ASHBURN, Va. -- The stakes for this upcoming Sunday's clash between the Washington Commanders and New York Giants are extremely high. Both New York (7-4) and Washington (7-5) are firmly in the NFC playoff picture, currently holding the final two NFC Wild Card spots, respectively. A victory, obviously, goes a long way for both teams.
When the two teams meet in the Meadowlands on Sunday, though, it's the home side that will boast a little bit of an advantage. Well, sorta.
MetLife Stadium, the home field for both the Giants and New York Jets, is occupied with slit-film turf rather than natural grass. Only five other stadiums -- Ford Field (Detroit), U.S. Bank Stadium (Minnesota), Caesars Superdome (New Orleans), Lucas Oil Stadium (Indianapolis) and Paycor Stadium (Cincinnati) -- across the league also have the same playing surface.
"All the turfs are different," head coach Ron Rivera said Wednesday, before emphasizing the importance of wearing the right footwear in order to best equipt. "I do know MetLife is a little different type turf and it's a little softer, so the shoe reacts a little differently and so again, wearing the right equipment is important.”
The Commanders held a light practice in their indoor bubble on Wednesday, which has a turf surface. Rivera said that was intentional so that his players can "get a little bit of feel for being on turf as opposed to grass." The head coach emphasized that the game moves a tad faster on turf, which can disrupt the timing of some plays -- another factor for why the club decided to work out inside.
Although five other stadiums have the same slit-film turf as MetLife, it's the New Jersey stadium that has the worst reputation of them all. Several players have suffered significant injuries while playing there, including Sterling Shepard (ACL), Ja'Wuan James (Achilles tear) and Kyle Fuller (ACL) all just this year. In 2021, the 49ers had two defensive ends, Nick Bosa and Solomon Thomas, tear their respective ACLs within minutes while playing on the MetLife turf.
The Commanders have a decision to make regarding their own injured player in pass rusher Chase Young, who has yet to play this season after suffering his own ACL tear last November. Rivera told NBC Sports Washington’s JP Finlay that MetLife’s turf will not be a factor whether Young plays or not. But given the injury history at MetLife and Washington’s overall conservative approach with Young’s return to date, it’s hard to imagine the 23-year-old will play if there’s even an ounce of concern.
Several Commanders players have experience playing at MetLife Stadium, considering the team travels there every season to play their NFC East foe. It's worth noting that this year's Washington team has already played two games on slit-film turf when they visited Detroit and Indianapolis.
That doesn't mean Commanders players enjoy it, though. In fact, many of them despise playing on such surfaces.
"I know, personally, everyone hates turf," offensive lineman Sam Cosmi said before shaking his head "no" when asked if he knew anyone who liked playing on turf more than natural grass.
Cosmi said he wouldn't mind playing on turf if there was a consistent playing surface throughout the NFL, but that's simply not the case.
"You see in different sports, basketball courts, you've got one consistent court that everyone goes on," Cosmi said. "No matter what basketball court you're going to, it's going to be a basketball court. It's not like the league."
Quarterback Taylor Heinicke offered a similar opinion as Cosmi.
"I prefer grass over turf," Heinicke said. "For me, I honestly didn't recognize the difference between the two because I'm a quarterback. I don't really run and cut that much. But after sitting back and watching these guys go out and play, you see the numbers. A lot more guys are getting hurt on turf than on natural grass. That's definitely a topic of discussion. I'd rather play on grass and I know a lot of the guys would, too."
Tight end Logan Thomas offered the strongest anti-turf opinion of the bunch, comparing the NFL's different playing surfaces to the lack thereof in Qatar for the ongoing FIFA World Cup.
"I've never enjoyed turf, not even from my younger years. I think grass is, obviously, the best way to go," Thomas said. "You look at the World Cup, none of those guys have ever played on turf. Those guys play on grass and they refuse to play on [turf]. They're the best at what they do; we're the best at what we do. It should be the same."
The turf vs. grass debate has been a topic of conversation among players and the NFL for quite some time. Yet, over the past month, serious momentum has grown towards getting rid of slit-film turf moving forward.
In November, former Browns center and current NFLPA president J.C. Tretter called for the "immediate replacement" of slit-film turf. A tweetstorm from several NFL stars -- including Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, George Kittle, Nick Bosa, David Bakhtiari and others -- followed, with each one of them using the hashtag #SaferFields. In fact, MetLife Stadium will reportedly be replacing its playing surface after the year, but whether the change will be to natural grass or a different type of synthetic turf remains uncertain.
In Tretter's letter calling for the ban of turf fields, he cited data that suggests non-contact injuries occur at a higher likelihood on turf fields than on natural grass. Commanders players are away of such, too.
"There are countless videos out there of how grass has helped prevent injuries," Cosmi said. "People's feet getting stuck, that if it was in turf they probably would have had a major injury, but since it's grass they didn't have that major injury. I'm an advocate for grass, for sure."
Not only does the turf field increase the risk of injury during the game, but players also feel a lot worse in the days following after playing on turf than grass.
"You do [feel different]," Heinicke said. "With turf burns especially, you feel those in the shower. It doesn't feel good. ... From what I've gathered from the guys, it takes a toll on their bodies."
"After the game, I think-- I know all the old guys complain about their knees, their ankles are always hurting," Cosmi added. "I know I hurt a little bit more. I wake up and I'm like 'I didn't think I got hit there.' And, I didn't. I feel like it's the turf."
Players across the league have made it clear they simply don't like playing on turf. It appears the NFL has taken notice and that change, at least in some capacity, is coming.
"It's all about player safety at this point," Thomas said. "For the players to play well, be confident and be comfortable on a surface, it means a lot."