The most astonishing thing about this year’s rookie quarterbacks is not just how good they are, but how resilient they are at captaining their teams.
For instance, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is replacing one of the greatest quarterbacks and most beloved players in NFL history, Peyton Manning, and he has met and overcome steep, cavernous expectations.
Luck joined a 2-14 team that went into complete rebuilding mode in the offseason, and has commanded them to 8-4 in an MVP-worth effort in spite of an anemic offensive line. The Colts are likely playoff-bound despite losing their head coach temporarily (while he is undergoing a battle with leukemia) and having offensive coordinator Bruce Arians fill in.
The Seattle Seahawks’ Russell Wilson beat out the highly-paid, free-agent- signing Matt Flynn for the starting quarterback job, and has impressively steered his team to a 7-5 record (and Seattle closely tails the Niners for the NFC West division lead).
Yesterday, Wilson gracefully knifed through the Bears’ defense using his athleticism and strong, deadly accurate arm. It was an unexpected upset that so badly disturbed Bears fans that ESPN’s Michael Wilbon felt compelled to comment via Twitter on his team’s shortcomings: “Lovie’s D looked amateurish against Wilson…slow, bad tackling, not clutch…this is 2 times in 3 weeks the Bears D got smoked.” Wilbon followed the Tweet with “They can’t beat an athletic QB…RG3 must be dying to get a shot at Bears in wild-card game. He’s [sic] score every possession…”
This appropriately brings us to RG3, the subject of Monday Night’s game and the New York Giants’ opponent tonight. In case you have been living under a rock, Griffin has surpassed even the most outlandish preseason hype. He is third in the NFL in quarterback rating; fourth in ESPN’s signal-caller metric, NFL Total QBR; and second in yards per attempt with 8.21. He leads the NFL in completions of 10 yards or more with an otherworldly 61 percent, and had great success against New York in the last Redskins-Giants matchup, connecting 7-of-11 on passes thrown over 10 yards.
Due to some blunders on the defensive end, Washington lost that contest against the Giants in Week 7, which sent the ‘Skins tumbling, as Washington would lose three straight and fall to 3-6. But, as mentioned, resilience is inherent in this very special QB class, and the Redskins won their last two games with RG3 throwing a combined eight TDs and one interception. Here are some things to look for in tonight’s game.
How the Giants Contain the Redskins’ Nuclear Offense
The Redskins employ a ground attack based off the zone read, so the Giants’ front seven will need to stay patient in their designated assignments, but aggressive when pursuing their gaps. (They do not want to allow Alfred Morris or Griffin to reach the second level.) Washington is consistently able to go over the top of the opposing secondary with the play-action pass, thanks to the Redskins’ No. 1 ranked running game (163.5 yards a game). Griffin leads the NFL in touchdown passes with nine on throws downfield of 25 yards or more.
However, New York faced a team who loves the deep ball last Sunday when they waxed Green Bay, and in their resounding victory they used seven men in coverage based around three safeties and two linebackers. In the win over the Packers, the Giants’ front four was able to consistently disrupt Aaron Rodgers and not allow him to feel comfortable. Griffin is a much more dangerous run threat than Rodgers, so having a defender like the athletic Mathias Kiwanuka always spying on Griffin to guard against his prowess running the ball is essential (although even that precautionary measure may not be much help).
The Redskins like to pound the ball in their power running game with ball-carrier Morris. How well the Giants’ front seven are able to get off their blocks and force Morris to go east-west is what will determine New York’s success -- especially if Jason Pierre-Paul is able to consistently line up against right tackle Tyler Polumbus, who has had some significant difficulty staying in front of his man off the edge.
The BIG, BIIIIIG Mismatch
Remember how the Giants won their last meeting when Washington decided that covering slot receiver Victor Cruz for the vertical stretch pass was not a priority? The outcome was an inexcusable 77-yard touchdown and the Giants winning the game on that play. In that defeat, Josh Wilson was the man assigned to cover Cruz. This time around it will be new blood -- the chronically overrated, petulant DeAngelo Hall.
Since Hall was given the position of slot cornerback, he has faired well. But Cruz is another animal, and if he is consistently getting open against the older, overmatched defensive back (it is hard to imagine Hall being effective playing tight coverage on Cruz) then that will open up the outside-the-numbers perimeter pass for Eli Manning. Now that Hakeem Nicks seems healthy, Cruz and Nicks can return to being two of the most formidable receiving targets in the NFL.
The Giants Establishing a Run Game
Now that Andre Brown is out of the picture (he suffered a season-ending broken fibula injury), rookie first-round pick David Wilson will be expected to come in and assist Ahmad Bradshaw with the ground duties. Against Green Bay, Bradshaw and Brown played well, finding spacious running lanes due to the offensive line setting the edge with good hat-on-hat blocking (thank you Will Beatty and Kevin Boothe). The pass offense will need Wilson to maintain Brown’s role as a viable change-of-pace running option because when their two-headed attack is effective, Manning is lethal with the play-action pass and Washington’s safeties are pitiable.
Washington typically likes to bring a lot of pressure, but they mostly abstained in their first meeting against the Giants. The expectation this time around is that they will try to bring extra men on the blitz and hope to rattle Manning, who is being labeled as a set and throw quarterback. Eli may not be as elusive and mobile as RG3, Luck, or Russell Wilson, but he is excellent at staying upright long enough to deliver his passes on extra-men blitzes. With how weak the Redskins are at containing the long, downfield pass play, it may end up coming back to hurt them if they leave their back end vulnerable.
Giants 31, Redskins 28