The Washington Redskins anticipated a battle with the New York Giants with NFC East ramifications. Instead, they, and the nation, get another prime-time game that could serve as a reminder of how far they've fallen in one year.
The Redskins remain alive for a playoff spot mathematically, though they could be eliminated with a loss Sunday. The Giants have more hope, though even they're two games behind in the NFC East. Rather, this game for both becomes a must win in order to prove that yes, indeed, they're heading in the right direction. At least the Giants have won four of their last five.
The Redskins have dropped two straight and haven't played a complete game all season. Questions surrounding them will move to 2014 and what might happen – at coach and elsewhere. It's not a good time for either franchise.
ESPN.com Giants reporter Dan Graziano and Redskins reporter John Keim break down the matchup.
John Keim: Dan, why the change in Eli Manning's game? And I guess I mean that two ways: Why so many turnovers early and why has he turned it around?
Dan Graziano: The turnovers early were the result of a little bit of everything. The pass protection was a major problem, as it continues to be, and I think that made Eli uncomfortable and led to some bad decisions on his part. The Giants had no run game to speak of for the first five weeks of the season. The struggles of Hakeem Nicks have contributed as well, I think, to a general feeling of discomfort for a quarterback who likes to feel sure of his surroundings. I think the "turnaround," such as it is, is the result of scaling things down and really trying to emphasize avoiding mistakes. As a result, the turnovers have lessened (as the law of averages kind of said they had to), but the Giants' passing game obviously isn't what it used to be. They threw for 154 yards Sunday against a Cowboys pass defense that was allowing 313 a game coming in. They've only scored 28 points in a game once all year. The problems on offense are far from solved.
Speaking of problems, who broke the Redskins? I watched that fiasco Monday. I leave for three months and this is what happens? What's wrong with Robert Griffin III?
Keim: It's amazing how many players say they've had a tough time without you writing about them. The adjustment has been tougher than anyone realized. As for Griffin, it's a few things. One, he really is adjusting to being more of a dropback passer; he was not ready to be one after just one season and no legitimate offseason. Defenses have played him differently, taking away a lot of the explosive plays they got in play-action last season. You see him hesitating on some throws, not trusting what he sees. He takes a while to go through progressions and that sometimes causes his mechanics to get messed up – his eyes are looking one way; his feet are pointing the other. Too often he's unable to step into throws because of pressure. He's not as explosive as last season, though he's still mobile enough to be a threat. Oh, and he's learning to deal with adversity on and off the field. I know players keep calling him a good leader, but I think he still has things to learn. On the field, he'll still have games where he plays well, but he's also had a couple games lately that would qualify as his worst in the NFL.
The question is, will the Giants get to him? Their pass rush seems a little improved lately. Why is that?
Graziano: Well, before Sunday I'd have said it was because they'd played four straight games against Josh Freeman, Matt Barkley, Terrelle Pryor and Scott Tolzien. But then they sacked Tony Romo four times and that got my attention. They've been very good on the interior of the defensive line all year, especially against running backs, but DTs Linval Joseph and Cullen Jenkins have stepped up as pass-rushers in recent weeks as well. The DEs are still not getting home. Justin Tuck has played the run well but hasn't gotten to the quarterback consistently. Jason Pierre-Paul has two sacks in his last 18 games and played fewer than half of the defensive snaps Sunday due to a shoulder injury that's apparently going to limit him all year. So if the Redskins can get the interior defensive linemen blocked, they may be able to keep RG III cleaner than they could Monday. (Not that that would be tough to improve on!) The Giants have been able to get more sacks in recent games, but a lot of them have come from defensive backs and DTs. The feared four-man rush is a thing of the past.
Keim: Orakpo has been playing well the past couple games, probably more so against the run than in the pass game. Kerrigan has been rather quiet lately and, by his own admission, tends to get too conservative with his rushes. He worked on a counter move to the inside this summer, but I haven't seen a lot of it during the season. They were able to put some pressure on Colin Kaepernick, but he was often able to get away from pressure. The Redskins' rush just isn't collapsing the pocket enough to make quarterbacks uncomfortable, though they usually fare well against Eli as a defense. The problem for Washington has been that when the outside linebackers pinch the pocket, the interior does not collapse it, or rushers get out of their lanes and that leads to areas a quarterback can step into. I wouldn't be surprised if they're aggressive coming through the middle this week with the Giants losing Jim Cordle. But this is not a talented defense, so even if there's pressure the Redskins don't always make the plays in the backfield. And even if the secondary covers well, the front doesn't get there. Sort of a problem.
Last one, what is Tom Coughlin's future in New York and do you think the Giants are capable of a strong finish or do too many problems still exist?
Graziano: Coughlin's not going anywhere. If anything, he deserves credit for holding the team together after the 0-6 start. He's the guy Giants ownership wants to coach the team and help solve the problem next year. They have some rebuilding to do here, but I'd be shocked if Coughlin isn't a part of it. As for how they'll finish, the schedule makes it tough for optimism. Between the Redskin games, they have trips to San Diego and Detroit and a home game against the Seahawks. They won't fold the tents, but it's tough to see how they end up better than 6-10.
How's Shanahan holding up? One year left on the deal: Do you think he comes back?
Keim: I'm not sold on that yet because I've been around long enough to see how things go at Redskins Park. They are not playing like a well-coached team right now and that needs to change or anything is possible. Shanahan appears to be holding up OK, like a guy who expects to be back for a fifth year (or is trying to convince himself that he will). I think the key will be whether or not Dan Snyder says he can return but without an extension. Could Shanahan accept that – especially when knowing that it will make it difficult to lure players and even coaches, assuming they make a change or two there (as I would expect).