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Giants vs. Washington: 5 Storylines to follow 


The Giants will welcome the Washington Football Team to MetLife Stadium on Sunday for the team's second consecutive NFC East showdown.

The Giants are still looking for their first win of the season after losing a heartbreaker on a last-second field goal by Cowboys kicker Greg Zuerlein last week. After defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1, Washington has lost four consecutive games, leaving them at 1-4 heading into this one.

Here are five story lines to follow heading into this game:

Getting Daniel Jones going

It's been a bit of a rocky start to the season for Daniel Jones. After throwing for 279 yards and two touchdowns against an elite Steelers defense in Week 1, Jones has gone four straight games without a touchdown pass. The second-year quarterback has averaged 208 yards over the last four weeks while accumulating six turnovers (three interceptions, three fumbles).

While the stat sheet may not show it, Jones has also had many good moments. He rushed for over 20 yards in each of the first four games, including two consecutive outings with 45 or more yards on the ground (Weeks 3 and 4). In addition, Jones has earned a 74.5 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, good for the 13th-highest mark among NFL quarterbacks. This is especially impressive when considering four of the five defenses the Giants have faced rank within the Top 10 in points and yards allowed.

The Washington pass defense has been a mixed bag in 2020. The unit is allowing an average of 226.8 passing yards per game, which ranks in the Top 10 in the NFL. However, Ron Rivera's defense has surrendered nine passing touchdowns through five games, ranking 19th in the league. In last week's loss to the Rams, Washington allowed Jared Goff to complete 70 percent of his passes for 309 yards, two touchdowns and one interception, and the WFT also surrendered a rushing score to the quarterback.

"Look, we have all the confidence in the world in the guys on our roster, and we have a lot of confidence in Daniel as well," Giants head coach Joe Judge said Wednesday. "Listen, just my personality, the personality of this coaching staff, is we're very blunt, open and honest. I'm not really sitting here trying to sell you a car. We're not recruiting you to college. I'm going to tell you the truth every day. You have to be mentally tough to handle that, you have to understand the criticism that we're giving to you, and you have to be able to take the coaching and move forward with it.

"I'll tell you what, No. 8 does that very well for us. He's a tough-minded dude. He responds to a lot of criticism on the outside. But he blocks that out and he plays for his teammates internally. Those guys respect that about him."

Continue to establish the run game

The Giants got their best individual rushing performance of the season against the Cowboys when Devonta Freeman ran for 60 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries (3.5 yards per carry). Freeman had taken 16 total carries for just 43 yards in the previous two games, showing an improved performance by the O-line in getting some push up front. The PFF analytics backed this notion up as both Cam Fleming and Andrew Thomas graded 70+ in run blocking against Dallas.

Freeman's score last week was only the team's second rushing touchdown by a running back this year - Dion Lewis punched it in from the 1 against the Bears in Week 2. The Giants added another rushing score in Dallas when Evan Engram took an end-around into the end zone from the 3. Freeman's 19 touches were also the most by a running back since Saquon Barkley received 15 carries and caught six passes in Week 1.

The Giants have an opportunity to continue to establish the run game this Sunday against a Washington defense that has struggled against the run the last few weeks. After limiting the Eagles to 57 yards on the ground in Week 1, Washington has given up an average of 147.8 rushing yards over the last four games, with each opponent totaling at least 129 rushing yards.

Hitting on explosive plays

From Weeks 1 through 4, the Giants' offense averaged 11.75 points per game, including a two-week stretch in which they were kept out of the end zone. While the lack of scoring production can't be blamed on one thing completely, the offense's lack of explosive plays has certainly played a part in it.

Last season, Daniel Jones completed 39 passes of 20 or more yards in only 12 games. He had seven passes of 40 or more yards. In Year 2, Jones has recorded 11 passes of 20 or more yards and completed one pass of 40+ more yards (Darius Slayton's 41-yard TD vs. the Steelers).

