Monday Night Football
8:30 p.m. ET
New York Giants (7-4) at Washington Redskins (5-6)
FedEx Field, Landover, MD
When the New York Giants beat the Washington Redskins 27-23 on October 21, the winning team walked away with an unusual feeling of foreboding: They had seen Robert Griffin III for the first time up close, and they were very impressed. With 2:07 left in the game, on fourth-and-10 from his own 23-yard line, Griffin looked to throw to tight end Logan Paulsen up the middle, but linebacker Chase Blackburn closed that off. The Giants' vaunted pass was closing in, and Griffin had to run to his left. Most rookie quarterbacks break down right there, but Griffin didn't -- he faked end Jason Pierre-Paul out of his shoes, stepped forward, and hit the now open Paulsen for a 19-yard gain.
Three plays later, and after he also scrambled for 24 yards, Griffin his Santana Moss for a 30-yard touchdown and the lead. What everyone remembers is the 77-yard touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz that decided the game -- it was one of Manning's most emphatic late-game responses in a career full of them -- but the Giants couldn't stop talking about that throw to Paulsen.
"I was going for him, almost had him, trying to get him to the sideline, and he hit the brakes on me," Pierre-Paul said. "He broke me. He's a good quarterback, man. What more do you want me to say? I wanted them to be off the field, but he extends the play with his legs. When a quarterback can do that ... it helps you to stay on the field and get that extra set of downs."
And as safety Antrel Rolle recalled, when RG3 goes on the run, defensive backs suffer from extreme option anxiety -- do you cheat and peek, hoping to stop the Olympic-level sprinter, or do you stay back and respect the deep arm that can torch any defense?
"You have to [peek]," Rolle said. "If you're human, that's what you have to do in order to play that game. You have to keep your head on a swivel and you have to read numerous different things."
In his last two games, Griffin has made that reading assignment more difficult than ever. In wins over the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, Griffin tempted safeties all over the field -- daring them to bite on run-action fakes, and then, dropping the hammer with the throw up top. In those two games, Griffin threw for eight touchdowns and one interception, and made a lot of highly-paid defenders look very silly in the process.
But now, the Giants will be the first NFL team to see Griffin up close for the second time, and that's where the adjustments are supposed to come in. The question is, how to you stop an offense that is as multiple as the one the Redskins are running with RG3 as its pilot? Griffin dictates more of the action than most quarterbacks, because he's set to run any number of different option concepts out of multiple formations and pre-snap shifts. Even if the G-Men get a real read on the tendencies of those options based on their own history, the Redskins might have a few new wrinkles of their own.
"I'd say that he's more a down-the-field passer than I think that people expected him to be," linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka recently said of Griffin. "He's got good poise in the pocket and he can also extend the play and look to get the ball down the field, not just the runner that everybody knew that he was coming out."
However, the threat of Griffin's mobility sets things up very nicely for his running backs -- specifically fellow rookie Alfred Morris, who currently ranks eighth in the league with 982 rushing yards and six touchdowns on 208 carries. Add in Griffin's 642 rushing yards, which actually places him 22nd in the league, and the Redskins have things covered on the ground.
What Griffin has provided in the last few weeks is the ability to completely stump defenses with his mastery of the multi-tiered passing game drawn up by head coach Mike Shanahan and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. In some ways, Griffin presents specific challenges that few quarterbacks have been able to over a sustained period of time.
The Redskins know that Eli Manning can trump their best with his own work -- they've seen that before. If they want to stay in the NFC East race, and continue to wrest relevance from mediocrity as they have been, their quarterback may need a few late-game heroics of his own.
Pick: Redskins 27, Giants 24
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