The New York Giants (3-11) will look for their second consecutive win on Sunday when they travel to the nation's capital to take on the Washington Redskins (3-11) at FedExField this Sunday. This will be the second matchup of the season between the NFC East foes. The Giants won the first matchup, defeating Washington, 24-3, in Daniel Jones' first start at MetLife Stadium.
Washington lost their first five games of the season, which led to the dismissal of head coach Jay Gruden in early October. They have had more success since under interim head coach Bill Callahan, going 3-6 over their last nine games. Washington enters this matchup on a two-game losing streak, having lost in Green Bay and at home against the Eagles. The Giants and Redskins are currently tied for third place in the NFC East.
Here are five storylines to follow ahead of this week's game and the rest of the Giants' season:
Jones making progress towards starting Sunday
With Daniel Jones sidelined with a high ankle sprain, Eli Manning has started the last two games. On Sunday, in what might have been the final start of Manning's Giants career, the 16-year veteran helped secure a victory and received a rousing standing ovation from the home crowd at MetLife Stadium. While early signs point toward Jones returning as the starting QB this week, head coach Pat Shurmur would not commit.
"Well, we don't know yet," Shurmur told reporters Wednesday when asked if Jones will start in Washington. "We just need to see how his ankle responds to the added work he did today, and then we'll just take it from there. In the event he can't start, certainly, we have a veteran backup behind him."
As the Giants began the practice week on Wednesday, the number six overall pick in the 2019 draft took most of the first-team snaps. Jones was a full participant in practice, an upgrade from when he was limited in practice at the end of last week. Shurmur said Jones has made good progress in his recovery and was able to do more in practice Wednesday than last week. The rookie QB told the media that he's feeling good and hopes to get back on the field this weekend.
"It's feeling better," Jones said after practice. "I think I'm progressing well and doing more and more. It feels good, just have to keep it going that way… It feels like I can do everything I need to do. Keep working through and hopefully I can continue to improve throughout the week."
Young DBs coming on strong down the final stretch
Sam Beal got the start at corner this past Sunday following the release of Janoris Jenkins, and the 23-year-old gave a strong performance. Beal led the Giants with 11 tackles (eight solo), one tackle for loss and one pass defended. Beal made a great play in the end zone on Dolphins RB Patrick Laird for a safety, which gave the Giants a three-point lead. The play served as the turning point of the game, as the Giants would go on to score 20 unanswered points.
DeAndre Baker started opposite Beal at corner and for the second consecutive week, the rookie first-round pick had a good outing. Baker finished tied for the second-most tackles with six (five solo) and had two pass breakups. Since the Giants' bye week, Baker has the 6th-best coverage grade among all qualified CBs over the last four games, while QBs targeting Baker have completed just 26.3% of their passes, the lowest percentage targeting any corner, according to Pro Football Focus.
Adding to the success of the secondary on Sunday was Julian Love, who has excelled since taking over at safety for the injured Jabrill Peppers. Love finished with five tackles (four solo), two tackles for loss, a pass defended and a quarterback hit.
"I thought they competed well," Shurmur said of the young DBs. "I thought defensively we did a good job, we got a lot of stops in critical situations. We turned the ball over and forced them to kick a field goal. I felt like…I think along the way our guys have competed. If you look at last week's game, competed throughout the game and then we sort of broke down at the end in a critical situation to end up losing the game. In this game, they fought throughout, made a lot of plays, and really helped contribute in the victory."
Slayton's impressive rookie campaign continues
Darius Slayton has put together a phenomenal rookie campaign. He missed the first two games of the season due to a hamstring injury, but has looked strong ever since. The fifth-round pick leads the Giants with 690 receiving yards and eight touchdowns, and is tied with Evan Engram for third with 44 catches, just two behind team leader Sterling Shepard.
"I think it's safe to say you never really know what to expect from a rookie because you haven't worked with him," Shurmur of Slayton. "You can't always predict college success and then predict pro success. We liked him, we drafted him, he's come in and he's made an impact. We feel like he's done a lot of really good things this year. He has two more games to go out and to continue to improve. Then I think it's very, very important for him to have an outstanding offseason as he prepares for next season."
Slayton was the 171st overall pick in the draft, the 18th wide receiver taken. Entering Week 16, the 22-year-old out of Auburn leads all rookies with eight receiving touchdowns and ranks fourth in receiving yards and first downs (31) and is tied for fourth in receptions of 20+ yards (11).
"I think he's a very good route-runner," Shurmur said. "He finds a way to get open, I think he does a good job of catching the ball in a crowd, he's displayed really, really good ball skills, and he has the ability to finish in the end zone. He's caught some short passes and run for touchdowns, and then he's caught some long balls in the end zone. For a guy that can have production and score touchdowns, that's what you're looking for."
Zeitler returns to practice
Prior to injuring his ankle against the Eagles two games ago, Kevin Zeitler had been an iron man among the offensive linemen. Zeitler started every game and barely missed a snap all season, but the injury forced him to miss Sunday's game. The right guard returned to practice Wednesday on a limited basis, offeringsome hope that he will be able to return to the field this week.
With Zeitler sidelined, Nick Gates made just the second start of his NFL career. His first start came against the Jets in Week 10 when he filled in at right tackle for Mike Remmers, who was out with a back injury. Lining up at right guard last week, the 24-year-old lineman played extremely well. Gates did not allow a single pressure and picked up a key block on Saquon Barkley's second touchdown run, and earned an overall grade of 82.1 from PFF. If Zeitler can't make it back in time, Gates will once again get the start.
"He did a nice job, and I'm not surprised by it," Shurmur said of Gates. "When he played against the Jets, his man didn't touch the quarterback, he was productive in the run game, and he played at tackle. He went and played guard this week for Zeitler and had a very, very productive game. He's a good, solid football player. He's a little bit like Beal, he's here for the second year, but last year was like year zero because he was hurt, and he's done a good job. He's a steady performer and he's got a bright future."
Engram placed on IR, will undergo surgery
After missing the previous five games with a foot injury, Evan Engram was placed on injured reserve earlier this week. The Giants came into the season with high hopes for their group of offensive skill players, which included Engram, Barkley, Sterling Shepard and Golden Tate. But with Engram's season coming to an end, it guarantees that all four playmakers will not have been on the field at the same time this year. The talented third-year tight end caught 44 passes for 467 yards and three touchdowns in eight games.
"Yeah, I mean it's unfortunate," Engram said, adding that he's having a surgical procedure on his foot this Friday. "Definitely wanted to get back and get back out there with the team. Didn't really go as planned recovery wise, and just got to shut it down… It just didn't get better. This is kind of a safety thing future wise why I'm getting this procedure done."
With Engram out for the final two games, Kaden Smith will continue to see extended action. The rookie, a sixth-round pick by the 49ers who was claimed off waivers in September, has performed well as the team's starting tight end, catching 16 passes for 134 yards and a touchdown over the last four games. Smith caught all three passes thrown his way against the Dolphins, totaling 38 yards.
"I think he's developed extremely well," Shurmur said. "I think I spoke about this a few weeks ago, but he was a guy that we liked quite a bit coming out of the draft. We were very fortunate that he was available. Since he's been here, he's really made steady improvements. He's had production in the passing game, he's sort of a tough, gritty guy that takes his blocking seriously, and he has a good feel for things. We've liked the development to this point. "
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