Although last week’s win over the New Orleans Saints didn’t feature the offensive shootout that everyone was expecting, the New York Giants still managed to do what all aspiring playoff teams must do this time of year by defeating a sub-par squad when the opportunity presented itself.
But another dog fight is always looming for residents of one of football’s most volatile divisions, and this week, the Giants will get their first crack at the reigning NFC East champs when they host the win-less Washington Redskins in a Sunday afternoon slug-fest that’s already being fought in the headlines.
Most notably, Washington’s off-season acquisition of former Carolina Panther Josh Norman has added a new dimension to the longstanding rivalry due to the ongoing beef between the outspoken cornerback and Giants’ top target Odell Beckham Jr. that began last December.
Of course, former Redskins’ linebacker and Giants’ newcomer Keenan Robinson also poured fuel on the fire that rages between these rivals when he criticized the culture in Washington’s locker room earlier this week.
”When I was there, three out of the four years it was the same thing. Once they get down, they start pointing fingers, and that’s true,” Robinson told the New York Post. ”That’s what happens.”
While undoubtedly entertaining, Robinson’s comments won’t influence the outcome of Sunday’s divisional showdown, the escalating war of words between longtime Giant-killer DeSean Jackson and cornerback Janoris Jenkins isn’t going to show up on the stat sheet, and neither team wants the simmering feud between Beckham Jr. and Norman to reach a boiling point.
In Week 1, New York narrowly escaped its NFC East clash against the Dallas Cowboys with a one-point win thanks primarily to promising performances from starting quarterback Eli Manning [19-28, 207 yds, three touchdowns, one interception] and its revamped defense. But if Cowboys’ wide receiver Terrence Williams hadn’t blown his team’s shot at a game-winning field goal in the final seconds of regulation by failing to stop the clock, things could’ve easily gone the other way—and the Giants know it.
Now, the Giants have a valuable opportunity to make a significant statement by knocking-off a division rival for the second time in three weeks And if they’re going to treat football fans throughout all five boroughs to another weekend of winning, Manning and New York’s aerial attack can’t afford a repeat of the fruitless effort that forced kicker Josh Brown and the defense to outscore New Orleans in Week 2.
Just two games into the current campaign, nobody knows if Manning and the talented trio of Beckham Jr., veteran Victor Cruz, and rookie Sterling Shepard will continue to look as good as they sometimes have thus far. As the team’s former offensive coordinator, first-year head coach Ben McAdoo already knows what he’ll get from Beckham Jr., but injuries have made Cruz a pass-catching question mark, and Shepard won’t truly be tested until he’s faced a few defenses who’ve prepared for him,
Selected in the second round of this past June’s NFL Draft, Shepard [11 rec, 160 yds, 1 td] will take the field for his third NFL contest essentially tied with Beckham Jr. [12 rec, 159 yds, 0 td] for the team lead in yards and receptions. More impressively, Shepard’s 11 receptions are the most that any Giants’ rookie has ever totaled through the first two games of an NFL career.
But despite his lack of NFL experience, Shepard sounded like a seasoned professional earlier this week while speaking to the New York Post about his role in the Giants’ potentially explosive passing game.
”Odell still draws a lot of double teams. You can see the safety cheating to his side a lot, and that’s where Victor and I come in and just try to do our part and catch some balls,” said Shepard. ”There’s still a lot of help on Odell’s side, so I feel like we’ve got to do a better job just getting some of those guys off of him and give him some breathing room.”
When these two rivals last met, a scoreless first half combined with Manning’s three interceptions gave Washington a split in the season series and a 20-14 victory that moved head coach Jay Gruden’s crew into a share of the division lead in late November. But both teams have made a lot of changes to their rosters since then, and Sunday’s NFC East showdown will mark the beginning of a new chapter in this timeless rivalry.