The struggling New York Giants’ latest defeat cost them any realistic chance of winning the NFC East, but they could still be in good position to reach the playoffs if they take care of business against seemingly inferior competition.
Lately, however, the Washington Redskins haven’t been an easy opponent for anyone, and they could provide a major test for the visiting Giants and their reeling defense as the division rivals clash on Monday night.
With a chance to seize a share of the NFC East lead on Sunday night, the Giants (7-6) lost 45-38 to Philadelphia, falling two games behind the Eagles after allowing more than 40 points for the third time during a 2-6 stretch.
New York’s defense, which was the NFL’s best during the team’s 5-0 start, has been uncharacteristically soft since, although coach Tom Coughlin gave first-year defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan a vote of confidence this week.
“I let him know my support for him and I also let him know it has to be better,” Coughlin said. “We’ve got to do a better job. We’re here for one reason. The inconsistency part of it is disturbing, let’s face it. Six big play passes and three big play runs (against Philadelphia). You’re not going to beat anybody like that.”
A dominating defense was what led the Giants on their Super Bowl run two seasons ago, and the unit was again one of the best in the league last year as New York went 12-4 to earn the top seed in the NFC.
But defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo left in the offseason to become head coach of the St. Louis Rams, and the Giants’ once-fearsome pass rush featuring defensive ends Justin Tuck(notes) and Osi Umenyiora(notes) has fizzled. The team ranks 22nd in the league with 26 sacks, and Mathias Kiwanuka(notes) has replaced Umenyiora in the starting lineup the last two games.
“It’s evident that we haven’t played our best,” Tuck said. “The fact is that somewhere or somehow we kind of got off pace as far as what we have been known for and what we normally do on defense.”
In addition to the defensive line’s struggles, the Giants may also have a makeshift secondary for this game. Defensive back Aaron Ross(notes) reinjured his left hamstring Thursday and was unable to practice Friday, while starting cornerback Corey Webster(notes) has not practiced all week due to a sprained knee.
The Giants also allowed touchdowns on a punt return and a fumble return against the Eagles, but they remain just one game behind Dallas for the NFC’s final wild-card spot. They’ve already secured the tiebreaker over the Cowboys, who play at unbeaten New Orleans on Saturday night.
New York, meanwhile, faces also-rans Washington and Carolina the next two weeks before visiting Minnesota, which may have nothing to play for in the season finale.
The Redskins (4-9) could be a dangerous opponent after showing some major improvement the last five weeks. While they are 2-3 in that stretch, they nearly pulled off upsets against Dallas, Philadelphia and New Orleans.
“I’d love to be the Grinch on their Christmas,” rookie linebacker Brian Orakpo(notes) said Monday. “That’s what we’re aiming for. Obviously we’re not going to make the playoffs, but we would ruin some other people’s seasons.”
The Cowboys and Eagles each needed winning scores in the final three minutes to beat Washington, and the Saints only stayed unbeaten after a dramatic comeback in a 33-30 overtime victory two weeks ago.
The Redskins responded by blowing out lowly Oakland 34-13 on Sunday, as Jason Campbell(notes) threw two touchdown passes to emerging tight end Fred Davis(notes) while Quinton Ganther(notes) filled in for injured running backs Clinton Portis(notes) and Ladell Betts(notes) by rushing for two scores.
Campbell has been quietly sharp lately, with a 92.3 passer rating in his last seven games as he’s thrown for 1,749 yards and 11 touchdowns with six interceptions in that stretch.
“He has had some poise,” Redskins coach Jim Zorn said. “Since that Kansas City game (Oct. 18), that was a turning point for him where he had to make up his mind how he was going to play this game. And he’s been tough-minded on the line of scrimmage, in and out of the huddle, getting hit and getting back up even when he is injured.”
Washington’s defense, led by four sacks from Orakpo against the Raiders, played that game without defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth(notes) and cornerback DeAngelo Hall(notes), and it’s unclear whether either will be available Monday night.
The unit could have its hands full if the Giants’ offense plays like it did Sunday night, when it racked up a season-high 512 total yards. Manning threw for a career-high 391 yards and three touchdowns, including strikes of more than 60 yards to Hakeem Nicks(notes) and Domenik Hixon(notes).
“We go into these last three games knowing that we have the ability to make some big plays, move the ball and score some points,” Manning said.
They’ve won six of their last seven overall against the Redskins, including three straight at FedEx Field.