Any opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of the team.
After dropping its season opener against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Washington Football Team has a chance to bounce back with a Thursday night NFC East game against the New York Giants. Here are three keys to the matchup, presented by Van Metre.
1. Keep Daniel Jones in the pocket
Daniel Jones tends to play well against Washington; in fact, four of his eight career wins have come against the burgundy and gold. Ron Rivera gave one reason why he's been so successful: his ability as a runner.
"He's a dynamic runner," Rivera said. "He's a quarterback that can take advantage of that."
Jones has had varying degrees of success scrambling against Washington. He did the most damage in Week 6 last season, when he had seven carries for 74 yards. Over the past three years, Jones has 729 yards on 116 carries.
One of Washington's priorities, Rivera said, will be to keep Jones in the pocket. The Giants were among the worst at protecting their quarterback with 50 sacks in 2020, which was tied with Washington for the second-most in the league. They allowed two against the Denver Broncos, and if Washington's defensive line is able to take away one part of Jones' game, it'll make the secondary's job much easier.
2. Contain Saquon Barkley
Saquon Barkley is returning from a torn ACL sustained in Week 2 last season. He put up pedestrian numbers against the Broncos -- 10 carries for 26 yards -- but he has a history of giving standout performances at FedExField.
Barkley has played two games at Washington's stadium, and each time he racked up at least 170 yards. The last time he was at FedExField, which came during the 2019 season, he rushed for 189 yard and a touchdown in a 41-35 win. If Washington hopes to get its first win of the season, it cannot allow Barkley to put up similar numbers.
Washington was around the middle of the league last year against the rush, allowing 113 yards per game, but the defense did have its positive moments. In its Thanksgiving matchup against the Dallas Cowboys, it limited Ezekiel Elliott to just 32 yards, and the Chargers' Austin Ekeler was held to 57.
Barkley was listed as "questionable" on the final injury report, but being able to stymie one of the best running backs in the league would be a big confidence boost for Washington's defense.
3. Get playmakers involved early
On paper, Washington has the weapons to put together a strong showing against the Giants' 23rd-ranked defense. Terry McLaurin, Logan Thomas, Antonio Gibson and others are all at Taylor Heinicke's disposal. The key will be getting the ball in their hands.
There were moments when all of Washington's key offensive playmakers flashed against the Chargers. McLaurin's 37-yard catch was one of the most outstanding moments in Week 1; Thomas's 11-yard grab put Washington up by three in the third quarter; and Gibson recorded 108 total yards, including 90 on the ground.
Those moments were not enough to give Washington a permanent lead, as the offense had just 259 yards with a minuscule 15 first downs. McLaurin and Thomas made all their catches, although they combined for just seven targets.
Washington's offense showed at certain points that it has the capabilities of being a more dynamic offense. It just needs more of those plays earlier in the game. Even though three of Washington's first five drives ended with points, the offense only averaged 26.6 yards per series.
With a challenge coming from Rivera to limit mistakes in Week 2, the hope is that Washington will be much more explosive in its division matchup.