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Giants key in on improvement in the red zone

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Giants' offense will be on red zone alert tomorrow when the team faces the Washington Redskins in MetLife Stadium.

An attack that sputtered early in the season is beginning to hit its stride. For the first time since 2011, the Giants have gained more than 400 yards in each of three consecutive games. Their per-game average is now 360.4 yards, which is 46 yards higher than it was at the beginning of October.

But an inability to turn all that yardage into points has left the Giants winless this month.

"Moving the ball certainly is very important," coach Pat Shurmur said, "but we've got to get it (to the end zone)."

The primary issue has been an inability to capitalize on opportunities close to their opponents' goal line. In their last three defeats – to Carolina, Philadelphia and Atlanta - the Giants made 10 advances into the red zone. They scored only three touchdowns. Two of them were in the final five minutes last Monday night against the Falcons. But settling for six of a possible 21 points on three trips inside Atlanta's 20-yard line was the primary reason they lost, 23-20.

"We didn't score," Shurmur said. "We've said that, and I know I've said that all along. We had five trips into the red zone, and we got two touchdowns. If you convert those five trips into the red zone times seven, that's 35 points. That solves your point problem if we're better at the end of the drive. I think that's pretty obvious. We've got talented enough players to move the ball, whether we choose to run it or pass it. When we get down there, we've got to score points."

As Shurmur noted, the paucity of points has been a season-long issue. The Giants' per-game average of 19.6 places them 27th in the league. Red zone inefficiency has been the primary culprit. The Giants have scored nine touchdowns in 21 trips inside the 20, a 42.9 percentage that left them ahead of only Houston and the Jets entering Week 8.

"It's just execution," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Sometimes, we had the plays a little off here and there. We'll look at it hard and try to get a great game plan. We'll see what Washington is doing, and just make sure we got good plays and everybody knows exactly what we need to do."

What the Redskins are doing is facing a relatively low number of red zone possessions, but giving up touchdowns when they do. Washington's six opponents have ventured past the 20 on 16 occasions, tied for the second-lowest number in the league. But they've scored 11 touchdowns, a 68.8 percentage that leaves the Redskins 26th in red zone defense.

That one slice of Washington's defensive efficiency is an anomaly. Overall, the unit has been one of the NFL's best, ranking fifth in yards allowed (325.7 a game), third in rushing defense (87.3) and in points (giving up 20.2 a game).

"They're playing well," offensive coordinator Mike Shula said. "They're disciplined, they do a nice job – first of all, upfront, they're very active, they're powerful. Their down lineman are outside backers which basically play like defensive ends, and they're athletic enough to cover as well. Do a good job, whether or not they're two-gapping or kind of stunting and moving around. Their inside linebackers are downhill, play the run very well. Their secondary is very athletic and not only athletic, but they're really good with the ball in the air. I think they're coached well. They have a nice package on third down, a variety of coverages and/or mixing in blitzes, as well."

Running the ball could be particularly challenging for the Giants. Four of Washington's six opponents ran for less than 100 yards, and 104 by Indianapolis is the highest total the Redskins have allowed.

The Giants are 30th in the league with 83.7 rushing yards a game – though they are 14th with a 4.3-yard per-carry average. In Atlanta, they ran for just 62 yards.

"We want to be balanced, number one, each and every week," Shula said. "We haven't done a good enough job last week. We didn't do a good enough job to be balanced. You still have to be able to run the ball against fronts where they're bringing an extra guy and make that guy miss, or make him the furthest guy away and use our receivers. But they're good up front and they do a nice job even in their seven-man fronts of stopping the run. We just have to worry more about ourselves and getting better, whether or not that's double teams or single blocks or running through arm tackles and then staying out of the long yardage situations. I think all that will help the running game."

And, most importantly, perhaps the scoring game.

*The Giants lead the regular-season series with Washington, 99-67-4. With a victory, they will have 100 wins against a single opponent for the first time.

"Any time you play a division game, it certainly has got everybody's attention, not that we don't take every game one at a time," Shurmur said. "They are an outstanding opponent, and a year ago, I think part of the narrative for them was they got injured and they lost a lot of players. They found a way to stay a little bit healthier, especially in their front, and they are playing extremely well. Even though you play teams and you know teams, each team is a little bit different each year, depending on which players they have healthy and which new players they've added."