Tonight’s edition of Thursday Night Football is an NFC East showdown as the Redskins make the trip to the meadowlands to take on the Giants. At the beginning of the season, it looked like the division would be a two team race between the Eagles and the Cowboys. But with the Eagles struggling and Tony Romo out an extended period, the division is suddenly there for the taking. Oddly enough, the team with the clearest view at this point of what they want to be very well could be the Redskins.
Through two games, we know the Redskins are going to come in trying to establish a power rushing attack and keep it close with an underrated defense. Despite the preseason talk, little has been said about Kirk Cousins these past two weeks which isn’t a bad thing. Cousins has been more of a “game manager” so far this year taking what’s given to him and lowering the risks (granted DeSean Jackson the team’s big play threat has been out since the first quarter of week one). In passing situations, Cousins does have a favorable matchup in this one.
The Giants have had little to no pass rush through two games and are battling injuries in the secondary. As a result, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed should be the primary beneficiaries. Reed I especially like in this matchup as the Giants have struggled mightily covering tight ends to this point. It’s also worth noting that Reed also brings much more to the table athletically than Jason Witten and Jacob Tamme who both previously gashed this unit. Garcon should see seven to eight targets in this one, but mainly on short to intermediate routes as the team tries to utilize his ability after the catch. Ryan Grant and Andre Roberts both figure to see some work, but not enough to be considered for fantasy purposes.
With that said, the heartbeat of the Redskins offense is the running game. Despite playing well against the run so far, the Giants personnel doesn’t really suggest it will be sustainable for a long time. If it starts to show itself tonight, they could be in serious trouble. As a strong, durable runner with good vision, Alfred Morris would seem to be a lock getting 20 to 25 carries a week in this offense. But after Matt Jones’ showing this past Sunday, I’d guess that we’re heading towards a running back timeshare in Washington. Compared by Redskins personnel to Marshawn Lynch this offseason, Jones has shown a very impressive combination of both speed and power for his size. Unless one back is extremely inefficient, my guess is Morris will see around 17-20 total touches while Jones gets 10-15.
With the Redskins being impressive in stopping the run, there is a good chance the Giants offense will go as far as Eli Manning takes them tonight. In their two meetings last year, Manning shredded the Redskins secondary so it will be interesting to see how he fairs against a unit that if you’re going off the personnel on paper has been playing over their heads to start 2015. With Victor Cruz out and Rueben Randle hobbled, we’re once again going to see a whole lot of Odell Beckham in this one.
Like most teams, the Redskins don’t have a single corner they can call on to stop Beckham. The Giants have shown they will get creative to give Beckham his chances, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he lined up in the slot, or the team tried to match him up against DeAngelo Hall. Once a Pro Bowl caliber player in his own right, Hall is on the back-end of his career and is coming back from an Achilles tear that ended his 2014 season. Never known to walk away from a challenge, Hall is notorious for his trash talking and the occasions he fails to back it up usually brings joy to families watching in their living rooms across the country.
Despite his injury, Randle should see six or seven targets as despite his inconsistency, the talent is there. Larry Donnell is known for his big game on Thursday night in Washington last year, but don’t expect a repeat performance. While the Redskins have allowed some big gains to opposing tight ends already, Donnell would need Daniel Fells to miss this week in order to see more volume. While the matchup is decent, temper expectations heading into tonight. The rushing attack will be led by Rashad Jennings, but with two other backs getting touches and playing against a strong defensive front this might not be his night. If neither Jennings or Andre Williams are effective between the tackles, the Giants best bet might just be establishing some checkdowns to Shane Vereen. A skilled receiver who can create in space, Vereen could be a huge asset in this one and would make for a sneaky play in daily leagues.
With this game potentially being a big deciding factor in the NFC East down the stretch, this one should be interesting to watch. The two teams are built in contrasting styles, but I would say the Giants offensively are more adept to play at various tempos (the Washington grind it out game, or a faster paced one) which leads me to favor them here. My prediction is Redskins 20 Giants (-3.5) 23.