The Giants have always boasted a strong front seven, and this year it is no different. On the line, defensive ends Michael Strahan (6-5, 255 pounds) and Osi Umenyiora (6-3, 261 pounds) combined for 26 sacks last season. This year? Surprisingly, Strahan has none and Umenyiora has one in three games.
Right tackle Jon Jansen continues his yearly matchup with Strahan, while Pro Bowl left tackle Chris Samuels contends with Umenyiora. The Jansen-Strahan battles have been intense over the years, with Strahan often saying that Jansen is the toughest lineman he faces. The Samuels-Umenyiora matchup is just beginning.
"They definitely have two of the best defensive ends in the league," Samuels said. "Those guys fly around and they play with high energy. Strahan is the veteran guy and Osi is the young guy. Both are good. We have to play with tight hands and great technique."
When there's pressure on quarterback Mark Brunell, running backs will need to help pick it up. That's something running back Clinton Portis has excelled at in his career.
Said Portis: "Their defensive line is going to present trouble because they don't have to blitz anybody to get a pass rush. When you have two defensive ends that have the amount of sacks that they have-and then they have the young rookie (Mathias Kiwanuka) who is going to be pretty good-it allows their defense to drop off and do other things. If the front four beats us, then we are going to have a long day."
The interior of the Redskins offensive line will contend with defensive tackles Fred Robbins (6-4, 317 pounds) and Barry Cofield (6-4, 306 pounds). The Giants are ranked 12th overall against the run, yielding an average of 89.3 yards per game.
Thomas has been impressed with Cofield, a rookie out of Northwestern. The Thomas-Cofield matchup could develop into a key one; Thomas has been dominant in the run game and the Redskins will look to establish a strong ground attack behind Portis. The Redskins have the NFL's sixth-ranked rushing attack so far.
"The rookie is playing well and Fred Robbins, and honestly they move around better than the big guys [in Jacksonville] we played last week," Thomas said. "That's another tough opponent."
The Redskins will have to contend with a linebacker corps that includes LaVar Arrington and Antonio Pierce, two players that would love to get back at their former team. Pierce, who plays the middle, leads the Giants with 28 tackles.
Arrington, in particular, will be playing the Redskins for the first time. Will he be too intense? If so, the Redskins will hope to take advantage if he plays too aggressive. Fullback Mike Sellers, at 6-3 and 278 pounds, could be a good matchup to try to minimize Arrington in pass protection.
The Giants are expected to start rookie linebacker Gerris Wilkinson at weak-side linebacker. Wilkinson replaces starter Carlos Emmons, who is out with a quad injury.
The Giants revamped their secondary last offseason and the unit has struggled early on. They are ranked 29th in the NFL in pass defense. Of course, the Giants have played three of the NFL's top passing offenses in Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Seattle.
Cornerbacks Sam Madison and Corey Webster and safeties Gibril Wilson and Will Demps will have regrouped following the Giants' bye week. They will go against NFC Offensive Player of the Week Santana Moss and speedsters Brandon Lloyd and Antwaan Randle El.
The Redskins' have the NFL's 10th-ranked passing offense and it has been sparked by Moss, who leads the team with 17 catches for 326 yards, and a lofty 19.2 yards-per-catch average. Moss had three touchdowns in last Sunday's win over Jacksonville.
The last time he logged a three touchdown game prior to last Sunday? It was last season, Week 16 against the Giants, in the Redskins' 35-20 win at FedExField.
The Giants' top offensive weapon remains running back Tiki Barber, who leads the offense with 225 rushing yards on 53 carries this season. He also has 16 catches for 132 yards.
Last season, it was Barber who got the Giants' offense going in New York's 36-0 victory over the Redskins in Week 8 at the Meadowlands. He rushed for 206 yards that day, including a stunning 57-yard run on the first play from scrimmage.
"We have to stop the run," defensive end Demetric Evans said. "Last year, Tiki got started early. If you let him get going, it's going to be a long day."
