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Scouts Inc. - Redskins vs. Giants Preview

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Stopping Barber is Redskins' focus

By Scouts, Inc.

Why To Watch

The Redskins were seemingly left for dead with a 5-6 record in late November. But they have shown great resolve, reeling off three consecutive wins since then and thrusting themselves back into the thick of the NFC playoff picture.

The Redskins would need to win out and have the Giants lose both of their remaining games in order to capture the NFC East title. That pursuit begins on Sunday, when they play host to a Giants team that embarrassed them 36-0 earlier this season.

If Joe Gibbs' club is to exact revenge, it must find an answer for Giants RB Tiki Barber, who rushed for 206 yards in that Week 8 meeting. A Giants victory, on the other hand, would secure Tom Coughlin's team the division title and bring it one step closer to an opening-round bye in the playoffs.

When the Giants have the ball

Rushing: Finding a way to keep Barber reasonably bottled up must be the biggest area of concern for the Redskins' coaches and players during practice this week. Barber had one of his best performances of the season when these teams met eight weeks ago, and the diminutive back proved he has yet to wear down when he ripped off 220 yards on 29 carries versus the Chiefs last week.

Barber lacks ideal size and power to push the pile as a runner, but his vision, patience, lateral mobility and initial burst are outstanding. He is difficult to find behind his big offensive linemen on interior runs, and he also runs a lot harder than his smallish frame would lead defenders to believe.

As strong as Barber has been as a runner this season, much credit must also be given to his offensive line. The Giants have continued to be effective up front despite the losses of OTs Luke Petitgout (back) and Kareem McKenzie (hamstring), who are out indefinitely due to injuries. Starting in their place are David Diehl (ROT), who has great size and versatility, and Bob Whitfield (LOT), a veteran who has proved to be just as effective as Petitgout was when healthy earlier this season.

The Redskins have gotten healthier on defense since the first time these two teams met, which gives them hope in pursuit of better defending Barber on the ground. MLB Lemar Marshall has been a solid run defender, but he will need more help from DTs Cornelius Griffin and Joe Salave'a than he got from his interior offensive line the first time around when Griffin was sidelined due to injury.

Passing: Ironically, QB Eli Manning had one of his worst individual performances of the season when the Giants routed the Redskins in Week 8. The second-year signal-caller completed just 12 of 31 passes and threw an interception. This time around, the Giants are not as strong up front due to the aforementioned offensive line injuries, while the Redskins have become healthier and stouter versus the run. As such, if the Giants are to make it a home-and-home sweep over the Redskins during this regular season, Manning's play will need to improve.

The Giants spend a good majority of their time in two-back, two-receiver and one-tight end sets. Barber is effective as a receiver out of the backfield, but the team is not expecting as much from him in that role as it has in years past. Because of the team's lack of depth at wide receiver and below-average athleticism along the offensive line, it is not able to spread opponents out very often with multiple-receiver sets.

As such, WRs Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer and TE Jeremy Shockey are the three key components to shutting down the Giants' passing attack. RDC Shawn Springs should once again be able to keep Burress in check when left alone on an island in coverage, but the Redskins will also need to pick and choose those moments carefully. Toomer is not much of a vertical threat, but his experience and effective route-running skills give him an inherent advantage over rookie LDC Carlos Rogers.

The Redskins will want to cheat SS Ryan Clark up near the line of scrimmage as often as possible in order to beef up versus the run, which will give Shockey some chances to provide the big play as a receiver who releases down the middle of the field in play-action. If Clark is too aggressive versus the play-fake and if FS Sean Taylor makes too many recognition mistakes, Manning will have the opportunity to strike big down the middle of the field.

When the Redskins have the ball

Rushing: RB Clinton Portis has come on strong during the second half of the season and has been especially effective recently, averaging 117.6 rushing yards during the team's current three-game winning streak. Portis finally seems to be settling into a groove in terms of his timing and feel for the blocking in front of him, and Gibbs also continues to tweak his scheme in order to maximize Portis' strengths as a "stretch" and "cutback" runner. Ladell Betts and Rock Cartwright are not nearly as explosive as Portis, but they are both versatile players and tough runners who provide good depth in order to keep Portis fresh late in games.

There are some concerns for the Redskins in this facet of the game, though. For starters, the team will be without starting ROG Randy Thomas, who has suffered a broken right fibula. Thomas had been a strong starter for the Redskins and teamed up with ROT Jon Jansen to form an overpowering right side of the Redskins' offensive line. Without him, 43-year-old veteran Ray Brown will be inserted into the starting lineup. Although Brown certainly has the size and experience to get the job done, his lack of foot quickness and experience playing next to Jansen and OC Casey Rabach are sure to present problems for this unit moving forward.

Secondly, the Redskins were able to rush for only 87 net yards in the first meeting versus a Giants defense that ranks in the top one-third of the NFL in stopping the run. The good news for the Redskins, however, is that the Giants will be without MLB Antonio Pierce and SLB Carlos Emmons, who were both lost for extended periods of time due to recent injuries. In their places, Nick Greisen is inserted at weakside linebacker, Reggie Torbor at strongside linebacker and Chase Blackburn at middle linebacker.

Pierce played an especially key role in the Giants' ability to shut down the Redskins' ground game the first time around, finishing with 11 total tackles. Greisen lacks ideal athletic ability, Torbor is a second-year pro who is much better rushing the passer than defending the run and Blackburn is a rookie free agent who has played almost exclusively on special teams this season.

Passing: After watching Chris Cooley turn in a career performance with three touchdown catches versus the Cowboys last week, the Giants will undoubtedly be game-planning to stop the second-year H-Back. Cooley does not possess elite size or speed, but he has quick feet, reliable hands and a great feel for reading coverages and finding soft spots in zone.

The Giants have two athletic safeties in SS Gibril Wilson and FS Brent Alexander, but neither has ideal height to match up with Cooley one-on-one one. As a result, look for the Giants to continue to play a lot of cover-2 shells with Wilson and Alexander covering the deep middle and Torbor working underneath to get press Cooley and stall him at the line of scrimmage.

Because of the patchwork linebacker situation on the Giants' defense, look for the Redskins to enter Sunday's game looking to get Portis, Cooley and TE Robert Royal as involved as possible as receivers out of the backfield. If QB Mark Brunell is able to spread the ball around successfully to his underneath receivers early, it may force the Giants to be more aggressive with their safeties in terms of cheating them up and helping out in underneath zone coverage.

If that's the case, it could lead to some deep-ball opportunities off play-action in the second half. LDC Will Allen has the speed and athletic ability to hold up one-on-one versus Redskins WRs Santana Moss and James Thrash when asked to, but Moss could prove to be a huge matchup problem on the other side versus RDC Curtis Deloatch, who has been thrust into a starting role due to injuries.

***EDIT*** here's the link: http://insider.espn.go.com/nfl/scouting?gameId=251224028

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I wouldn't say overmatched. Slight edge maybe. But after the last meeting between these two teams, I'm really hesitant to say we have any advantage whatsoever, even if it was an aberration game.

agreed, but this is def. a more important game for us, than it is for them. Even if the Giants lose to us, on Sunday if the Vikes lose to the ravens (who put 48 up on green bay), then they are automatically in the playoffs, and if the vikes and falcons lose and we win, then we also are automatically in. So we have to win this game, b/c theres no telling what could happen afterwards.

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