Giants, 'Skins looking for bright spots

At 4-8, struggling teams stumble into today's game playing for pride, little else

NFL Week 14

December 07, 2003|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Right now, the Washington Redskins and the New York Giants are probably thinking the same thing about today's meeting at Giants Stadium: This is an easy win.

Of course, neither team is that far off the mark. When the Redskins visit the Giants at 1 p.m. in East Rutherford, N.J., both teams will enter the game with 4-8 records, no hope for a playoff berth and only two wins in their past nine games since their first encounter Sept. 21.

So are the slumping Giants ripe for the picking by the Redskins? That's one way of looking at it, according to middle linebacker Jeremiah Trotter.

"Shoot, we're struggling, too," he said with a laugh. "They could be thinking, `Well, we're catching them at the right time.' You have two teams that are pretty good football teams and haven't had any luck. ... Hopefully, we're catching them at a low point, but they're thinking the same thing."

Said New York running back Tiki Barber: "We're always looking for that game, whether it's this week or next week. ... We need to find a way to turn it around, and this is our next opportunity to do that."

Despite the 4-8 record, the Giants do have some offensive weapons.

New York enters the game with the league's No. 8 offense (341.1 yards a contest) and the No. 4 passing attack (241.2 yards). Quarterback Kerry Collins is second in the NFL with 3,048 passing yards, and Barber is fifth in the NFC in rushing with 993 yards. Wide receiver Amani Toomer is eighth in the conference in receiving with 894 yards.

But for all their firepower, the Giants are tied for 27th in scoring (averaging 16.8 points a game) and 29th in turnover margin (nine more giveaways than takeaways). And the defense - long the team's foundation - has struggled, giving up 334.6 yards (tied for 22nd in the league) and 22.2 points (tied for 21st) a game.

New York has dropped four straight for the first time in Jim Fassel's seven-year tenure as the head coach. Last Sunday's 24-7 debacle against the Buffalo Bills at Giants Stadium resulted in many fans walking out during the game.

Afterward, team co-owner Wellington Mara - while vowing to make changes - declined to give a vote of confidence to Fassel, who has one year left on his contract.

Fassel said he understood the microscope he would be under.

"It's always tough, but my job has been in question ever since I got here," Fassel said. "You get used to it."

Washington fans have already grown accustomed to burying their hopes for a playoff spot, as the Redskins will miss the postseason for the fourth straight year.

Beyond playing for pride, Washington players will likely use the remaining four games as an extended audition. While coach Steve Spurrier wouldn't say he was giving up on the season, he did acknowledge that players like running back Ladell Betts and wide receiver Taylor Jacobs could see more time.

"Obviously, our goals are not going to be reached, so we're disappointed about that," Spurrier said. "But as competitors, as professionals, we've got a job to go try to win the ballgame this week against the New York Giants."

That's not exactly the best motivation, but there's really not much more to say, according to cornerback Champ Bailey.

"You wish you could be playing for a playoff spot or home-field advantage or something, but it's not like that," said Bailey, who will be a free agent after this season. "We are playing for pride and for the fans, and we're playing for our jobs. We're still fighting for a roster spot on some team, if not this one. There are a lot of reasons to play hard."

Redskins today

Matchup: Washington Redskins (4-8) vs. New York Giants (4-8)

Site: Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.

Time: 1 p.m.

TV/Radio: Ch. 5/WNAV (1430 AM), WJFK (106.7 FM)

Line: Giants by 3

THREE KEYS FOR THE REDSKIINS

1. Learn from last week.

Washington should take a page from Buffalo's defensive playbook. The Bills, who defeated the Giants, 24-7, last Sunday, wore down a New York offensive line composed of two rookies, a practice-squad center and a second-year tackle in his first NFL game. Quarterback Kerry Collins was sacked six times, running back Tiki Barber rushed for 20 yards, and the Giants gained just 222 yards of total offense. The Redskins need to exploit that matchup.

2. Protect the pocket.

Washington's offensive line has done a decent job of late, giving up just five sacks in the past four games. The Giants should present a more formidable challenge, as they lead the league in sacks with 34. The key matchup will pit defensive end Michael Strahan (tied for the NFC lead in sacks with 12) against Redskins right tackle Jon Jansen.

3. Throw the ball.

Washington's aerial attack has a favorable matchup against a New York secondary hobbled by injuries. Two starters are out for the season and cornerback Will Allen suffered a foot injury that forced him to leave the third quarter of last Sunday's game. The Redskins need to take advantage of the league's 25th-ranked pass defense.

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