By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) – All Kirk Cousins has to do now is win.
The Washington Redskins and their interim starter at quarterback piled up 511
yards of offense last Sunday but they couldn’t muster one when it mattered
most, losing a shootout to NFC East rival Philadelphia.
They’ll get another chance after a short week of preparation as the NFC East
takes center stage on “Thursday Night Football” when the New York Giants renew
their storied rivalry with the ‘Skins.
Each club is off to a somewhat disappointing 1-2 start in 2014 but New York
comes in on a winning note, having secured its first win of the campaign
with a 30-17 triumph over previously unbeaten Houston last Sunday.
Rashad Jennings piled up a career-best 176 rushing yards and a touchdown for
the Giants in the win, while tight end Daniel Fells and wide receiver Victor
Cruz each hauled in a TD pass from Eli Manning.
The Texans had entered the Week 3 clash with a plus-five turnover ratio en
route to a mildly surprising 2-0 start, while the Giants were a league-worst
minus-six in that category while dropping their first two tests.
However, New York came up with three interceptions of Ryan Fitzpatrick
and got a mistake-free performance out of Manning to aid Jennings’ huge
Manning finished a sharp 21-of-28 for 234 yards with the two touchdowns in by
far his best outing of the young season. Cruz also stepped up for New York,
generating 107 yards on five catches.
“Nice to win, nice to do a lot of good things in the process,” Giants head
coach Tom Coughlin remarked. “A lot of guys played well.”
Washington, meanwhile, is fresh off a heartbreaking 37-34 setback to
the Eagles in which Cousins, playing for the injured Robert Griffin III
(dislocated ankle), passed for a career-high 427 yards and three touchdowns,
including an 81-yard touchdown pass to ex-Philadelphia star DeSean Jackson.
Pierre Garcon had 138 receiving yards and a score on 11 catches, and Jackson
also crossed the century barrier on five receptions.
“I think these guys are just competitors. No matter who’s at quarterback,
they’re gonna battle,” Cousins said.
The Redskins had a chance to win or at least tie the game in the waning
moments after an uncharacteristically poor punt from the Eagles’ Donnie Jones,
Cousins misfired badly on three consecutive throws, however, letting a wounded
Eagles’ team, missing four of its five offensive line starters by the end of
the game, escape.
Despite that first-year Redskins coach Jay Gruden was more than satisfied with
his signal caller.
“(Cousins) was excellent,” the mentor said. “I’m very proud of the way he
This will be the 165th time Washington and Big Blue have locked up when you
include the postseason with the Giants winning three of the past four in the
series and holding a 95-65-4 all-time advantage.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The biggest issue in this game may be Washington’s health or lack thereof.
The Redskins left Philadelphia with a full MASH unit, most notably losing
cornerback DeAngelo Hall (ruptured left Achilles) and safety Duke Ihenacho
(broken left foot) for the season. Pass rusher Brian Orakpo (left middle
finger), defensive lineman Jason Hatcher (hamstring) and guard Shawn Lauvao
(right knee) are also ailing as Washington listed 17 players on its injury
report at the beginning of the week.
“We’re losing guys left and right,” Orakpo, who is expected to play Thursday,
said. “Football’s a tough game.”
“Obviously this is a week that I would rather not have a Thursday night game,”
One guy who will not be missing is defensive tackle Chris Baker, who destroyed
Philadelphia QB Nick Foles with a devastating blindside block in Week 3 which
set of a bench-clearing brawl in which Baker and Eagles left tackle Jason
Peters were ejected. The NFL decided not to suspend Baker after determining
that his hit was legal.
“Baker didn’t do anything wrong with that hit,” Troy Vincent, the NFL’s
executive vice president of football operations, told the Washington Post.
“When you look at the rule, he didn’t do anything illegal. People can say it’s
a cheap shot and you can talk about whether it might fall under
unsportsmanlike conduct. But when you know the rule and you look at the play,
he didn’t hit him in the head. He didn’t hit him in the neck. We looked at it.
I looked at it very closely.”
Offensively, the Redskins are second in the NFL, averaging 444.0 yards per
game and Cousins’ numbers were gaudy against the Eagles with the third-year
player completing 30-of-48 passes, including the big play to Jackson which saw
the speedster high-step into the end zone in an effort to antagonize his old
Heck, Cousins was 12-of-13 for 124 yards and two TDs before the Eagles offense
and his old friend from East Lansing, Foles, had even taken a snap.
Cousins and Foles had once battled for the starting job in college at Michigan
State, a gig Cousins won before Foles transferred to Arizona. That ledger is
now even although Cousins tore apart the Eagles with quick timing routes and
anticipatory throws, the kind of passing attack the injured RG3 is not all
that adept at.
Philadelphia certainly helped by not jamming the receivers in an effort to
disrupt rhythm, likely a testament to Jackson’s ability to pop the top on any
defense at any time, something the Giants are intimately familiar with.
Jackson now has 16 career touchdowns (11 receiving, three punt-return and two
rushing) against NFC East opponents, tied with Ahmad Bradshaw for the most by
any player since he entered the league in 2008. Of those 16, seven (four
receiving, two punt-return and one rushing) have come against the Giants, also
the most by any player since 2008.
Cousins, a fourth-round draft pick in 2012, the same year RG3 arrived in D.C.,
has excelled at times as a fill-in in the past, especially when replacing
Griffin in-game. Being the guy when teams are actually game planning for your
skill set from week to week is a different animal, though.
“It’s different every week,” Gruden admitted. “That’s the thing about being
quarterback in this league is every defense poses different issues for you and
it’s every week it’s something different — you’re going to see a different
blitz, a different coverage and it is something you’ve got to continue to be
flexible in your train of thought and your thinking and your approach to the
Despite the loss last week and it’s implications in the NFC East, however,
Cousins’ more traditional approach to the position seems to suit Gruden’s
coaching style far better than Griffin. After all, Gruden rose to a head-
coaching position in this league by developing Andy Dalton, a QB with similar
skills as Cousins, while he was the offensive coordinator in Cincinnati.
“We don’t expect him to go out and win the MVP or win a Super Bowl to prove
he’s an upper-echelon quarterback right away, Gruden said. “We do expect him
to produce and play within the offense and not make mistakes and do what he’s
supposed to do — handle the protections and play the position.”
Conversely, the Giants are just happy their longtime starter at QB finally put
together a decent performance and the obviously correlation is the running
game led by Jennings.
You can’t expect the Jennings to pile up 176 every week but when he’s moving
the chains that opens up play-action for Manning, who is most comfortable when
pushing the football down the field, something he has been able to do in the
past when playing at FedEx field.
“Keep running and keep pounding,” Manning said when talking about his running
game last week. “One point we ran the same play three times in a row.”
Heading into Thursday’s contest at Washington, Manning has won six of 10
regular-season starts against the Redskins at FedEx Field. In those 10 starts,
Manning has 185 completions for 2,289 passing yards, the most of any active
visiting player at FedEx Field since he entered the league in 2004. Meanwhile,
Manning’s 10 touchdown passes on the road against Washington rank second among
active players, trailing only Dallas quarterback Tony Romo with 12.
Ordinarily this is a spot in which you would take Washington but the Redskins
are so banged up that New York should be in a prime position to steal one on
a short week.
“I’m excited, it’s a benefit for our offense to play on Thursday night,
because we’re going to go out there and we’re going to play up-tempo,” Giants
offensive tackle Justin Pugh said. “We’ve got to go out there and go down to a
hostile environment and win a divisional game.”
Sports Network predicted outcome: Giants 24, Redskins 21