The Giants also have a talented back in Brandon Jacobs. At 6-4 and 264 pounds, the second-year player is more of a bulldozing running back. He has 98 yards on 14 carries, a 7.0 yards-per-carry average.
"Every week, we talk about making offenses one dimensional," assistant head coach-offense Gregg Williams said. "You can't let people run the football on you. That is just how we always go into a ball game. You have to be able to stop the run to force a team to pass, otherwise they'll never do that."
When the Giants are forced to pass the ball, they turn to quarterback Eli Manning, the third-year player who is starting to come into his own. He appears to struggle early in games, but in the second half he has a knack for leading the Giants from behind.
Manning has completed 75-of-113 passes, a 66.4 percent completion percentage, for eight touchdowns. He does have five interceptions, though.
"He has improved in every game," Williams said. "I think their coaching staff has done a very good job with his development and how they brought him along. It was interesting to see how he handled the hoopla of the opening game against his brother [Peyton Manning, in the Giants' nationally televised season opener against the Colts]. I thought he did a very good job.
"Each year, and each time we have to play against him in our division, it is going to be harder to trick him because he has come a long way. You can see that he and Peyton talk quite a bit in the offseason because of some of the things I see Eli emulating from his older brother."
Added Evans: "I definitely see some maturity in [Manning]. Watch the game in Seattle where he put up 27 points in the fourth quarter [in a 42-20 losing effort on Week 3]. That shows a lot of maturity to have that never-lose attitude."
The Redskins' secondary will be without Shawn Springs again on Sunday. The unit has shown flashes, but it is ranked 26th in the NFL.
Said Williams, talking about the Redskins' secondary: "I do see improvement in our group back there. We have to minimize big plays."
Carlos Rogers, Kenny Wright and Mike Rumph face a talented receiving corps, with 6-5, 232-pounder Plaxico Burress posing a challenge for any secondary. Burress has 11 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns, but it is Amani Toomer who leads the offense with 20 catches for 207 yards and three touchdowns.
The Giants tend to line up tight end Jeremy Shockey at multiple spots, including wide receiver, so everyone from Sean Taylor to Holdman to Marcus Washington could be covering him. Shockey has 11 catches for 134 yards and one touchdown this year.
On the offensive line, the Giants have veterans in tackles Luke Petitgout and Kareem McKenzie and center Shaun O-Hara. Guards David Diehl (fourth year) and Chris Snee (third year) round out the line.
The unit allowed eight sacks in their Week 2 game at Philadelphia, but they have yielded just one sack on their other two games.
Andre Carter, who logged his first sack of the season last week, matches up against left tackle Luke Petitgout, a 6-6, 308-pounder who will try told straighten up the speedy Carter and keep him off of Manning.
Giants' kicker Jay Feely is strong-legged and also one of the more accurate kickers in the NFL. He is in his second season in New York, after four years kicking mostly in a dome in Atlanta, so he may still be getting used to the swirling winds of the Meadowlands.
One of the reasons the Redskins signed kicker John Hall four years ago was because of his experience kicking at Giants Stadium. Hall kicked at Giants Stadium when he played for the Jets from 1997-2002.
Feely has hit on 2-of-3 field goals in the early going this season. Last year, he was 18-of-23 on field goal attempts while leading the NFL and setting a team record with 148 points. On 98 kickoffs last year, he had 12 touchbacks last year.
Punter Jeff Feagles is in his 19th year in the NFL, and fourth with the Giants. His 45.3-yard punting average ranks him 11th in the NFL this season, six ahead of Redskins' punter Derrick Frost (44.7-yard punting average).
Former Redskin Chad Morton leads the Giants' kick return game. He has a 22.6-yard return average on kickoffs and a 6.8-yard return average on punts.
Meantime, Redskins kick returner Rock Cartwright leads the NFC--and is third in the NFL--with a 28.8-yard kickoff return average. Antwaan Randle El has yet to break a big punt return; he is averaging 7.2-yards per punt return so far.