The Washington Redskins hope that staying in favorable down-and-distance situations will help them avoid falling victim to the New York Giants' aggressive pass rush.
Earlier in the season when the Redskins fell to their NFC East foes on Thursday Night Football, it was that very circumstance that contributed to their demise. Only gaining 17 first downs, Washington was 1-for-8 on third down and faced five situations in which they needed at least six yards to reset the chains
By finding their opponents in third-and-long situations, the Giants were able to turn up the heat on the quarterback. New York recorded two sacks and four quarterback hits in the victory.
A look back at some of the top images in games between the Washington Redskins and New York Giants.
When you find yourself needing a large chunk of yards for the first down, head coach Jay Gruden said, any pass rush can become a dangerous pass rush.
"That's when pass rushes become very good because you turn into a one-dimensional football team," he said, "and we're obviously not very good when we're one-dimensional."
The first-year head coach hopes that by finding more success on first and second down, the Redskins will be able to stay on top of their game and not fall behind.
The Giants have recorded 28 sacks this season, but 17 of those have come on first down. Likewise, New York has recorded 16 tackles for loss when their opponent is setup with a fresh set of downs, making it even more important for the Redskins' offense to be moving forwards on first down, not in reverse.
"That's going to be very important," Gruden said. "Eliminate the negative plays. Far too many negative plays on first down, the penalties – all that – then we have got to convert on third down."
To echo that point, offensive coordinator Sean McVay believes that it gives the defense a distinct advantage when the offense is faced with a difficult third down conversion attempt.
"You get yourself in bad situations on first and second down," he said, "and now you're in third and long and the defense is able to push their ears back and come at you hard."
On the season, New York is tied for 10th in the NFL in interceptions (13) and third in forced fumbles (16). Against the Redskins in Week 4, New York intercepted four passes while also recovering two fumbles.
Fullback Darrel Young said the Giants played well that night, but believes that eliminating the big mistakes on offense will go a long on Sunday.
"They did a great job getting to the quarterback, creating turnovers, just figuring out what we were doing," Young said. "You got to eliminate the sacks, stop beating ourselves. Every week we say stop beating ourselves, but we really beat ourselves in that game."
That night, fifth-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul finished with seven tackles. Now preparing to face the Redskins again, he enters having recorded 11 tackles, 3.5 sacks and a forced fumble in the past two weeks.
Left tackle Trent Williams looks forward to the challenge, saying he expects Pierre-Paul to be a handful rushing the quarterback's blind side once again.
"He does everything well," Williams said. "He's a vet. He knows how to use his hands. He's really crafty. He's really strong. He's really fast. He's the total package."
Along with Pierre-Paul, the Giants boast the reigning NFC Defensive Player of the Week in rookie linebacker Devon Kennard. The 2014 fifth-round pick made six stops, including two sacks and one forced fumble in the Giants' 36-7 win over the Tennessee Titans a week ago, New York's first win in nearly two months.
In the secondary, New York has the 12th-ranked pass defense, allowing an average of 236.8 passing yards per game. Ten-year veteran Antrel Rolle leads the way with 70 tackles and three interceptions and seven pass deflections.
Across the board, McVay says, the Giants have talent on defense.
"They've got good physical corners on the outside," McVay said. "Rodgers-Cromartie is an excellent player and I think Antrel Rolle has been a very good safety for a long time. They've got some good players on the back end and obviously everybody knows what Pierre-Paul can offer up front."
While the head-to-head matchups will certainly be intriguing battles to watch, Gruden knows that the Redskins can't afford to fall behind early and become one-dimensional if they expect a different outcome this time around.
"It's very important for us to keep this game within reach and we've got to do that," he said. "We've got to figure out a way to keep the game within reach for four quarters, so we have the whole playbook open to us offensively."