One of the most consistent ways opponents have attacked Washington’s defense this season is with tight ends. It was as apparent in Week ...
One of the most consistent ways opponents have attacked Washington’s defense this season is with tight ends. It was as apparent in Week 1, when Philadelphia Eagles tight ends scored the first two touchdowns of the season against Washington, as it was in Week 5, when the Los Angeles Rams marched down the field on their opening drive with their tight ends catching all three targets for 49 yards.
Opponents have highlighted the weakness throughout the season. Opponents have targeted tight ends on 23.7 percent of pass attempts against Washington, according to Sportradar. This obvious yet effective game plan is worrisome for Washington every week, but even more so in Sunday’s matchup.
This is despite the fact the Giants do not have a good offense. They are without Saquon Barkley, one of the league’s best running backs. Quarterback Daniel Jones has struggled. New York’s offense is, overall, the worst in the league, edging Washington’s, according to defense-adjusted value over average, a Football Outsiders metric that measures efficiency by evaluating every play based on situation and opponent. But the Giants do have Evan Engram.
Engram’s numbers aren’t great — 18 catches for 147 yards — but Jones tries to get him the ball. In five games, Engram has 32 targets, fifth most among tight ends, and he figures to be a big part of the game plan against Washington.
Washington’s struggles against tight ends are mostly attributable to its linebackers. Former Washington tight end Chris Cooley criticized the position on “The Kevin Sheehan Show” this week, saying the defense would have a chance to be a top-five unit with better linebackers. When one fan assembled a cutup showing the linebackers’ struggles, Cooley wrote on Twitter, “tough to watch.”
Evidently, Ron Rivera saw something similar. Washington’s coach identified linebacker as the most concerning spot on the defense, one he would “like to see a little bit more from.” He and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio talked up second-year linebacker Cole Holcomb, who’s poised to return from a knee injury Sunday.
Because Jon Bostic has played every defensive snap, it seems Holcomb would challenge Kevin Pierre-Louis for a spot outside. Pierre-Louis played almost every snap in the first two weeks, but his percentage in Week 5 (76) was his lowest of the year.
“Cole’s got a chance to be a good player for us,” Del Rio said. “He got banged up in Week 1, and we haven’t seen him since. Hopefully, we get him back. We’re just looking for production from our linebackers and understanding where they are in the scheme of our defense. We’re looking for guys to make plays.”
On Sunday, that starts with limiting Engram.
In the latest lineup shake-up, Washington is expected to start rookie Saahdiq Charles at left guard, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. The fourth-round draft pick from LSU would replace Wes Martin and make his NFL debut. Before this spring’s draft, some predicted Charles could be a star in the league if he continued to mature.
On Thursday, Rivera called the switch from Martin to Charles “a little bit out of need.” He had expressed disappointment in Martin and fellow guard Wes Schweitzer after the loss to the Rams, and this move would seem to be part of the ongoing broader roster evaluation by the coaching staff. The Giants’ defensive line is one of their strengths, featuring two first-round draft picks on the edges — Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence — as well as second-rounder Dalvin Tomlinson at nose tackle.
To explain the move, Rivera said that, while Martin is “a really good puller” who excels in space, he likes Charles because he’s a bigger, more physical presence. Martin is listed as 6-foot-3 and 315 pounds; Charles is 6-4 and 322.
“Saahdiq, at the point of attack, is a little bit more stout,” Rivera said. “This is a move to see what happens and how he handles it.”
Pro Bowl guard Brandon Scherff was activated from injured reserve Friday and figures to replace Schweitzer at right guard. Scherff was a full participant at practice this week, taking all of the first-team reps.
There appears to be a bug going around Washington’s locker room, Rivera said. Quarterback Dwayne Haskins missed last week’s game, as well as practice Wednesday and Thursday, with an illness Rivera described as a gastrointestinal issue. Now, two reserves — guard Joshua Garnett and tackle David Sharpe — will miss Sunday’s game with illnesses. Haskins practiced Friday, but Rivera said it was unclear whether he would travel with the team.
“Hopefully it’s not [a bug], but it’s this time of year, with the flu starting to come out,” Rivera said. “So, hopefully not. And I got to stay away from those guys.”
After winning the “Chase Young Bowl” (sort of), the Giants must now face Chase Young. Washington’s rookie defensive end laughed when asked this week whether he remembered Week 16 last year, when Washington and New York faced off with the chance to draft him seemingly at stake.
“Yeah, that’s the stuff I tried not to listen to. I was locked in,” Young said, laughing. “Oh, no, I heard about it for sure. They said it on TV! Everybody sent me videos talking about the ‘Chase Young Bowl.’ Man, I’m not listening to that.”
In December’s game, Jones threw for five touchdowns as the Giants won, 41-35 in overtime, and Washington secured the draft’s No. 2 pick. Now Young, the defensive rookie of the year favorite, could face Andrew Thomas, the Giants’ first-round pick draft at No. 4 overall. The left tackle has struggled, but Young said he respects Thomas’s game.
Injury report: After the illnesses, the biggest news Friday was that Washington placed reserve cornerback Greg Stroman (foot) on injured reserve. Stroman hadn’t practiced since leaving the game against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4 and must now remain out at least three weeks. He’s eligible to return ahead of Washington’s next game against the Giants on Nov. 8.
Backup defensive end Ryan Anderson (back) appeared on the injury report Thursday, when he sat out, but was a full participant at practice Friday. He’s considered questionable.
New York is pretty healthy. The Giants only had two players on their final injury report, though Lawrence (knee) and wide receiver Darius Slayton (foot) are important pieces. Both were limited at practice Friday.
“I’m expecting Darius to play,” Giants Coach Joe Judge told reporters. “If the trainers tell me otherwise, they tell me otherwise.”
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