The New York Giants control the NFC East. That’s right – the team that is in second place based on the NFL’s tie- breaking scheme is in control of the division. Before we examine why that’s the case, let’s examine why the ‘Skins are leading the division even though the Eagles and Giants have the same record. The Giants have yet to play any division opponents, whereas the Redskins have whipped two division foes. The Eagles are 0-1 in the division, having lost a head-to-head battle with the ‘Skins. Washington’s technical edge over New York in the standings is razor thin. To determine who’s in control, ask yourself who’s playing better. Who’s hitting on all cylinders?
Washington’s offense is struggling. Its offensive line is banged up, which is bad news considering the fact the Colts’ prolific defensive ends are coming to town. The Redskins are going to have to run and run some more to beat Indy. They’ve shown flashes of a power running game, but will have to run successfully for four quarters to keep Peyton Manning off the field. How many points they’ll score is a mystery. How many scoring opportunities they’ll blow is too. Meanwhile, New York’s offense is improving week-to-week.
Moving toward week nine of the season, the Giants will host Detroit, travel to Dallas, enjoy their bye week, and then travel to Seattle. The way they’re playing lately, I expect their first-half record to be no worse than 5 and 3. It won’t surprise me at all if they’re 6 and 2 at the midway point. Washington hosts the Colts, visits the Bears and the Lions, and then will take its bye week. I won’t be surprised if the ‘Skins are 4 and 4 after 8 games. 5 and 3 would be a real accomplishment, given the fact their net points to-date equals -3. Their next three opponents’ net points equal +35, +18, and +14 respectively.
New York seems to have woken up since they lost at home to the Tennessee Titans. Washington seems to have done the same since losing on the road to the St. Louis Rams. With the emergence of Anthony Armstrong, the Redskins finally have a third option for Donovan McNabb. With the emergence of Hakeen Nicks, the Giants have at least four solid options for Eli Manning. The big difference between these two teams is the fact New York’s offense is comfortable in its own skin. Washington’s offense? Not so much.
Before this season gets any older, the Redskins desperately need to find their identity on offense. Obviously, they need to stop dropping passes and they need to give Number 5 more time. They can do all that and still not establish their identity. What they really need to do is demonstrate a prowess, either on the ground or through the air, that makes opponents’ defenses think “We know what you’re going to do against us, but we’re not sure we can stop you when you do it.” The ‘Skins’ defense has established its identity – We’ll give up yards, but you won’t score many points. We’ll pressure your quarterback, hit you hard every chance we get, and force turnovers by playing aggresively. It’s what they do every game.
Next Sunday’s game is the perfect opportunity for the Redskins to have a break-out game on the ground. The Colts have the 4th worst run defense in the league. If Washington can pressure Manning and keep the Colts from jumping out to a two touchdown lead, they’ll be able to pound the ball all day long. That will open up the pass, of course. But seriously, why pass much against Peyton Manning when you can run and keep him off the field? Why indeed.
If Washington is to go into the second half of the season with a winning record, they’d better establish a winning personality on offense now. The past two weeks, the defense and special teams have shown who they are. This is Kyle Shanahan’s chance to shine in DC as he did in Houston. It’s his Dad’s chance to shine somewhere else than Denver. Under the Shanahans, the Redskins are clearly better than last year’s squad. How much better is the question.