For die-hards only, the 6-9 New York Giants will play host to the 3-12 Washington Redskins in a 1 p.m. ET game Sunday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. The game will do each team the favor of completing its season. ESPN.com reporters Dan Graziano (Giants) and John Keim (Redskins) break down the matchup.
Graziano: The extent to which things have imploded in Washington since we were there a month ago is awe-inspiring. How do you think all of the controversy is affecting the mood in the locker room and the performance on the field, if at all?
Keim: It's probably the most frustrated locker room I've covered just because of the preseason expectations, followed by the colossal failure and mixed with the stories of the day. For a lot of the young players, it has taken a big toll, especially if this is their first taste of major NFL disappointment. Most have never experienced anything like this, with the rumors and job-security stories, and the losing. It's also their job, so they know that, if the head coach who brought them here is fired, their NFL lives might change. The older players, especially those who have been around Washington a little while, have experienced craziness here in the past. But even for them, this is a tough one.
On the field? Hard to say. I've seen a couple of players give less-than-stellar efforts, but for the most part they've played hard (with one horrible game, a loss to Kansas City). Sadly for them, they continue to lose for the same reason they have all season: They're bad. It's not as if this is a comatose locker room all the time, however. It's a pretty loose bunch, just like last season. I think, in the past couple of weeks, the countdown to the end of the season began, and some can't wait to get away.
Why have the Giants escaped this sort of drama?
Graziano: Well, the Giants seem to work hard to avoid it. Although I get the sense that Mike Shanahan likes drama in his life for some reason and Dan Snyder sort of attracts this type of nonsense, Tom Coughlin and John Mara pride themselves on cutting it all out and focusing on the week and the game at hand like a laser beam.
Where the Redskins turn over coaches like crazy, Coughlin is in his 10th year. It also helps that this is the Giants' first losing season since Coughlin's first year, in 2004, so they don't have the "same old, same old" feeling I imagine the fans and a lot of the players probably have in Washington. But the short answer is leadership. The Giants lean on established leaders at the coach and quarterback positions, and obviously there is a lot of instability in those spots right now in Washington.
Speaking of quarterback, how has Kirk Cousins looked to you in the two games since he took over as the starter for Robert Griffin III?
Keim: Cousins looked pretty good against Atlanta and rather ordinary against Dallas. He does not yet look like a player who will fetch a high draft pick, but he also does not look overwhelmed being a starter. He has been sacked only once in his two starts, compared with Griffin's 24 in his past five starts. Part of the reason stems from Cousins' ability to get rid of the ball faster and make more decisive throws.
Cousins has done a decent job in the pocket, but he's prone to interceptions, with three in two games. He has thrown eight in his career, averaging one every 19.25 throws. Lately, they have just come off bad throws -- his past three were behind the target; as a rookie, there were some bad decisions. Cousins led Washington on a late touchdown drive against Atlanta, although he missed on the two-point conversion throw. He managed just 23 yards in the fourth quarter against Dallas. So, it has been mixed for him.
How are the Giants able to function with all the injuries they have at running back and along the line, let alone win?
Graziano: I honestly have no idea how they won that game Sunday in Detroit. They couldn't do a thing on offense in the second half while down to third-stringers and fourth-stringers at guard, but they hung around and got that Will Hill interception return for a touchdown to tie it and send it into overtime, then Eli Manning managed to make enough big throws to get them in field goal range.
You've got to credit the Giants for not quitting on a lost season. They're practicing what Coughlin preaches about focusing on the game at hand and playing for pride, and you can see it in the effort. They're outmanned most weeks, and they looked it against San Diego and Seattle. But they haven't shut it down.
The pass-protection problems are real, though, and they're not going away. They're still playing backups at guard, and left tackle Will Beatty is having a rough season. Brian Orakpo toyed with Beatty a couple of weeks ago, and Beatty promised he'd be better this time. How is Orakpo physically, and do you think the Skins will be able to get their pass-rushers after Eli again?
Keim: Orakpo will be day-to-day with a strained groin that forced him to leave last week's loss to Dallas early in the fourth quarter. He says he wants to play, but he also said it was bothering him pretty bad. Plus, he's a free agent after the season. Players always say that is not an issue, but you don't want to make an injury worse while playing for a 3-12 team and about to hit the open market for the first time in your career.
Then again, after the first game against Beatty, Orakpo could look at this as a good chance to increase his sack totals. He beat Beatty inside a couple of times, even when the tackle had help outside -- how do you get beat inside in that situation? But if Orakpo doesn't play, considering what New York has at the guard spots, I'd expect some A-gap blitzes and more stunts up the middle. Any pressure, too, will be dependent on the coverage. Quarterbacks have picked apart the Washington zone coverage all season, and they haven't always forced quarterbacks to hold the ball, giving the rush more of a chance.
The Giants' defense ranks 12th in the NFL in total yards allowed but 20th in scoring. How would you rate its performance this season? And what are one or two key questions for this group entering the offseason?
Graziano: The disparity you cite has something to do with the four touchdowns (and a safety) the Giants have allowed on offense, and the four they have allowed on special teams -- not to mention the degree to which their league-leading 41 turnovers have routinely shortened the field and made things easier for opposing offenses. I think the defense has been more or less all right this season. The Giants don't cover very well, and they still don't pressure the quarterback enough, but they have played smart and tackled well and have been able to limit the damage done by big plays. They have consistently played hard, even when undermanned and not necessarily playing well. And when you stack them next to the offense, they look like Pro Bowlers.
Always good to catch up with you, John. See you Sunday.