We're onto Week 2 of the 2021 NFL season.
The NFC East got off to a poor start in Week 1, with three of the four teams falling in defeat. Two of those three teams will square off on "Thursday Night Football," as the New York Giants travel to Landover, Maryland, to take on the Washington Football Team as each squad looks to avoid an 0-2 start to the campaign.
How will the game play out? We're glad you asked, because we're here to break down what you need to know about the matchup.
How to watch
When the Giants have the ball
It's tough to find anything to be encouraged about when it comes to the Giants offense.
New York scored just 13 points on 314 total yards against the Broncos. Daniel Jones completed less than 60% of his passes at an average of just 7.2 yards per attempt (the league as a whole averaged 7.4 in Week 1), got sacked twice, and committed yet another fumble.
Evan Engram missed the opener due to injury and will be out Thursday night as well. Saquon Barkley was eased back into the lineup (29 snaps) and did not yet appear to be at full strength (10 carries for 26 yards). Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett's idea of finding creative ways to involve first-round pick Kadarius Toney in the offense was apparently to get him the ball on a jet sweep and a swing pass and that's it. Just about the only bright spot was the performance of Sterling Shepard, who caught seven of nine targets for 113 yards and a touchdown.
It would be an understatement to say that Jones is not being put in position to succeed by the Giants' coaching staff. Meanwhile, the offensive line in front of him appears no better than it was last year.
Right tackle Nate Solder was at one point beaten so badly around the edge that he actually ended up blocking backup running back Devontae Booker. And that may not even have been his worst rep of the day. Against a Washington defensive line that may just be the best in the NFL -- a unit that features Chase Young, Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, and Matt Ioannidis -- New York seems extremely unlikely to hold up in front of Jones. Instead, Jones will likely have to deal with pressure in his face throughout the evening, a dangerous situation for any signal-caller but particularly one as prone to turnovers (and particularly to fumbles) as the man they call Danny Dimes.
Making things more difficult is that the best cornerback on Washington's roster is slot man Kendall Fuller, who will presumably be matched up with Shepard on the inside. Kenny Golladay is great at winning on contested catches down the field, but those type of shots will only be possible if the line can keep rushers from getting in Jones' airspace. Without Engram, and with Barkley listed as questionable and likely to have his workload managed just as he did in Week 1, Jones' check-down options are limited and uninspiring compared to what he'd have at his disposal most weeks.
Garrett might want to establish the run against Washington's front -- both because that's his preference and because there's a persistent belief that doing so opens things up for play-action passes despite copious evidence of play-action's effectiveness regardless of the strength of the running game -- but the idea that the Giants are going to win the battle against Washington's front four seems fanciful at best. More likely than not, the Giants will struggle to consistently move the ball both through the air and on the ground.
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When the Football Team has the ball
Washington's offense is already missing two key figures that were supposed to take it to another level this season. Curtis Samuel missed almost all of the offseason program with a groin injury, then aggravated it shortly before the start of the season and was placed on Injured Reserve. Last week, Ryan Fitzpatrick suffered a subluxation of his hip after throwing just six passes, and he's now out for the foreseeable future as well.
Taylor Heinicke acquitted himself quite nicely against one of the league's premier defensive schemers (Chargers coach Brandon Staley) last week, completing 11 of 15 passes for 122 yards and a score in relief of Fitzpatrick. After his relatively successful stint filling in for Alex Smith last season, the Football Team likely has enough confidence in Heinicke to run its normal offense with him under center.
The Giants' Patrick Graham-coordinated defense was expected to be among the league's 10 or so best units this season, but surprisingly struggled against Teddy Bridgewater and the Broncos last week. Bridgewater completed 28 of 36 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns while taking just two sacks and scrambling three times for an additional 19 yards, despite playing for much of the game without No. 1 wideout Jerry Jeudy. The Giants actually got a good bit of pressure on Bridgewater, but the secondary did not hold up against Denver's receivers and tight ends.
The good news for New York is that Washington is not as deep at wideout as Denver; the bad news is the Football Team has Terry McLaurin, a more dangerous threat than anyone they faced last week. McLaurin could and likely should draw shadow coverage from James Bradberry, which would force Heinicke to throw the ball to the likes of Cam Sims, Dyami Brown, and possibly tight end Logan Thomas. (Adoree' Jackson is a better fit to cover Brown, and that would likely be the best use of his straight-line speed.) The Giants struggled to contain Noah Fant and Albert Okwuegbunam last week, as the duo combined for nine catches for 78 yards and a touchdown, so Thomas could be a significant threat on Thursday night.
Antonio Gibson ran well against the Chargers in Week 1, totaling 90 yards on his 20 carries. He didn't break any runs quite as long as Melvin Gordon's 70-yard touchdown scamper against the Giants, but he has that capability. His versatility as a pass catcher out of the backfield could prove a test for linebackers Blake Martinez and Reggie Ragland, but safety Jabrill Peppers has the athleticism to deal with him in space. It's tricky to get a safety matched up on a running back more often than not, but in this specific instance it might be worth a shot -- especially if Logan Ryan ends up doing the lion's share of the work covering Thomas over the middle.
Prediction: Football Team 20, Giants 10