EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Someone approached Doug Riesenberg this week and asked the New York Giants' offensive tackle if he knew how many sacks he had allowed against Charles Mann, the Washington Red skins' pass-rushing defensive end, during the previous three seasons.
"No," Riesenberg said. "Don't jinx me."
Riesenberg then went into his locker, got out a large, red cornuto, the Italian horn used to ward off the "evil eye," and shook it several times in the direction of the questioner.
It's Redskins week, folks.
And sorry, Doug, we have an answer for you. Mann, who has eight sacks this season, has only three against Riesenberg in the last three years. No jinx intended, but feel free to shake the cornuto. It's a wonder any of the Giants harbor superstitions about the Redskins, who haven't beaten them since 1987. The Giants have won six straight in a series that has been dominated by big plays and close scores. The total margin of victory in the six games has been 29 points, an average of 4.8.
"If you ask me," said one Giant, looking at the Redskins' 7-0 record, "I think the pressure's still on them. We're 4-3 and don't have anything to lose. They're undefeated, they haven't beaten us in a long time and they're playing us up here."
The player asked only one favor of his listener.
"Just don't put my name in the paper," he said.
Yes, it's Redskins week.
And though the players and coaches aren't willing to divulge much as they await this rabid rivalry to resume, here's what the Giants must do Sunday night to beat the Redskins and stay alive in the NFC East race:
* Exploit the Redskins' safeties.
Phil Simms will be the first to tell you the weak spot of the Redskins' pass defense is up the middle, specifically at the two safety positions. The Redskins have two Plan B free-agent starters -- Brad Edwards at free safety and Danny Copeland at strong safety.
It's essential that Jeff Hostetler take a similar approach in attacking the Redskins' weakness. Tight ends Howard Cross and Zeke Mowatt should find some daylight over the middle, but it's mostly the wide receivers Hostetler has to focus on.
Key stat: In the Giants' six consecutive wins over the Redskins, they have thrown for an average of 218.7 yards, 1.5 touchdowns and .67 interceptions.
* Remain flexible in the offensive game plan.
Giants coach Ray Handley was talking about establishing ball control, much as the San Francisco 49ers did against the Detroit Lions Sunday. Of course, it would be nice to have the ball for 45:04 and keep a guy like Barry Sanders off the field, but the Giants cannot realistically expect to keep the ball that long and thus keep Redskins running backs Earnest Byner and Ricky Ervins on the bench.
Look for Handley to establish his running game with Rodney Hampton. And who knows? It's possible that Ottis Anderson could see some time, now that David Meggett (Towson State) is hurting with a heel injury. But before Handley gives the Redskins a chance to stuff the run, he should soften up the defense by mixing in a few short passes over the middle or even some screen passes.
Key stat: Hostetler has only three interceptions and has a 64.9 percent completion percentage. That means Handley shouldn't fret about taking a few chances with his passing game -- unless he worries that the Redskins, who already have 14 interceptions, are simply too efficient in the secondary.
* Use Greg Jackson to help corral "The Posse."
Handley said last week that he was seriously considering putting Jackson in as the starting strong safety and moving Everson Walls back to cornerback.
The secondary hasn't been the same since Jackson went down with an ankle injury in the first half of a 20-17 loss to the Chicago Bears. In the two games in which Jackson was completely healthy, the Giants allowed an average of 113 passing yards. In the five games he either missed or was only at half-speed, the Giants allowed an average of 197 yards.
Jackson's return would almost surely help against "The Posse," the Redskins' Art Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders. The three have totaled 75 catches, 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns. Jackson's presence also would help control the Redskins' runners, who have gained 155.4 yards per game.
Key stat: In the Giants' six-game winning streak against the Redskins, "The Posse" has averaged 9.7 catches for 156.2 yards and 1.2 touchdowns per game.
* Force some turnovers.
Turnovers have been critical in virtually all of the Giants' six consecutive victories over the Redskins. The idea is finding a way to force them. Quarterback Mark Rypien is susceptible to throwing interceptions -- he has six -- and many of his pickoffs come as a result of pressure.
NOTE: PK Raul Allegre signed a contract yesterday, and there is a good chance he will kick Sunday. Matt Bahr strained his right thigh Oct. 14 against Pittsburgh, and it has bothered him for almost a week. Bahr cut short his workout on Wednesday because of pain, and the only thing he did yesterday was practice a few onside kicks. Handley said he would wait until tomorrow to decide who will kick.