EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The Giants return to NFC East competition when they host the Washington Redskins Sunday in New Meadowlands Stadium. A victory last week against Jacksonville enabled the Giants to break a two-game losing streak and improve their record to 7-4. Washington dropped a 17-13 decision at home to the Minnesota Vikings, its third loss in four games, and fell to 5-6. Nine of their 11 games have been decided by less than a touchdown. Washington's five victories have been by a total of 20 points, two of them in overtime. But the Redskins are 2-1 in division games, while the Giants are 1-2. The Giants have won their last four games against Washington and lead the regular season series, 89-61-4. In 2009, the Giants won the season opener in Giants Stadium, 23-17, and the rematch on a Monday night in FedEx Field, 45-12.
Under new head coach Mike Shanahan, the Redskins are ranked 21st in the NFL with an average of 332.7 yards a game. They are 26th in rushing (90.7) and 10th in passing (242.0). Washington is 25th in the league in scoring, averaging 19.5 points a game. The Redskins are 32nd and last in the NFL on third down, converting only 27.5 percent of their opportunities (39 of 142). But they have a plus-five turnover differential and have lost a league-low three fumbles.
Washington's offense has been weakened by injuries. The Redskins are without their top two running backs, Clinton Portis (on injured reserve with abdominal and groin injuries) and Ryan Torain (who has missed the last three games with a left hamstring injury). If Torain can't play, rookie Keiland Williams will start. Center Casey Rabach is playing with a second-degree MCL tear in his right knee and guard Artis Hicks is dealing with thigh and groin issues.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb has played with sore hamstrings all season. McNabb has had an uneven first season in Washington as he adjusts to a new offense. His passer rating of 76.0 is 27th in the league and he has thrown more interceptions (13) than touchdowns (11). McNabb has completed only 45.9 percent of his passes on third down. But he still has a powerful arm and the ability to take off and make big plays with his legs. McNabb's backup is Rex Grossman.
Washington uses the zone blocking schemes that Shanahan employed with much success during his long tenure in Denver. But because of their injuries and personnel losses, the Redskins have struggled to gain yards on the ground. They have not run the ball effectively without Portis. Torain is the Redskins' leading rusher with 391 yards and three touchdowns, but in the games he's missed the team has posted poor numbers. In the loss to Minnesota, Washington ran for only 29 yards, including a team-high 11 by James Davis. Torain has two 100-yard games this season, but he didn't practice on Wednesday. Williams, normally the third-down back, would start in his absence. The Redskins have an NFL-high 40 negative rushing plays. Veteran fullback Mike Sellers is a rugged blocker and dependable receiver.
Santana Moss is still Washington's best playmaker. He leads the team with 62 catches and three touchdown receptions and his 778 receiving yards rank sixth in the NFC. Moss lines up all over the formation and he retains the blazing speed to make big plays any time he touches the ball. The other starter is first-year pro Anthony Armstrong, a deep threat with good hands. His average of 21.8 yards per catch (on 25 receptions) is second in the NFL. He has at least 40 yards receiving in eight consecutive games. Other than Moss and Armstrong, no other Washington wideout currently on the roster has more than four catches. Roydell Williams had been the No. 4 receiver, but moved up the depth chart when Joey Galloway was released last week. Williams is a smart receiver who finds voids in zone defenses and can move the chains. Speedy rookie Brandon Banks is vying for more playing time.
Because they are not deep at receiver, the Redskins often use two tight ends at the same time. They rarely run a play without a tight end on the field. Two-time Pro Bowler Chris Cooley has become a safety valve for McNabb, as he has been for other Redskins quarterbacks. Cooley has 54 catches and two touchdowns. Fred Davis gets a lot of action as the second tight end. Rookie Logan Paulsen has played in the last five games.
