Today's Redskins-Giants game a far cry from past matchups

Struggling 5-4 teams play for survival, not supremacy

November 21, 1999|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

Bill Parcells used to call the Giants-Redskins rivalry "the best the NFL has to offer." But when the teams meet today at the newly named FedEx Field in Landover, the game can be called only the best the NFC East has to offer.

Although the teams are tied for first place with the Dallas Cowboys at 5-4, it's not like the old days, when the NFC East winner was a Super Bowl contender.

From 1983 through 1996, the NFC East champion won the Super Bowl eight times, with the Redskins and Cowboys winning three each and the Giants getting two trophies.

It's not the same as it was when 'Skins coach Joe Gibbs, a Hall of Famer, matched wits with Parcells, a future Hall of Famer, and John Madden and Pat Summerall were in the TV booth.

Today's game matches up a pair of coaches struggling to keep their jobs -- the 'Skins' Norv Turner and the Giants' Jim Fassel -- and Madden and Summerall are in San Francisco to check out the new glamour team, the St. Louis Rams.

Turner and Fassel are former offensive coordinators who seem miscast as head coaches. Both are good at drawing plays, but their talent judgments are suspect, and neither seems to be a commanding leader.

Turner's first big move after arriving in in 1994 was trying to make a quarterback out of Heath Shuler; that didn't succeed. Turner finally got a quarterback who can run his offense this year in Brad Johnson, although he was off in last week's loss in Philadelphia.

Fassel has failed to develop an offense with Dave Brown, Danny Kanell and Kent Graham at quarterback. He seems ready to bench Graham and may try backup Kerry Collins.

Fassel seems likely to keep his job if the Giants make the playoffs, but Turner has no such guarantee if the Redskins do so.

Turner's impatient new boss, owner Daniel Snyder, recently raised the bar, telling CNN/SI that "we have to get in properly. We have to get in like we belong. We just can't squeak in there."

Snyder also seems determined to fire defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, no matter how far the Redskins go. Nolan may have a tough time simply lasting out the season.

When Turner was asked about Nolan's status last week, he said: "I don't know how to answer that, to be honest. My intention is for Mike to be here, and that's the way we approached it."

Turner keeps insisting that Snyder's actions -- notably a long, post-loss meeting in Dallas -- haven't affected the team.

"The players aren't caught up with what's going on away from the field," he said. "From the beginning of training camp, there's been a sense of urgency in our organization. That's a positive."

There are ominous signs that Redskins players sense Turner's a lame duck, because they're now quick to publicly complain.

After losing in Philadelphia, kick returner Brian Mitchell and fullback Larry Centers complained about their roles, and wide receiver Albert Connell questioned his teammates' competitive fire.

Connell said: "Some guys just take plays off, and you can't do that. It might be a case of not having that fire at all."

On top of that, wide receiver Michael Westbrook has a broken wrist and tackle Dan Wilkinson is fighting back spasms.

If the Redskins can focus on today's game, it figures to be a good half game when Washington's offense, ranked second in yardage, faces the Giants' defense, ranked eighth. The Redskins stunned the Giants with a 50-point explosion in the first game, but nobody expects that to happen again.

When the Giants' offense, ranked 22nd, faces the Redskins' defense, the league's worst, not much figures happen.

It's up to the Giants defense to slow down the Redskins' offense, and it has plenty of incentive after the first game.

N.Y. Gaints (5-4) at Washinton (5-4)

Time: 4: 15 p.m., chs. 45, 5, 43.

Line: Redskins by 5 1/2.

Vs. spread: Giants 5-4; Redskins 4-5.

Last week: Giants lost to Colts, 27-19. Redskins lost to Eagles, 35-28.

Series: Giants lead 75-54-4.

Last meeting: Redskins won, 50-21, on Sept. 19, at New York.

Outlook: Giants QB Kent Graham has been improving, and Redskins haven't held anyone under 20 points in five weeks. Washington turned the ball over six times last week, then made matters worse with some post-game finger pointing. The key matchup pits the Redskins offense vs. the Giants defense -- both units are ranked No. 2 in the NFC.

Notable: Redskins RB Stephen Davis rushed for 126 yards and three touchdowns -- in the first quarter -- in Washington's rout of the Giants in Week 2.

Injuries:

GIANTS: Out: RB Joe Montgomery (foot); CB Andre Weathers (knee); S Shaun Williams (hamstring). Doubtful: CB Conrad Hamilton (knee). Questionable: Percy Ellsworth (foot). Probable: CB Phillippi Sparks (hip).

REDSKINS: Out: G Keith Sims (knee). Questionable: RB Larry Bowie (leg). Probable: TE Stephen Alexander (hip); DT Marc Boutte (abdomen); DE Marco Coleman (neck); RB Stephen Davis (thigh); LB Kurt Gouveia (shoulder); DE Ndukwe Kalu (foot); DT Dana Stubblefield (wrist); WR Michael Westbrook (wrist); DT Dan Wilkinson (back).

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