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Players to Watch: Youth trending up

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The Giants are entering the final stretch with six games remaining on the regular season schedule.

Big Blue will take the field in front of the home crowd on Sunday when the Washington Commanders come to town riding a three-game winning streak. This matchup is the second of four consecutive games against NFC East opponents, with a game against the Philadelphia Eagles and another against the Commanders on deck.

The Giants have seen some young players step up in recent weeks and hope to see that trend continue in this crucial Week 13 contest.

Here are five players to watch in the NFC East showdown:

WR Darius Slayton

Darius Slayton has developed into the team's most consistent wide receiver throughout the 2022 season. Since the Week 5 win over the Packers in London, the fourth-year receiver has totaled 26 receptions for 465 yards and two touchdowns. Slayton has finished with at least 58 receiving yards in five consecutive games and six out of the last seven. In last week's loss to the Cowboys, the 25-year-old caught the team's first completion of 40+ air yards this season, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Slayton was listed as DNP on Thursday's injury report due to an illness.

In six career games against Washington, Slayton has caught 10 passes for 143 yards and three touchdowns, the most scores he has against any team in the league. The Commanders' defense has performed well this season, ranking 10th in points and eighth in yards allowed. Their pass defense ranks 10th, but opposing wide receivers have found success against them. Falcons WR Olamide Zaccheaus caught five passes for 91 yards last week, while Texans WR Brandin Cooks finished with 70 receiving yards the week prior. In fact, they've allowed at least one opposing wide receiver to reach 65 or more receiving yards in five consecutive games.

Once again, the New York Giants are bringing back their classic blue uniforms from the '80s and '90s this Sunday as part of two Legacy Games presented by Quest.

LT Andrew Thomas

After missing some practice time last week due to an illness, Andrew Thomas fought through it and wound up playing every offensive snap during the Thanksgiving game in Dallas. The left tackle surrendered a sack to Dallas' talented defensive front, which was his first sack allowed on the season. Thomas has garnered praise from many media outlets, including ESPN, which named him to their list of Top 25 Under 25.

Despite the offensive line dealing with numerous injuries in recent weeks, Thomas is excited for the whole unit to put the past behind them and focus on the road ahead.

"It's tough dealing with injuries but we have a resilient group. I'm excited for another opportunity to go out there and show what we can do…" the left tackle said this week. "You get 17 guaranteed opportunities, so you have to have a quick mindset regardless of if you played well or bad, gearing up and being ready for next week."

The O-line has another tough challenge as they face off against a high-powered defensive front. The Commanders have four first-round picks across their defensive line – interior linemen Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne and edge rushers Montez Sweat and Chase Young. Although he hasn't appeared in a game yet this season, Young might make his 2022 debut against the Giants on Sunday. Whether or not the former No. 2 pick suits up, the 23-year-old tackle knows the O-line must do whatever they can to help Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley.

"Their front seven is very disruptive," Thomas said. "Like you said, talent all over the place. Not just that, they play physical, they run to the ball. So, we have to be prepared for that, be able to get movement at the line of scrimmage and protect DJ to allow him to make plays."

OL Nick Gates

Nick Gates' comeback has been truly amazing. After suffering severe fractures of his lower left leg in Week 2 of the 2021 season, Gates returned to the field in Week 8 against the Seahawks. Each week, he saw his playing time increase until injuries among other linemen led to him starting at center and playing every snap against the Cowboys. Gates did not surrender a sack and allowed just one total pressure on 43 pass block snaps. He was named the team's recipient of the Ed Block Courage Award earlier this week.

"I just took it step by step, day by day," Gates said this week about his recovery. "I never tried to look too far ahead and didn't look in the past. What happened, happened, I can't control that part of it, so all I can control is my attitude and what I did every day. I just tried to put one foot in front of the other and just keep going. So, that's all I tried to tell myself."

The Giants are getting healthier on the offensive line, as center Jon Feliciano and right tackle Evan Neal returned to practice this week, along with left guard Ben Bredeson. It is too early to tell who will be medically cleared to play on Sunday, but it might be hard to take Gates out of the starting lineup following his strong performance last week. However, it remains to be seen where he will line up.

Sweat leads the Commanders with seven sacks on the season, while both Allen and Payne are just a half-sack behind him. Young hasn't played since tearing his ACL in Week 10 last season, but registered an impressive 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 15 games as a rookie in 2020.

"They have four first-rounders starting there and their defensive tackles, Payne and Allen, they're good defensive tackles," said Gates. "I'd probably say they're the two best players on their defense. That whole front, that defensive line is where they make plays on the field. I feel like they do the same thing, they're going to want to get after the passer, rush, and pin their ears back and that's what they want to do."

OLB Kayvon Thibodeaux

Last week's game did not go as the Giants would have hoped, but one bright spot was the standout performance from Kayvon Thibodeaux. The rookie outside linebacker was a disruptive force. He did not register a sack, but he picked up five quarterback hits on Dak Prescott. Prior to last week's game, Thibodeaux had three quarterback hits over his first eight games. Pro Football Focus also had him down for nine total pressures in Dallas, most of which came against rookie left tackle and 24th overall pick Tyler Smith.

"It felt really good. I do feel like I had one of my better games," Thibodeaux said. "I still got a lot to grow from. (There's) still some rushes I left out there that I want back. But I definitely do feel like I've been growing in the right direction."

Although it is unclear if OLB Azeez Ojulari will be dressed for Sunday's game, the second-year pro returned to practice this week. He has been sidelined since he hurt his calf in Week 4. Thibodeaux hopes to have Ojulari playing alongside him against Washington.

"It's definitely exciting," said the rookie. "He's a great player. We have meetings, and we're in practice every day together. So, having him back out there is definitely going to be a one-up for the D-line and for the pass rush – for the team. So, I'm excited to see him really let it loose."

The Commanders have surrendered 32 sacks in their first 12 games, which is tied for the eighth-most in the league. While Taylor Heinicke has not been sacked in the Commanders' last two games, he was taken down three times in each of the two games prior (Week 9 vs. Minnesota, Week 10 vs. Philadelphia).

CB Rodarius Williams

Cornerback is another position in which the Giants have been hit with recent injuries. Starters Adoree' Jackson (knee) and Fabian Moreau (oblique) both had to leave the Week 11 loss to the Lions. Neither was able to suit up against the Cowboys, which led to second-year cornerback Rodarius Williams playing a significant number of snaps. It was only the second game this season for Williams, who missed most of the 2021 campaign with a torn ACL.

Williams responded with his first career interception when he stepped in front of a Prescott pass in the second quarter. He finished with two passes defensed and five solo tackles after recording just one solo tackle in five games last season.

"The short time he's been back, I think he's improved out here each day at practice, and again, it's good to see guys make some plays when they're working hard. We'll need him to continue to do that," coach Brian Daboll said Tuesday.

"I thought he played well, I did," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale added. "He really hasn't played in two years and to come in there and play the way he did, I was really pleased with him."

Williams will be among the players tasked with containing Commanders receiver Terry McLaurin. The fourth-year wideout easily leads Washington with 54 receptions for 840 yards, the latter of which ranks eighth in the NFL. McLaurin has played well against the Giants in his young career, totaling 36 receptions for 475 yards and two touchdowns across five games.

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

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Legacy Game Tickets

Limited tickets available for Giants vs. Commanders on Dec. 4