If it's true that the best defense is a strong offense, then how good must the Washington Redskins D be to beat the Giants? Better than they were the last time they met. Our defense effectively separated Eli Manning from his wide receivers for 58:47 of game time. Then the inexplicable, inexcusable breakdown that opened a highway for Victor Cruz's 77-yard game-winning score.
The Redskins are undefeated since Coach Mike Shanahan said he was evaluating players after the inexcusable loss to the Panthers. Why anyone pays attention to what Shanahan says in press conferences mystifies me, but everyone took the comment to mean he would evaluate young players for the rest of the season. Um, the 'Skins are already a young team whose best performances are coming from rookies.
For real examples of teams going through conventional player evaluations, look north to the Eagles and maybe the Jets. That didn't happen here.
("You guys should print what the mayor meant instead of what he said." ~ Aide to Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley in the 1970s)
We are two wins over flawed division rivals and facing the Beast of the East Giants to stay close in the hunt for the division title. Sportsbooks set the Giants as three-point favorites and rightly so. But everyone in town, including me, thinks the Redskins will win tonight. Ya gotta love fans.
Hope is not off the mark after the Redskins gained a combined 798 yards in the last two games, and out-scored the Eagles and Cowboys 69-37. The Redskins approach this game with confidence. So does ESPN.
Here's what we saw yesterday.
The Cowboys beat the Eagles to reach 6-6, 3-2 within the division. They need the Redskins to lose, but they need more for the Giants to lose. Dallas is hoping for a tie.
Quarterbacks of the golden class of 2012 led their teams to unexpected wins. You expect Robert Griffin III to do at least as well, don't you? I sure as hell do.
The Giants are the first team to get a second look at RGIII. Look for adjustments. The Giants are the first team that RGIII will see a second time. Look for growth. Both sides are eerily silent about tonight, so growth and adjustments are coming.
Someone baited Victor Cruz into saying the Redskins don't have all the pieces for a title run. The mob turned that into "they aren't as good as the Giants." I don't think Cruz meant it that way.
I assume Cruz refers to the defense, the Redskins he will actually face. He's right. The flaws in the defense are too well documented to deny. The Redskins made their chops as a big play – turnover team. Washington doesn't make stops, but they can force turnovers if DeAngelo Hall plays well and if London Fletcher is not gimpy (ankles).
I hope Mike Shanahan saved something from the playbook to spring on New York tonight. Otherwise, that second look works to the Giants' advantage.
The three stats worth looking at call for a close game
Passer Rating Differential
Hog Heaven buys the Cold Hard Football Facts notion that a favorable passer rating differential has a .667 relationship to wins. It's a "quality stat."
Since the two teams last met, the Redskins widened their passer rating differential vs. opponents.
Redskins QBR 102.5, Opponents QBR 88.4, Differential +14.1
Giants QBR 84.1, Opponents QBR 84.4, Differential -0.3
Advantage – Redskins
Third Down Stops, the Redskins out-performed the Eagles and Cowboys.
This is one of the only two defensive stats that former Redskins defensive guru Richie Petibon pays attention to. The other is turnover differential.
As with the passer rating, Washington improves slightly since the game in New York. They did not stop the Eagles and Giants on third down. They out-performed them. Thus, the best defense turns out to be a better offense.
Redskins 3rd down attempts 148, 3rd downs allowed 64, conversion rate 42%
Giants 3rd down attempts 132, 3rd downs allowed 51, conversion rate 39%
The Eagles are falling apart. The Cowboys ran poorly and the Redskins knocked Miles Austin out of the game early. The champs are healthier; they will convert third downs. The question of the game is whether they can make critical third down stops in their second game against the RG3skins. The Giants have the chops to do it.
Advantage – Giants, but it's a slight one
The NFL ranks defenses by total yards. Indeed the top five teams in total defense are playoff contenders. Yet the Giants and Patriots ranked 27th and 30th in that category last year. Both made the Super Bowl. The Redskins ranked 13th in total defense yet, bungled their way to a five-win season. The difference is turnovers. Washington snagged 13 interceptions all of last season. They have 14 in 11 games this year.
That's just half the story. Robert Griffin III had one task to be considered an upgrade in the position – be better than Rex Grossman. Sexy Rexy threw 16 TD passes and 20 INTs. Griffin has already thrown 16 TD passes, 8 in the last two games, to a mere 4 INTs. Improvement at quarterback is a huge boost for a struggling defense.
Redskins T/O differential +15
Giants T/O differential +13
The hard-hitting Giants forced 17 fumbles and recovered 11 of them. I foresee the Giants being guarded against Griffin III and whaling on his targets to force turnovers. I hope Alfred Morris and the receivers are ready.
Advantage – Even, so turnovers decide the game.
Past performance does not guarantee future results. Games take on a life of their own. Stats only suggest an outcome if trends hold true in game.
In time of doubt, I turn to my Magic 8 Ball. The 8 Ball called it right in the last three games. Asked if the Redskins will beat the Giants tonight, the 8 Ball said, "You may rely on it."
Yea, 8 Ball.
Image: #BEATNYG image floated by the NFL and the Washington Redskins. There's a New York Giants version floating around, too.
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