Washington has a tough and active offensive line. Hicks is the best and most powerful member of the group, a player who is solid in both the run and pass games. Left tackle Trent Williams, the Redskins' first-round draft choice this year, played very well early in the season, but has since been up and down. A starter since Day 1, he is athletic with good movement skills and he can handle speed rushers by himself in pass protection. Kory Lichtensteiger started the last three games at left guard, where he has displayed a rugged streak. Rabach has missed only one start in his seven seasons. He is very smart and tough and quick at the snap. Right tackle Jammal Brown is a big man with good body range. Will Montgomery, Derrick Dockery and Stephon Heyer are the top backups.
Under their new coaching staff, the Redskins have switched to a 3-4 defense this year. They are ranked 32nd and last in the NFL, allowing 400.9 yards a game. They are 26th against the run (131.5 yards a game), but opposing teams are averaging a league-high 4.9 yards a carry against defensive coordinator Jim Haslett's unit. Washington is 29th defending the pass (269.4 yards a game). The Redskins are 21st in scoring defense, giving up 23.8 points a game.
The defense has also had a rash of injuries, including safeties LeRon Landry (Achilles) and Kareem Moore (knee), cornerback Carlos Rogers (hamstring) and linebacker Brian Orakpo (ankle). Safety Chris Horton is on injured reserve.
Albert Haynesworth doesn't start – he plays in the nickel packages – but he is Washington's best defensive player. The Redskins' most explosive lineman, he creates havoc all along the front. Three of the team's most important defensive offseason acquisitions are on the line. Former St. Louis Ram Adam Carriker is the starter at left end. Ma'ake Kemoeatu arrived from Carolina to play nose tackle, where he is the Skins' most powerful member of the front. Vonnie Holliday, who is with his fifth team, is a backup. Right end Kedric Golston is Washington's most athletic starting defensive lineman. Phillip Daniels contributes at both end spots.
Three of the four starting linebackers – London Fletcher, Rocky McIntosh and Orakpo – never leave the field. Fletcher has never missed a game, playing in 188 in a row. Arguably the finest inside linebacker in the NFL, he leads the Redskins with 128 tackles (95 solo). Fletcher is exceptionally smart, he gets everyone lined up, he plays with a high motor that never quits – and he can cover tight ends. McIntosh is second on the team with 108 tackles (69 solo). Orakpo, Washington's first-round draft choice last year, switched from defensive end to linebacker, where his 8.5 sacks are six more than anyone else on the team. Orakpo, a powerful player who shocks on contact, has improved in all areas this season and is playing at a Pro Bowl level. The fourth starter is Lorenzo Alexander, who is replaced by Andre Carter is most of the sub defenses.
Landry moved from free safety to strong safety, where he was one of the NFL's hardest-hitting defensive backs. If he is unable to play again, the Redskins will have a noticeable hole in the back of their secondary; Landry had 101 tackles in the first nine games. Reed Doughty started the last two games in his place. Moore is the starting free safety. DeAngelo Hall has started every game at left cornerback, where he is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions, including four in one game at Chicago. Rogers has started all but one game on the right side, missing the Tennessee game two weeks ago. He returned last week, but left early in the third quarter when he suffered an injury to his other (right) hamstring. Former Pro Bowler Phillip Buchanon stepped in for Rogers.
Washington's injury plague did not bypass the special teams. Punter Josh Bidwell went on injured reserve after four games and the Redskins re-signed Hunter Smith, whose 41.7-yard gross average is 29th in the league and 33.6-yard net average is 31st. Kicker Graham Gano has made 21 of 28 field goal attempts but is 0-for-three from 50 yards and out. The Redskins' most dynamic player is Banks, a rookie free agent from Kansas State. Listed at 5-7 and 150 pounds, he is fifth in the league with a 27-yard average on kickoff returns and tied for eighth at 11.3 yards per punt return. He had a 96-yard kickoff return at Detroit and two other long touchdown returns nullified by penalties, including a 77-yard punt return in the fourth quarter last week that would have given Washington the lead.