EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - The Giants will look to end their regular season on a positive note when they visit the Washington Redskins Sunday in FedEx Field. Losses to Philadelphia and Green Bay the last two weeks have left the Giants at 9-6 and needing help to join the NFC playoff field. The Redskins are 6-9 after an overtime victory in Jacksonville snapped a four-game losing streak. Eight of their games have been decided by three points or less (they are 4-4 in those contests). Seven of Washington's nine losses have been by seven points or less. The three that weren't include a 31-7 defeat to the Giants on Dec. 5. That stretched the Giants' winning streak over Washington to five games. The Giants lead the regular season series, 90-61-4. The Redskins are 2-5 at home and haven't won there since Oct. 10.
Under first-year coach Mike Shanahan, the Redskins are ranked 19th in the NFL with an average of 332.6 yards a game. They are 29th in rushing (92.9) and 10th in passing (239.7). Washington is 24th in the league in scoring, averaging 19.2 points a game. The Redskins are 31st in third down efficiency, converting 29.6 percent of their opportunities (58 of 196). Their turnover differential entering the first Giants game was plus-five, but it was minus-five in that game and now stands at minus-one.
The Redskins' most significant lineup change since last facing the Giants is Rex Grossman taking over at quarterback for Donovan McNabb. Grossman has thrown five touchdown passes in the two games he's started. With Grossman taking the snaps, Washington has had more of a rhythm and up-tempo offense. Washington prefers to pass the ball and Grossman has the arm to throw accurate deep passes. But he has been prone to mistakes in the past. Fourth-year pro John Beck is the backup and McNabb is now the No. 3 quarterback.
Washington uses the zone blocking schemes that Shanahan employed with much success during his long tenure with the Denver Broncos. But because of their injuries and personnel losses, the Redskins have struggled to gain yards on the ground. Since Clinton Portis was placed on injured reserve last month, the top ground gainer has been Ryan Torain, an excellent one cut-and-go runner. Torain averages 4.7 yards a carry and has scored four touchdowns. Torain has three 100-yard games this season, including a 172-yard outing in a one-point loss to Tampa Bay. Rookie Keiland Williams has settled in as the third down back. He has 257 rushing yards and 35 catches. Veteran fullback Mike Sellers is a rugged blocker and dependable receiver.
The Redskins' most dangerous playmaker is wide receiver Santana Moss, who is tied for third in the NFC and sixth in the NFL with a career high-tying 84 receptions. He has his fourth career 1,000-yard season (1,041) and has scored a team-best six touchdowns. 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, whose 33-yard touchdown pass from McNabb was Washington's only score in the first Giants game. Armstrong is a deep threat with good hands who averages an impressive 18.7 yards per catch. Other than Moss and Armstrong, no other Washington wideout currently on the roster has more than eight catches. Roydell Williams has been the No. 3 receiver since Joey Galloway was released in November. Williams is a smart receiver who finds voids in zone defenses and can move the chains. Speedy rookie Brandon Banks has just two catches.
In part because of their lack of depth at receiver, the Redskins frequently use two tight ends. They rarely run a play without a tight end on the field. Two-time Pro Bowler Chris Cooley is having a typically productive season with 72 receptions and three touchdowns. Cooley is also a good blocker, both on the line and down the field. Fred Davis gets a lot of action as the second tight end and has caught 19 passes. Rookie Logan Paulsen was inactive five times early in the season but has become a steady participant.
Washington's offensive line has overcome injuries to play better down the stretch. Center Casey Rabach has been the team's most consistent lineman, despite playing with a tear in his medial collateral ligament. Right tackle Jammal Brown missed the victory in Jacksonville with the flu, but is expected to play on Sunday. He was replaced last week by former starter Stephon Heyer. Will Montgomery has supplanted Artis Hicks at right guard. Left tackle Trent Williams, the Redskins' first-round draft choice this year, has excelled at times despite playing most of the season with a sore shoulder.
The Redskins' 3-4 defense is ranked 32nd and last in the NFL, allowing 393.5 yards a game. Washington is 25th against the run, giving up 130.6 yards a game, and has allowed a league-high 4.8 yards per carry. The Redskins are 31st defending the pass, yielding 262.9 yards a game. They are 20th in scoring defense, giving up 24.0 points a game.
Because of injuries, Washington could have as many six new defensive starters who weren't in the lineup on Dec. 5. Safety LeRon Landry (Achilles), defensive linemen Phillip Daniels (abdomen), Kedric Golston (groin) and Ma'ake Kemoeatu (shoulder) have been placed on injured reserve. Another lineman, Albert Haynesworth, has been suspended for the remainder of the season. Cornerback Carlos Rogers (hamstring) is expected to miss the game. The team's best pass rusher, linebacker Brian Orakpo (groin) and safety Reed Doughty (head) did not play last week.
Who's left? Up front, Adam Carriker, Anthony Bryant and Vonnie Holliday are expected to start. Bryant has been particularly solid against the run on first and second down. He has a strong upper body and reads and reacts well to opposing schemes. Carriker, the only Washington lineman to start every game, and Holliday have 4.0 sacks and 33 quarterback hurries between them. The reserves include Joe Joseph, who spent two weeks on the Giants' practice squad earlier this season. The Skins try to be aggressive against the run by frequently employing five-man fronts.
Inside linebacker London Fletcher, the Redskins' finest all-around defensive player, is having a typically outstanding season. He leads the team with 171 tackles (126 solo) and has 2.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. Fletcher has active streaks of 207 consecutive games played and 167 games started. Fletcher is exceptionally smart, he gets everyone lined up, he plays with a high motor that never quits – and he can cover tight ends. The other inside linebacker, Rocky McIntosh, is second on the team with 147 tackles (94 solo).
Orakpo, Washington's first-round draft choice in 2009, switched from defensive end to outside linebacker, where his 8.5 sacks and 37 hurries are far more than anyone else on the team. The fourth starter is Lorenzo Alexander, a high-motor player who is replaced by Andre Carter in most of the sub defenses.
Left cornerback DeAngelo Hall, selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team this week, is the only defensive back to start every game. The rest of the secondary has been far more unstable. Former Pro Bowler Phillip Buchanon has started four games at left corner and will do so again if Rogers can't play. With Landry and Doughty both unavailable, cornerback Kevin Barnes started last week at strong safety. Macho Harris, who was signed on Nov. 23, started at free safety. One of the reserves is Sha'reff Rashad, whom the Redskins signed on Christmas Day. He was in uniform but did not play the next day at Jacksonville.
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, who was released after failing to handle what would have been the tying extra point in the waning seconds of a one-point loss to Tampa Bay. The new punter and holder is Sam Paulescu, who has a 40.5-yard gross average and a 33.3-yard net average on 13 punts. Kicker Graham Gano has been streaky, missing 10 of 34 field goal attempts. He missed all three of his tries from 50 or more yards. But he hit the game-winning 31-yarder in overtime against Jacksonville to earn the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award. The Redskins' most dynamic player is Banks, a rookie free agent from Kansas State. Listed at 5-7 and 150 pounds, he is ninth in the NFL with a 25.2-yard average on kickoff returns and is 12th at 10.2 yards per punt return. Alexander leads Washington with 19 special teams tackles (12 solo).