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Game 14: Washington Redskins @ New York Giants

Washington QB Rex Grossman comes with two turnovers per game. When and where will they come against the Giants? Zumapress/Icon SMI

Talk about two teams going in different directions. The New York Giants are fighting for their playoff lives; the Redskins have already been eliminated from post-season play. The Giants could still win the NFC East; the Redskins are wondering just how high their draft pick will be.

The Redskins are lucky in the sense that their biggest weakness (quarterback) happens to be a strength in the upcoming draft. It's kind of perverse that Washington fans are in the position of rooting for their team to lose, but that is what's best for the team's future.

The past two weeks have yielded ideal outcomes for the Redskins' long-term prospects. They showed signs of progress on both sides of the ball, but lost both games. Encouragement without losing draft position? Perfect.

Here are five key items to watch this week:

  1. The Giants Can Run the Ball -- I've heard it all week: the Giants are last in the NFL in rushing yards and rushing attempts. They're a pass-happy team that can't run the ball. This is false. They throw because they're darn good at it. They have the league's 8th best running success rate, according to Advanced NFL Stats -- a measure of how often a running play increases a team's odds of scoring or achieving a first down. This stat has a much stronger relationship with winning than any other measure of running the football. Because of Washington's serious coverage problems, I expect the Giants to build their game plan around throwing, but they're likely to run the ball effectively when they decide to do it.
  2. Redskins Will Throw -- I know, Roy Helu has run the ball effectively since he took over the starting role. I know the Redskins' depleted offensive line has struggled in pass protection. But I don't think Kyle Shanahan will be able to resist the temptation of calling pass plays against what has been the league's worst pass defense the past five weeks. Helu will still probably get 20 carries, but don't be shocked if Washington lives or dies on Rex Grossman's arm.
  3. When Will Grossman's Turnovers Come? -- Grossman comes pre-installed with two turnovers per game. The big question is when and where they come in the game. My guess is that Grossman fumbles early -- because it's before they're fully acclimated to the speed of the game that young players (like his new left tackle Willie Smith) struggle. And, I anticipate Grossman throwing a pair of interceptions trying to make plays. As usual, it'll be too much for Washington to overcome.
  4. Check Out the Kiddies -- Along the offensive line, injuries and idiocy have sidelined three of Washington's preferred starters (Trent Williams, Jammal Brown and Kory Lichtensteiger). Taking their places are Willie Smith (rookie), Tyler Polumbus (4th year street free agent picked up a few weeks ago), and Maurice Hurt (rookie). Hurt has held his own for weeks. There was no noticeable dropoff when Polumbus replaced Brown last week. And, Smith had the kinds of ups and downs expected of an undrafted rookie free agent making his first appearance in an NFL game. In the defensive secondary, rookie DeJon Gomes replaces Laron Landry, who will miss the rest of the season with groin and Achilles injuries. This is a chance for these youngsters to solidify their spots with the team.
  5. Sensible Play Calling? -- If the Redskins are to win, I suspect they'll need to do lots of running. Polumbus is a road-grader at right tackle, but has pass-protection issues. Left tackle Willie Smith struggled in pass protection, but was solid in run blocking last week. But, the Skins are facing a weak Giants' pass defense, so I'm expecting a heavy dose of throwing. I think Washington can win this game (even though it'd be better for them if they lost) if they emphasize the run -- especially those toss sweeps Helu runs so well. So of course they'll pass.

Prediction

I don't see a Giants team battling for the division title and playing at home coming out and laying an egg against a Redskins team eliminated from the post-season and suffering injuries to key players. This a "should-win" game for the Giants. My guess is that this week's game follows the pattern of previous weeks: Washington plays close, shows progress, but ultimately finds a way to lose.

New York Giants -- 23

Washington Redskins -- 16

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