The Redskins are only two games into the season, but they’ve already arrived at a potential turning point. The NFC East is a mess. The undefeated Cowboys are without Tony Romo and Dez Bryant for the foreseeable future. Sam Bradford and the Eagles are scuffling at 0-2. Eli Manning and the Giants have coughed up fourth quarter leads two weeks in a row.
So, yeah, the Redskins (1-1) could set themselves up pretty nicely with a win at MetLife Stadium.
Here are the five areas I'll be monitoring Thursday night:
1-Contain Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr., who went off in his only game against the Redskins last year, racking up 12 receptions, 143 yards and three touchdowns in a 24-13 victory. Through two games this season, Beckham ranks seventh in the NFL in receiving yards with 190. Bashaud Breeland said he and fellow cornerbacks Chris Culliver and DeAngelo Hall must be more physical with Beckham than in their previous meeting, particularly at the line of scrimmage. Another way to limit the damage Beckham can inflict? Harass Manning, who is off to a sluggish start (22nd in passer rating) and could be without hobbled left tackle Ereck Flowers (ankle).
2-Another key matchup will be the Redskins’ No. 1 ranked ground attack (343 yards) vs. the Giants’ third-ranked run defense. Washington’s Bill Callahan-coached O-line has done a good job of opening holes, and Alfred Morris and Matt Jones have done a good job of finding them. In fact, the Redskins are the first team to have different running backs rush for 100 yards in the first two weeks since the 2006 Chargers (LaDainian Tomlinson and Michael Turner). “They’ve added an outstanding runner in Jones, and they are a good 1-2 punch,” Giants coach Tom Coughlin said of the duo. Meanwhile, the Giants’ run defense is allowing only 68 yards per game and has not yielded a run of longer than 15 yards. Interestingly, New York's pass defense ranks dead last (702 total yards allowed).
3-The last time Kirk Cousins faced Giants, well, let’s just say he wants to forget about that game. He tossed a career-worst four interceptions and lost a fumble in a 45-14 defeat last September, also on a Thursday night. On Tuesday, Cousins said, “I’m a different player” and “I learned [in that game] that when you get down and you want to get back in the game, you can’t get it all back in one play.” Indeed, Cousins’ first two starts this season have certainly been of the game manager variety. Coach Jay Gruden isn’t asking Cousins, who is third in the NFL in completion percentage (75.9), to carry the Redskins to victory; he’s simply asking Cousins to put the team in position to get a ‘W’. And as long as Cousins continues to play within himself, takes what the defense is giving him and limits his turnovers, that should continue to happen.
4-For the first time in a long time, the Redskins’ special teams units were an asset against the Rams. Punter Tress Way kept the ball out of Tavon Austin’s hands. Rookie K Dustin Hopkins made his only field goal attempt (46 yards) but, more important, recorded four touchbacks on five kickoffs. Which, obviously, is critical for a unit that’s lost two captains (Adam Hayward and Niles Paul) to season ending injuries. That must continue, obviously.
5-The Redskins’ biggest injury concern is veteran inside ILB Perry Riley, who suffered a calf muscle last Sunday and did not participate in practice on Monday or Tuesday. If Riley cannot play, he’ll be replaced by Will Compton. It could also leave the Redskins with only three inside backers, with undrafted free agent Terrance Plummer serving as the only reserve. “It’s going to be a grind for those guys,” Gruden said. While team has investigated free agent options, Gruden also indicated that OLB Trent Murphy could be used in a pinch. The other Redskins expected to be out Thursday are wide receiver DeSean Jackson (hamstring) and cornerback Justin Rogers (foot).