matchup having allowed just 435 yards over its first seven games. The Giants were able to gain 101 yards on 24 carries (4.2 avg.), well above the 3.2 yards per attempt Tampa has given up this year.
With Devonta Freeman sidelined with an ankle injury, Wayne Gallman led the backfield with 12 attempts for 44 yards and a touchdown. Veteran back Alfred Morris was elevated from the practice squad prior to the game and gained 28 yards on eight carries. Jones added three carries for 20 yards and has already topped his rookie rushing numbers (45 for 279 yards), gaining 316 yards on 34 rushes (9.3 avg. and 39.5 per game).
Washington heads into Week 9 allowing an average of 123.3 rushing yards per game, ranking 17th in the league, while surrendering eight rushing touchdowns. Prior to the Week 7 win over the Cowboys, Washington had allowed 129+ rushing yards in five consecutive games. In the Week 6 meeting between the division foes, Jones rushed for 74 yards on seven carries while Freeman took 18 rush attempts for 61 yards, giving the Giants 135 rushing yards for the game.
Continued development of the rookie offensive linemen
Following Will Hernandez's placement on the Reserve/COVID-19 list last week, rookie guard Shane Lemieux started the first game of his NFL career. Lemieux represented the third rookie offensive lineman to start a game for the Giants this season, the first time this has happened for Big Blue since 2003. The fifth-round pick had a difficult assignment in Buccaneers DT Ndamukong Suh, but he held his own.
"Shane got in last night, he definitely had a good first job out there, moving around and getting caught up with some things," Judge told reporters this week. "There are some things to clean up with Shane, obviously. But I'll tell you what, the level of competitiveness he plays with, some nasty, he definitely gave us some juice in there. Look, you line up for your first snap in the NFL and you're seeing Ndamukong Suh across from you right there, that's a 'welcome to the NFL, buddy.' But this guy didn't blink. He didn't shy away from anything. He really answered the bell for us."
Matt Peart was on the field for 24 offensive snaps in Week 8, including 14 pass blocking snaps. Peart didn't allow any pressures on those snaps and earned a 79.0 pass blocking grade from Pro Football Focus. Peart has been on the field for 74 offensive snaps this year and earned an 81.1 overall grade from PFF, including a strong 87.4 run blocking grade. Andrew Thomas played all 74 offensive snaps at left tackle Monday. He allowed four pressures on 49 pass blocking snaps and received a 65.7 pass blocking grade from PFF, the highest pass blocking grade the rookie left tackle has earned this year.
"I saw some good improvement from all three of those guys tonight," Judge said. "Some of the good things is we don't notice them being out there particularly, that means that things are going in the right direction."
Washington has done a great job of getting after the quarterbacks, ranking sixth in the league with 22 sacks. Second-year edge rusher Montez Sweat leads the way with five sacks in seven games, including two in the Week 7 win over Dallas. Veteran DE Ryan Kerrigan is right behind Sweat with 4.0 sacks, while No. 2 overall pick Chase Young has recorded 2.5. Washington also has some talented pass rushers in the middle with Jonathan Allen and Da'Ron Payne, both of whom have registered seasons with 5.0+ sacks in their young careers.
View rare photos of the all-time series between the New York Giants and the Washington Commanders.
Stingy red zone defense
The Giants' defense has played well throughout the first half of the season. Entering this game, Big Blue ranks in the top half of the league in points (14th) and yards (13th) allowed.
One week after gaining 454 total yards of offense against the Raiders, Tampa Bay was able to gain just 344 total yards against the Giants. Big Blue allowed just two touchdowns on Monday while forcing the Bucs to kick four field goals, matching kicker Ryan Succop's season-high. Patrick Graham's unit has come through for the Giants when opponents have crossed midfield, especially in the red zone. On 33 red zone attempts this season, the defense has allowed 18 touchdowns, giving them a red zone percentage of 54.5 percent, the sixth-best mark in the league. The defense has held opponents to 22 points or less in four of the last seven weeks.
"Pat Graham is one of the best defensive coordinators out there," linebacker Blake Martinez said after Monday's game. "His ability to design a game and understand and adjust throughout the game has been amazing throughout the whole season. And then, all the guys out there on defense, no matter who is out there, works their butt off every single day, understands what we need to do in certain situations. Obviously we're not perfect, but to be able to go out there and do what we did today is something we can build off of."
Washington's offense has had some success capitalizing on trips into the red zone. Through their first seven games, Washington has gotten into the red zone 21 times and scored 13 touchdowns, good for a 61.9 red zone percentage (17th in the NFL). The unit scored touchdowns on 2-of-4 trips against the Cowboys after going 1-of-2 against the Giants the prior week.
Slowing down Washington's RBs
The last time they took the field, Washington's running backs went off against a struggling Cowboys defense. Rookie third-round pick Antonio Gibson led the way with 20 carries for 128 yards (6.4 yards per carry) and a touchdown. His rush attempts, rushing yards and average yards per carry were career-highs. J.D. McKissic also received some carries, gaining 35 yards on five rushes (7.0 avg.) while adding two receptions for 16 yards.
In the Week 6 meeting between these two teams, the Giants were able to limit Gibson to just 30 yards on nine carries (3.3 avg.) and four receptions for 25 yards. However, McKissic had more success against the Big Blue defense, taking eight carries for 41 yards (5.1 avg.) while catching six passes for 43 yards. On the season, Gibson has been the more productive back on the ground, totaling 371 yards on 84 rush attempts (4.4 avg.) to McKissic's 32 carries for 151 yards. But both backs have played a big role in Washington's passing offense. Through seven games, Gibson has 19 receptions for 147 yards while McKissic has caught 25 passes for 183 yards.
The performance against the run has been one of the strong suits of the Giants' defense this year. Entering Week 9, the Giants rank eighth in the league with 102.0 rushing yards allowed per game and fourth with 3.7 yards allowed per carry. In last week's game against Tampa Bay, Leonard Fournette was held to 52 yards on 15 carries (3.5 avg.) and three receptions for 19 yards. Ronald Jones finished the game with seven attempts for 23 yards (3.3 avg.) and four receptions for 23 yards. The Giants have held five of their previous six opponents to under 100 rushing yards, including their last three.