The Washington Commanders are playing their second NFC East matchup of the season by going to MetLife Stadium and taking on the New York Giants. Here are three keys to Washington getting back above .500, presented by KIA.
1. Be ready for anything and everything from the Giants' defense.
Commanders quarterback Sam Howell has a lingering issue with taking sacks and holding on to the ball for a little too long. Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale likes to bring pressure as often as possible. You can see where this is going.
"Wink has been doing this for a long time. He's very creative with the schemes that he designs," said assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. "One thing that you know is that he's going to try and get after a young quarterback. So, we have to prepare ourselves for anything and everything, and even the unscouted looks."
The Commanders are aware that Howell, who has been sacked 34 times this season, is getting hit at an unacceptable rate. They're going to be tested often on Sunday against a defense that held the Buffalo Bills to their lowest point total all year.
The sacks are a problem for the entire offense to solve, and that includes Bieniemy. He acknowledged he needs to be a better play caller, and the players need to improve at executing and starting fast. They also need to find ways of giving Howell answers right away, and based on how the Giants play, there should be plenty of them.
For starters, more pressure can mean more man coverage in the secondary. The Commanders have several players who can excel in one-on-one scenarios, including Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel. Should the Giants also line up in zone coverage, Howell can dump off a pass to Logan Thomas, who knows how to find soft spots in coverage.
There's also the screen game, which seems to be picking up steam again after Brian Robinson Jr.’s 24-yard touchdown last Sunday. It still comes down to execution, but Washington does have the tools to get past the Giants' pressure-happy scheme.
2. Take advantage of the Giants' offensive line issues.
Among all the issues that the Giants' offense has had this season, the most glaring is that their offensive line is going through a rough patch.
Six of the Giants' 15 players on the injury report are offensive linemen, including starters John Michael Schmitz, Andrew Thomas and Evan Neal. Neal has a shot to play, but Schmitz and Thomas have both been ruled out.
As a result, whether Daniel Jones or Tyrod Taylor is under center, the Giants' quarterbacks have been under duress all season. The offense has given up 33 sacks, which is second behind the Commanders for the most in the league.
All the signs point to the Commanders' defensive line having a disruptive day against the Giants. Not only are the Giants struggling with a makeshift front, but the Commanders are also tied for sixth in sacks. Chase Young also has more pressures than almost any player in the league, and Montez Sweat leads the team with 4.5 sacks.
Regardless of who is starting at quarterback, Washington needs to take advantage of how banged up the Giants are up front. The defensive line has shown it can take over games, and Sunday is another opportunity to do it.
3. Make every drive count.
Washington's matchups with Giants over the last four seasons have been uncomfortably close during Ron Rivera’s tenure. The average margin of victory is 4.7 points, and if you take out the 2021 finale where the Commanders won 22-7, it goes down to 2.6 points.
So, Washington can't afford to waste any scoring opportunities.
The Commanders have had head scratching periods in games where their offensive production falls off. Last week against the Falcons, they ended the game with four consecutive punts, allowing the Falcons to stay competitive.
There have been moments before the Falcons game where the offense didn't do much to move down the field. Against the Eagles, for example, they had back-to-back punts in the third quarter that allowed the Eagles to take the lead.
As Bieniemy said on Thursday, "We've got to learn how to put consistent behavior on tape." The Commanders cannot afford to let the Giants hang around and gain momentum. We saw them do that against the Chicago Bears and well...we know how that went.
If Washington plays up to its expectations, it should have a chance to win Sunday. But it must not waste any chance to put up points.