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Since Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks went down with injuries, the Giants’ passing game hasn’t been the same.

1 Who steps up in the Giants’ passing game?

Since Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks went down with injuries, the Giants’ passing game hasn’t been the same.

The Redskins boast a tenacious and opportunistic veteran secondary, led by DeAngelo Hall’s team-leading six interceptions. Hall, a gambler, has shown that when he gets hot — or guesses right on a pattern — he can take it to the house, as he did in a four-interception game against the Chicago Bears earlier this season.

2 Can the O-line protect Manning?

The Giants’ patchwork O-line hasn’t allowed a sack in four games, while the Redskins average two sacks per contest.

If Eli Manning’s makeshift receiving corps can’t adjust on the fly, linebackers Brian Orakpo (8.5 sacks) and London Fletcher (team-high 98 tackles) will make him pay.

“We’ve got to make it easier on [Eli],”?receiver Mario Manningham said.

Don’t forget, Manning turned the ball over six times in the previous two games before the offense woke up in last week’s second half vs. Jacksonville.

3 Will special teams finally cost Big Blue?

Redskins’ rookie return specialist Brandon Banks has quietly turned into one of the league’s most feared return men. The Kansas State product sports a 27-yard kick return average, including a 96-yard touchdown, and an 11.3 punt return average, with a long of 53 yards.

“I don’t think anybody knew he’d have that kind of impact,” Washington coach Mike Shanahan said. “But it didn’t take long to see that he’s got some exceptional skills.

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin favors directional punting, so it’ll be up to rookie Matt Dodge to play keep-away.

Key matchups:

Eli Manning and Receivers vs. Redskins Secondary – Nothing against Manning, although he has been somewhat sporadic this season, but the Redskins get the edge because of what Manning has lost in recent weeks. Starters Steve Smith and Hakeem Nicks are both out for Sunday and perhaps another two-three weeks apiece, so the onus has fallen on Mario Manningham and a host of unknown wideouts. Other than Manningham [41 catches for 561 yards and five touchdowns], the next most accomplished receiver on the active roster is newly-resigned Derek Hagan [five catches for 31 yards and a touchdown] and that won’t get it done.
EDGE: Redskins

Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Redskins Run Defense – Washington is yielding 131.5 rushing yards per game, which is 26th in the league. As the weather turns cold and the Big Blue wideouts try to get healthy, look for the ‘Skins to be fed a healthy dose of Jacobs [474 rushing yards] and Bradshaw. [916 rushing yards]. The duo has amassed 138 combined rushing yards per game, good for sixth overall, and will try to sustain drives with their punishing style. If they managed to control the clock and tempo, it’ll alleviate some of the pressure off of Manning and his hodgepodge receiving unit.
EDGE: Giants

Giants O-Line vs. Redskins D-Line – On paper, this looks to be a mismatch in favor of Washington but it’s hard to argue with the results of Coughlin’s makeshift unit. It’s been almost a month since all five regular starters played together but that hasn’t deterred this unit from excelling. The Giants’ offensive line hasn’t allowed a sack in four games and has stepped up whenever a starter has gone down. Credit the coaching staff with getting guys ready, despite some players starting at unfamiliar positions. Since a team’s success all starts up front, the Redskins’ D-Line should be held personally responsible for its league-worst standing of allowing 400.9 yards per game.
EDGE: Giants

Donovan McNabb and Receivers vs. Giants Secondary – Washington’s pass game isn’t necessarily potent but they do have some nice pieces in place. Santana Moss [62 catches, 778 yards, and three touchdowns], Anthony Armstrong [25 catches, 525 yards, and a 21.8 receiving average], and Chris Cooley [54 catches, 603 yards, and two touchdowns] are McNabb’s favorite weapons. If only McNabb could regularly get the ball to them, the balance of power in this matchup might’ve tilted the Redskins’ way. Despite McNabb beating the Giants four-straight times, including playoffs, that was in Philadelphia. This season has been one of McNabb’s worst statistically, as he has only 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions – the most since his second season, the 2000-01 campaign. He’s also completing a paltry 57.8 percent of his passes. Not good enough in head coach Mike Shanahan’s version of the West Coast offense.
EDGE: Giants

Ryan Torain vs. Giants Run Defense – The Redskins’ stable of running backs has been a revolving door, as three different backs [Torain, Clinton Portis, and Keiland Williams] have toted the rock at least 25 times this season. Such instability is one reason why Washington has only accumulated 90.7 rushing yards per game – good for 26th in the league. Without a staunch rushing attack, that leaves the fate of the game in the sometimes shaky hands of its passing attack – 242 yards per game. The Giants have shown they will allow some yardage on the ground but the Redskins’ trio is a far cry from Jacksonville’s or Philadelphia’s rushing attack.
EDGE: Giants

Redskins O-Line vs. Giants D-Line – The Redskins have allowed an atrocious 32 sacks this season – 31 on McNabb. New York likes nothing else than pinning back its ears and getting after the quarterback. And if Big Blue jumps out to an early lead, and forces Shanahan to abandon the run, McNabb will be a sitting duck for a defense that has accumulated 31 sacks this season. Osi Umenyiora [team-leading eight sacks], Justin Tuck [7.5 sacks], and that tenacious pass rush would love to put Washington in numerous third-and-longs or into pass-only mode.
EDGE: Giants

Special Teams – Redskins punter Graham Gano has missed seven field goals this season [75 percent accuracy], including four within the 29- to 49-yard range. Nothing is guaranteed for any visiting kicker here, especially one who’s making his first career start in the swirling winds of the New Meadowlands Stadium. The Redskins have the advantage, though, simply because one of the Giants’ weaknesses – covering kicks. This part of the game could haunt them should they accidentally test rookie Brandon Banks [27 yard kick return average, including a 96-yard touchdown, and an 11.3 punt average with a long of 53 yards]. No one on New York’s roster can match that productivity, so it’d behoove rookie Matt Dodge to boom them high and angular. One wayward kick and Banks could swing the momentum.
EDGE: Redskins

Coaching – Both coaches own Super Bowl hardware. While Shanahan’s two titles came in the late 1990s, there’s no doubt he can coach. Coughlin got his following the 2007 season, so he has more of a recent track record of success. As great as Coughlin rallies his teams, though, the slight edge goes to the borderline future Hall of Famer Shanahan because these are the type of games when the man dubbed “The Mastermind” pulls out all stops.
EDGE: Redskins

 
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