Redskins.com's Stephen Czarda breaks down the key players and matchups to keep an eye on during Sunday's Redskins-Giants 2017 Week 17 showdown at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
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FINISH THE SEASON ON A POSITIVE NOTE
After the Redskins were eliminated from postseason contention following a tough loss to the Los Angeles Chargers earlier this month, Washington's primary goal changed to finishing the season at 8-8.
The Redskins took steps towards hitting that goal over the last two weeks with victories over the Arizona Cardinals and Denver Broncos at FedExField in Landover, Md. On Sunday, they'll look to close out the season with a third consecutive victory, this time in a matchup with the Giants.
"They've stayed competitive and I've never really had any doubt about them," said Redskins head coach Jay Gruden of his team. "I think a lot of assumptions could have been made after our two-game losing streak against Dallas and the Chargers – we didn't play very well – but for the most part, I've felt pretty good about our group coming in every day and competing and staying the course and then preparing and getting themselves ready to play.
"Our guys have done that. I think it starts with the leaders that we have on offense and defense that I mentioned at the press conference after the game and it's carried over to the young guys, and we're getting some valuable work with a lot of guys and they're starting to produce and playing well."
If the Redskins are able to defeat the Giants, it will mark the first time the Redskins have swept the season series against their division rivals since the 2011 season.
"That would be huge," said Redskins wide receiver Jamison Crowder of winning a third straight game. "If you look at the course of the year, we were one, maybe two, three games away from being in playoff contention. That's just how this league is. It's one or two plays that can either win you a game or lose you a game, so getting third win this week would be huge going into the offseason."
CRANK UP THE PRESSURE ON ELI
Washington's pass rush has arguably had its two best performances of the season over the last two weeks, collecting a combined nine sacks against the Cardinals and Broncos.
In these games, Redskins linebackers Preston Smith (three sacks) and Ryan Kerrigan (two sacks) have given opposing offensive tackles fits while defensive lineman Anthony Lanier II recorded the first multi-sack performance of his career against the Cardinals.
As he always has, Kerrigan has been consistent throughout the season, but his counterpart in Smith has been on the upswing recently. The 2015 second-round pick recorded four sacks in as many games to start the season but had just one sack total over the next nine games.
With three sacks over the last two games, though, Smith is just two sacks away from the first double-digit performance of his career.
"I think any young player, especially – and he's considered a little bit of a young player – they get in that mid-season and all of a sudden, you see them trying to all of a sudden dip down," said Redskins defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. "You've got to just keep on getting on them to keep on growing each and every year and most of those guys do. I talked to Matt Ioannidis yesterday about how just trying to get through that rookie hump is hard for some of these young guys.
"But with Preston, I mean, the sky's the limit for the guy. The guy's practiced hard, hasn't missed much practice time, but overall, just the study – studying the habits of watching the tackles, see how they set and trying to get their hands down or get the moves that he needs to get against players. Overall, [he's] doing a great job."
The Giants' offensive line has allowed 32 sacks this season, four of which came in Washington's 20-10 victory over New York on Thanksgiving.
CONTINUE TO TARGET DOCTSON
With just one game left this season, the Redskins' passing game has one final opportunity to showcase a bright future ahead.
Washington was dealt blows throughout the season when running back Chris Thompson, wide receiver Terrelle Pryor Sr. and tight end Jordan Reed were all placed on Injured Reserve. Without the trio, the Redskins have had to look other places to channel the passing game through and in has stepped Josh Doctson.
Doctson, of course, joined the Redskins with great expectations after being selected in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. But his rookie season was cut short due to Achilles issues. Then he was held without a catch in the Redskins' first two games of the year before coming on in the weeks after.
The TCU product now has 31 receptions for 465 yards and a team-high six touchdowns.
"I've been impressed with Josh throughout the whole year," Gruden said. "He's been durable. He's played the whole year and done some great things and I think there's more to Josh than what we've seen this year and I think we'll get more out of him next year – the more comfortable our quarterback gets with him and the more that we see that he can do. I've been impressed with Josh, not only in the route running, but he's been getting better in blocking also."
In his final game of his sophomore campaign, Doctson will go against a depleted secondary that will be without Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple and Landon Collins.
PUT ON ONE MORE STRONG SHOWING, KIRK
While there will be plenty of intrigue on Trent Williams' future following the conclusion of the regular season, the quarterback is still focused on Washington's Week 17 matchup with New York.
"I'm looking at the future as Sunday against the New York Giants," Cousins said this week. "That's really where my future is right now and when we finish that game, get on the flight home, have a chance to decompress and have conversations, then we will be able to talk.
"We have got enough to focus on with the Giants this week, as we have every week all season long. We do that and it will be a much better feeling coming away from the season winning the final three games, but if you lose the last game, it stings for a while."
In seven career starts against the Giants, Cousins has struggled against New York's defense at times. Although he's passed for almost 2,000 yards in those contests, he's thrown 10 interceptions to eight touchdowns while winning only three of the head-to-head matchups.
Cousins will look to even his personal record against New York while helping lead the Redskins to a third non-losing season.
"If we lose it, it ruins my next two weeks," Cousins said. "I want to enjoy those two weeks. I haven't been a part of a season yet where we won the last game. We made the playoffs [then] we lost. Then we went 3-13, 4-12 and last year lost in the last game. So I want to walk away from a season with a win, that way I can drive home, go back to west Michigan or Atlanta or wherever we are going and at least just feel good for a couple weeks before we then look at the big picture and move on. I think it makes a big difference."