ASHBURN — The Redskins are ready for the regular-season finale at FedEx Field on Sunday against the Giants.
Whether the 2016 season will extend beyond that is up to them. Beat a New York team that has nothing to play for and Washington will almost certainly make the playoffs. Lose and the season is over. That’s pretty simple.
It’s unclear exactly how long the Giants intend to use their top players, but coach Ben McAdoo insists they will be on the field, including quarterback Eli Manning. But maybe if the Redskins get off to a quick lead that calculus changes. Again, New York is the No. 5 seed in the NFC no matter what. It doesn’t have much incentive to stick to that plan if Washington goes up by a couple of touchdowns.
But to do that, the Redskins have to prepare as if they’ll get the Giants’ best shot. They certainly wouldn’t mind knocking an NFC East rival out of the playoff chase and ending their season. Here are five storylines to watch:
An aerial attack
The Redskins can and will attack New York’s secondary. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins has had a fine season, but he should miss his second game in a row with a back injury. He’s one of those players who New York just shouldn’t risk playing before the NFC wild card game. That leaves rookie Eli Apple and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to cover DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. That’s no easy task these days. Jackson has topped 100 receiving yards in three consecutive games and needs just 29 yards to top 1,000 for the season.
Garcon (945 yards) is almost there, too, plus he has 75 receptions and could top 80 for just the second time in his career. Oh – that also leaves Jamison Crowder (65 receptions, 831 yards) to be dealt with in the slot. Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins has an outside shot of becoming just the ninth player in NFL history to reach 5,000 passing yards, but he’d need a monster day to do it (370 yards). Cousins has done that three times since Oct. 30 so it’s not impossible.
Account for Giants safety Landon Collins
The man who grew up a huge Sean Taylor fan would be making the late Redskins great proud with his play this season. A second-year pro, Collins is now a force to be reckoned with. He has five interceptions and 13 passes defended to go with a team-high 96 tackles. Collins is an active player who has excelled against the run and improved rapidly in coverage. He can bring pressure, too, with three sacks so quarterback Kirk Cousins has to be aware of Collins at all times.
How to use tight end Jordan Reed
No one really knows what to expect – or even if Reed will play at all. He’s been nursing a Grade 3 left shoulder separation since that remarkable performance on Thanksgiving Day against Dallas. Reed missed a game (at Arizona), was just a bit player in the two after (at Philadelphia, vs. Carolina) and sat out last Saturday against Chicago. He’s been listed as limited at practice this week. There’s little reason to leave him inactive, but coaches insist they won’t play him unless he resembles the Reed who is one of the sport’s top pass-receiving tight ends and can hold up on running plays. If he can’t then it’s a pretty easy tell for the defense that a pass play is imminent. There are no decoys in the NFL.
Stop the New York running game
That’s been an issue for Washington all season and there’s no reason to think that changes on Sunday. But where New York was brutal in that area early in the year, it has begun to see rookie Paul Perkins emerge. He has set a career-high in rushing yards each of the last four games – from 38 to 45 to 56 to 68 against the Eagles last game. Perkins isn’t a workhorse yet, but he has reached 4.5 yards per carry or better in three of those games. That gives the Giants a little different dimension on offense. Perkins is only 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, but the fifth-round pick out of UCLA could hurt the Redskins in the screen game, too. He has 15 catches for 162 yards.
Contain New York defensive end Olivier Vernon
The Giants have made hay the second half of the season thanks to a strong pass rush. They are missing defensive end Jason Pierre Paul (groin), who has seven sacks. But Vernon (8.5 sacks) is a force in his own right. Redskins left tackle Trent Williams helped keep Vernon off the board in the first meeting on Sept. 25 in New York. The Redskins allow sacks on just 3.32 percent of their pass attempts, which ranks third in the NFL.
Prediction: With nothing on the line the Giants won’t have enough juice to give Washington a game. Kirk Cousins throws three touchdown passes and falls just short of 5,000 passing yards for the year as the Redskins clinch a playoff spot. No, the Packers and Lions won’t finish in a tie.
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