Five storylines to follow heading into the Giants’ Week 14 game at Washington:
1. Giants flipping season, culture. The Giants and Redskins have gone in opposite directions since the first leg of their season series. The Giants fell, 20-13, at home in Week 8, their fifth consecutive loss to cap a 1-7 start. They went on their bye the ensuing week and faced questions both heading into and coming out of the break about the future of the franchise, which had just traded two defensive starters. There are still plenty of questions about the Giants, but the one that can’t be asked any longer is about wanting to win every game. The Giants have won three of their past four games and were in the driver’s seat in the only game they didn’t come out on top.
“When you’re trying to flip culture, when you’re trying to build something,” coach Pat Shurmur said, “you’ve got to really dig in on that.”
On the other side, Washington has dropped three of four after a 5-2 start. Their lead in the NFC East also fell by the wayside as the Redskins, who have been ravaged by injuries, lost not one (Alex Smith) but two (Colt McCoy) starting quarterbacks to broken legs.
2. Sanchez to start for Washington. Mark Sanchez is a familiar name to Giants fans. The fifth overall pick by the Jets in 2009 took over for McCoy late in the first half of the Redskins’ 28-13 loss to the Eagles on Monday night. Sanchez, who went 13 of 21 for 100 yards with an interception, will make his first start since Nov. 26, 2015, when he was with the Eagles. He is 1-1 against the Giants in his career. He lost with the Jets on Christmas Eve of the Giants’ 2011 championship season and won with the Eagles late in 2014. Sanchez is 37-35 as a starter in the regular season and 4-2 in the postseason, including two trips to the AFC Championship Game.
“He’s extremely competitive,” said Shurmur, who was Sanchez’s offensive coordinator in Philadelphia. “He’s an emotional guy, he really gets into it emotionally. He trains extremely hard. My sense is, he’s been one of those guys that’s first in the building, last to leave, always looking, studying. He’s one of those guys that can be able to finish a play call as it comes in. He’s got a good set of legs in terms of being able to move around, boots and nakeds and extending plays from that standpoint, so I think that’s the good in him.”
3. Landon out; injury report. Two-time Pro Bowl safety Landon Collins will undergo surgery after injuring his shoulder in last week’s victory over the Bears. Collins was leading the team in tackles, like he has in every season since the Giants drafted him. “We’re going to do it with the guys that have been playing,” Shurmur said of filling the void. “[Sean] Chandler will be in there, we still have the guys that have been playing, and we’ll just try to work the next man up.” Meanwhile, tight end Evan Engram (hamstring), wide receiver Sterling Shepard (rib), and linebackers B.J. Goodson (neck), Lorenzo Carter (hip) and Tae Davis (ankle) are on this week’s injury report.
View the projected Redskins starters for this Sunday's game
4. Is the O-line sustainable? A big part of the Giants’ success since the bye week has been the offensive line, which has remained constant for four weeks. Three-fifths of the group did not start in Week 1, and two-fifths were in Los Angeles, not East Rutherford, over the summer. Center Spencer Pulley (Chargers) was acquired from waivers a week before the regular season kicked off, as was right guard Jamon Brown (Rams) over the Giants’ bye week. The group is certainly working in the short-term, but what about long-term?
“I think this group has played well together,” said Shurmur, “so when you have a group of guys out there playing well together, then the important thing for them to do is to continue to get better. We’ve got some young players in there, we’ve got some new players, and I think we all understand that between the first time you do something and the second time, there’s huge improvement. That could be said for seasons, too.
“At some point, Will Hernandez is going to be in the middle of the offseason and he’s going to go, ‘Wow, I played a whole season and I didn’t know what I was doing.’ He’ll have an ‘ah-ha’ moment that will help him, because if you think about it, rookies playing, they really don’t know how this is going to play out. We dumped him into the unknown, and he’s been in there battling and getting better. To answer your question, I think when you have a group of guys that you feel good about working together more and more and more, I think they’ve got a chance to get better, sure.”
5. Saquon vs. Adrian II. The Giants and Redskins are leaning on their running backs, one a rising star and the other a future Hall of Famer. For the Giants, Saquon Barkley has been worth every bit of the second overall draft choice they used on him. He recently broke the franchise’s rookie rushing record, adding to a lengthy list of accomplishments that will likely include the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year Award and a Pro Bowl nod to boot.
For the Redskins, Adrian Peterson has proven he can still go all day. Peterson, 33, broke Herschel Walker’s record last week for the oldest player in NFL history with a 90-yard rushing touchdown. In the process, Peterson tied Hall of Famer Jim Brown for the fifth-most rushing touchdowns (106) in league history. Four of those have come against the Giants, including a 64-yarder in Week 8.
The Giants have faced the Redskins 170 times in the regular season since their first game in 1932, making this their most frequently-contested rivalry.