Washington's defense has done well in limiting passing yards, ranking 7th in the league in that statistic. However, they have been susceptible to big plays. Washington has allowed 17 passing plays of 20 or more yards, tied for the 6th-most in the NFL. When it comes to passing plays of 40 or more yards, Washington is tied for the league lead having allowed six such plays. However, the defense features two very talented edge players in Chase Young and Montez Sweat, meaning Jones will have to make quick decisions on Sunday. Washington ranks sixth in the NFL with 16 sacks on the season.

"You talk about them defensively, it really starts up front with the edge players and the interior," Judge said about Washington's defense. "They have a number of first round draft picks on their line. They have a lot of very capable players. That, complemented by their corners and their playmaking safeties, really gives them fits for opposing offenses.

"They do a good job producing pressure up front and capitalizing on the opportunities produced from up front. This is a team that can get after you with just the front four. They can bring pressure, they do a really good job with their movement schemes, and they change up throughout the game."

Preparing for whoever's under center

Washington has already had several changes at quarterback this season. Second-year pro Dwayne Haskins started under center in the team's first four games, completing 61.0 percent of his passes for an average of 234.8 yards and one touchdown. But Ron Rivera decided to bench Haskins prior to Week 5, handing the keys to Kyle Allen.

Allen was with Rivera in Carolina last year and ended up filling in for the injured Cam Newton for most of the season. Allen went 5-7 in 12 starts, finishing with a 62.0 completion percentage, 3,322 yards, 17 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. In his first start with Washington last week, Allen was 9-for-13 (69.2 percent) for 74 yards against the Rams before leaving the game with an arm injury. This paved the way for veteran Alex Smith to make his first appearance in two years following his devastating leg injury in 2018. Smith went 9-for-17 (52.9 percent) for 37 yards. Rivera has made it abundantly clear that if Allen, who was a full participant in practice Wednesday, is healthy, he will remain the team's starting quarterback.

The Giants' defense has played well against the pass this season, ranking 11th in passing yards and 12th in touchdowns allowed.

Limiting Washington's playmakers

Washington's offense has struggled to produce this season. The unit ranks 30th in points scored (17.8 avg.) and 32nd in yards (263 avg.), but has some talent.

Wide receiver Terry McLaurin was explosive in his rookie campaign. The 2019 third-round pick started 14 games and caught 58 passes for 919 yards and seven touchdowns. Through the first five games of the 2020 season, McLaurin has reeled in 29 catches for 413 yards and a touchdown. Rookie running back Antonio Gibson, the 66th overall pick in this year's draft, has rushed the ball 55 times for 213 yards (3.9 yards per carry) and three touchdowns while adding 15 receptions for 122 yards. In addition, fellow running back J.D. McKissic has earned a big role in Washington's passing game as of late. Over the last three weeks, McKissic has been targeted 20 times, catching 16 of those passes for 123 yards.

The Giants have done a tremendous job of limiting opponents' primary wide receivers, thanks largely to the play of James Bradberry. The veteran corner has shut down the likes of JuJu Smith Schuster, Allen Robinson and Amari Cooper through the first five games, earning an 85.7 overall grade from Pro Football Focus, which ranks second among NFL cornerbacks.

The Giants' defense ranks 15th in the league in rushing yards allowed, surrendering an average of 110.6 rushing yards per game. They've been solid in limiting opposing backs in the passing game lately, having allowed just one reception for 14 yards to Ezekiel Elliott and two receptions for 2 yards to Tony Pollard last week.

"Offensively, obviously, (Scott) Turner is doing a really good job of moving the pieces around," said Judge. "That's a great catch and run team. (Terry) McLaurin is one of the top guys in the league at catching short passes, turning them into basically a punt return, getting into space. This is an elite screen team. Whether it's running the ball between the tackles or getting us into space, they're going to get it to the running backs as much as they can and they're going to get them moving."

View photos from the all-time series between the New York Giants and the Washington Commanders.


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