Four factors that I think will be the most important if the Redskins are to pull out an upset in the opener:
Redskins offensive line vs. Giants defensive line
The Redskins offensive line must be able to slow down the Giants’ front four. The Giants won this battle last year, and their D-line has improved with the return of Osi Umenyiora and the addition of Chris Canty. This time around they will be not only talented but also even deeper, and will be able to rotate their guys heavily to keep fresh pass rushers on the field. If the Redskins can’t match up physically this game will be over before it starts. Not only that, but it is important that the line neutralizes the Giants’ front four without much help. In order for the short passing game (the importance of which is expounded upon below) to work, we simply cannot be keeping our tight ends to block the whole game.
The Short Passing Game
In the 2008 opener Jim Zorn showed absolutely no confidence in the short passing game (which the West Coast offense is supposed to be all about) and Portis suffered for it. The Giants linebackers continually shot the gaps, leaving no running lanes available, and the offense was incapable of taking advantage of their aggressiveness. Portis was simply hurled time and again into the teeth of the defense. This time around, Zorn and Campbell have to make those aggressive linebackers pay. This is the perfect opportunity to utilize Fred Davis and Chris Cooley in two tight end sets. If Campbell has his timing and confidence the Redskins should be equipped to victimize the linebackers if they don’t show more caution. If the LBs do hold back, then major running lanes will be opened for Portis. If we establish a power running game it will be the result, not the cause, of an effective passing attack.
Additionally, if the linebackers are prevented from blitzing then Campbell should have time to hit the wideouts deep. The Giants secondary wasn’t great to begin with, and starter Aaron Ross is out. If the protection and the quick passes are effective, these corners are ripe to be picked on. If this cascade of offensive successes occurs, the Redskins will be right in this game.
Hunter vs. Feagles
This will in all likelihood be a brutal slugfest of a game, and may very well come down to field goals as both offenses get smothered. As such field position will be even more critical than usual. If the offense doesn’t make headway, it will be up to Hunter Smith to put the Giants deep in their own territory and give the defense a chance to keep them there. But the Giants have a weapon of their own in Jeff Feagles, who is one of the best directional kickers in the game. If the Giants are punting from midfield a lot, the Redskins may be starting a lot of drives from inside the 10. Hunter Smith represents the best chance to keep them from getting even that far.
Albert Haynesworth vs. the Giants offensive line
Eli Manning is a decent enough quarterback to pick you apart if given too much time, but is nothing special when forced to move. The Giants offensive line may not be overwhelmingly physically talented, but they are cohesive and professional enough to perform very solidly. Haynesworth’s job is to wreck that cohesion. The tackles are not spectacular on their own, and if Haynesworth occupies the attention of the interior lineman Andre Carter and Brian Orakpo may be able to win some one-on-one matchups and get to Manning.
Bottling up the running attack will be critical in this field-position oriented game. The Giants blockers don’t need to blow our linemen away, they just need to execute the plays well enough to get Brandon Jacobs to the hole and let him provide the power. Haynesworth needs to get sufficient penetration to force Jacobs to be changing direction in the backfield so he can’t build up a head of steam by the time he gets to the line. The Giants can beat us if they establish an effective ball control game, and that is exactly what Haynesworth was paid 41 million guaranteed dollars to prevent.
Bottom line, the Redskins will have little margin for error in this game. This will be a good, old-fashioned NFC East game that comes down to field position and who can dominate the lines.
Here's some other game previews from around the web: