As the Giants (7-4) prepare for the home stretch of the regular season, they know each game’s importance increases in the very tight NFC playoff race.

And even though the struggling Washington Redskins (5-6) come to town, coach Tom Coughlin said he’s weary of any desperate team, especially one within the division.

“The Washington Redskins are 2-1 in the division,” Coughlin said. “They’ve beaten Philadelphia and Dallas and they are a team that has played any number of very tight football games.”

Coughlin said the biggest concern with preparing for the Redskins is the matchup of his injury-depleted offense and Washington’s attacking defense.

“[Defensive coordinator] Jim Haslett has done a good job on the defensive side of the ball,” said Coughlin. “They have an outstanding veteran secondary and are very aggressive. And they are very big up front.”

The Giants’ biggest worry is the re-worked offensive line – one that hasn’t been intact in over a month. Center Shaun O’Hara is still out, as well as his backup Adam Koets [injured reserve]. Left tackle David Diehl is also struggling with injuries and may not be ready for Sunday. Diehl’s backup, Shawn Andrews [back] is also questionable.

That being said, Coughlin had nothing but praise for his offensive line coaches Pat Flaherty and Jack Bicknell, Jr., the rotation of players who have filled in at unfamiliar positions, quarterback Eli Manning’s ability to have better pocket awareness, and the running backs who have helped with chip-blocking pass rushers.

“It has allowed us to continue to function,” Coughlin said of the patchwork unit that has not allowed a sack in four games. “Not just the line but Eli has done a great job of stepping up in the pocket. And our backs have done a great job of blocking, too.”

Perhaps the Giants’ biggest weakness this season has been the special teams. Although the unit has improved over the weeks, Coughlin said all it takes is one bad punt from rookie Matt Dodge and it could not only swing field position but the momentum of the game.

“Their kicking game,” Coughlin said when asked what concerns him. “[Brandon] Banks is an outstanding returner who creates positive field position for their offense.”

Banks is an undrafted rookie free agent who sports a 27 yard kick return average and an 11.3 punt return average. Banks also has a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on his resume. But he’s not the only new face that worries Coughlin. There’s the matter of facing old Philly foe Donovan McNabb for the first time in Redskins garb. Although Coughlin had nothing but praise for the veteran quarterback, McNabb’s numbers are amongst the worst of his career. The former Eagle has a 58 percent completion rate, 76.1 quarterback rating, 2,853 yards, 11 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. The picks are the most McNabb has had since the 2000-01 season.

Coughlin said the good thing about facing yet another mobile quarterback in back-to-back weeks is that the preparation doesn’t really change. Last week, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard haunted the Giants pass rush with timely scrambles. McNabb, although not much of a runner anymore, poses the same threat.

“He’s still Donovan McNabb. Has a very strong arm and still has the ability to pull the ball down and run,” Coughlin said. “I don’t think there’s any difference in him [from his Philly days]. We have to make sure plays don’t get extended. It helps that we can quickly draw analogies and rely on what you’ve done as a defense against a running quarterback.”

Coughlin added he’s looking forward to playing their rivals to the south in front of the home crowd and looks forward to the challenge.

“We’re in the division and are very excited about that and are excited about playing at home again,” he said.

Latest From ...