The opinions expressed in this article do not reflect those of the team.
The Washington Commanders have thought about nothing but the New York Giants for the past three weeks, and we are just a few hours away from all that preparation coming to a head in primetime.
Washington (7-5-1) has the chance to earn a firmer grasp on its playoff hopes tonight. The Sunday Night Football matchup between the two NFC East rivals has been hyped up since the 20-20 tie at MetLife Stadium two weeks ago.
The Commanders are expecting a playoff atmosphere at FedExField.
"Those are the games that you dream of as a kid," Taylor Heinicke said. "You wanna play in front of everybody, the whole world's watching and it's an opportunity for you to showcase as a team what you guys got. So, guys get really excited for that."
Washington's players have relished the opportunity to prove themselves in primetime games since Ron Rivera took over as head coach. The team has a 5-2 record in nationally televised games over the past three seasons, and if Washington hopes to get eight wins in a season for the first time since 2016, it will need to rely on stellar performances from its playmakers.
So, here are some players to watch as the Commanders battle the Giants.
First-round pick Jahan Dotson had been quiet since returning from a hamstring injury that kept him on the sideline for six weeks, but the rookie looked more like his former self in the first matchup with New York.
It has taken time for Heinicke and Dotson to get on the same page since Heinicke took over as the starting quarterback. The two did not get many snaps together in training camp, so their chemistry had to be developed on the fly. While there is still work to be done on that front, Week 13 could have been a breakthrough, as Dotson was targeted a season-high nine times.
Dotson's quickness and route running was on display, and he showed how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands. On the 28-yard game-tying score, Dotson got separation on the Giants defender at the line of scrimmage and spun past another defensive back on his way to the end zone.
The Giants are going to put pressure on Heinicke, so it will be up to the Commanders' pass-catchers to win their one-on-one matchups against man coverage. Fortunately for Washington, that is an area in which Dotson can thrive.
While it is a guarantee that the Giants are going to blitz Heinicke, it is just as certain that Daniel Jones is going to run the ball.
Jones did not have many designed runs against Washington in the previous matchup, but he did find ways to slip around the Commanders' pass-rush to amass 71 yards and managed to pick up multiple first downs with his legs.
The Commanders must find a way to keep Jones in the pocket, and that is where the defensive line will need to step up.
There is evidence that Washington can contain Jones. It has the ninth best pass rush grade, according to Pro Football Focus, and adjusted sack rate, per Football Outsiders, which has led to the defense recording 34 sacks. Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen have combined for 16 sacks -- the most for a starting defensive tackle duo in the NFL.
However, there were examples of the group, in addition to entire defense, over pursuing Jones on carries. That created lanes for Jones to extend plays and keep his offense on the field.
The Giants are light on offensive weapons, thanks to injuries at multiple positions. As a result, they have had to rely on Jones even more. If the Commanders can force Jones to beat them from the pocket, it would take away an important piece of the Giants' game plan.
The Commanders have a solid winning formula that involves controlling the time of possession with a commitment to running the ball. Much of that success rests on the back of Brian Robinson, who has grown stronger and more effective in each game.
Over the past four games, during which the Commanders earned a record of 3-0-1, Robinson rushed for 61% of his 563 yards. He carried the ball 80 times in that span, but he did average 4.3 yards and knows how find running room between the tackles. He rarely has a run resulting in negative yardage, helping the Commanders avoid second-and-long scenarios.
On the surface, the Giants seem vulnerable to the Commanders' ground attack; after all, the Giants give up almost 150 rushing yards per game. But downhill runs will be difficult to come by tonight with Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams manning the middle of the Giants' defensive front.
The good news is that Robinson did manage to rush for 96 yards on 21 carries in Week 13, so he can find success against the Giants. It will be important for Robinson to continue that success, though. That will allow Washington to keep controlling the clock, but it must result in points. Washington cannot afford to have empty possessions like the eight-minute drive that led to just 38 yards on 11 plays in the previous matchup.