Playoffs at stake in sea­son fi­nale against Giants

Even with win, night game will de­ter­mine Red­skins fate

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TOMMY CHALK

For the Washington Red­skins, the out­come of the sea­son has come down to a home fi­nale against the New York Giants.

The sit­u­a­tion is sim­ple. If the Red­skins lose Sun­day af­ter­noon, they will not qual­ify for the playoffs and their sea­son ends. If they win, they wait for a fi­nal in that night’s Green Bay-Detroit game. Un­less that game ends in a tie, the Red­skins will face the NFC’s third seed dur­ing the first week of the post­sea­son.

The Giants are ba­si­cally the same team that fell 29-27 at home on Sept. 25 to Washington, but the Red­skins are a dif­fer­ent team

13 weeks later — es­pe­cially on the of­fen­sive side of the foot­ball.

Run­ning back Robert Kelley was a non­fac­tor in the ear­lier game, with the bulk of the touches go­ing to Matt Jones and Chris Thomp­son.

Since then, the rookie has bulled his way into the team’s fea­tured back role, with five ca­reer games of at least 15 car­ries and six to­tal rush­ing touch­downs.

The Red­skins slumped when the team aban­doned the run from the Thanks­giv­ing Day game against Dal­las through the first half of De­cem­ber. Kelley av­er­aged just 13 car­ries per game over that four-game stretch. But against the Chicago Bears on Sun­day, the Red­skins re­turned to the run game. Kelley car­ried the ball 19 times for 76 yards. Since Kelley took over the start­ing job in Week 8, the Red­skins are 4-0-1 when he has at least 16 car­ries. Un­der 16 car­ries, Washington is 0-3-0.

Against the Bears, Kelley ex­ited the game early with a knee in­jury but even­tu­ally re-en­tered. This week, Kelley has been a lim­ited par­tic­i­pant in prac­tice, but he says the knee feels fine and close to nor­mal.

An­other wrin­kle the Red­skins can throw at the Giants: a re­ju­ve­nated DeSean Jack­son.

From Week 4 to Week 11, Jack­son had just 229 re­ceiv­ing yards on 20 catches in six games. But, in the last five games, Jack­son has recorded at least 100 yards four times, and the big play threat has op­po­nents on their heels. Jack­son has two touch­downs in that span, a 67-yard re­cep­tion and an 80-yarder. In fact, in each of those four games, Jack­son has recorded a re­cep­tion of at least 57 yards.

Both quar­ter­back Kirk Cousins and coach Jay Gru­den in­sist that they haven’t drawn up more plays specif­i­cally for Jack­son. In­stead, Cousins is sim­ply rec­og­niz­ing the right time to throw the ball deep. Some­times it works when Jack­son finds a gap in the pass cov­er­age, and some­times it’s sim­ply when he out­runs his man in a man-to-man cov­er­age scheme.

“When [the deep ball’s] there, they need to be hit,” Cousins said. “I think we have been very ac­cu­rate down the field this sea­son. I think it has been an im­prove­ment from past years and when they’re there, we’ve got to hit them.”

Gru­den said the vet­eran Jack­son is still a game­breaker.

“Some­times when he’s jog­ging it looks like he’s run­ning 100 miles an hour,” Gru­den said. “He’s got great speed, ob­vi­ously he’s got great quick­ness and still has un­be­liev­able hands.”

Jack­son was able to find suc­cess against the Giants’ sec­ondary ear­lier this sea­son, snag­ging five catches for 96 yards and a touch­down.

While much is go­ing right for the Red­skins’ of­fense, the de­fense has been bruised, es­pe­cially within the safety po­si­tion. Al­ready with­out line­backer/safety Su’a Cravens, the Red­skins were forced to place safety Donte Whit­ner Sr. on the in­jured re­serve list. Ini­tially, the hope was for Cravens to fill in as a safety, but the rookie hasn’t par­tic­i­pated in prac­tice since in­jur­ing his bi­cep against the Philadel­phia Ea­gles in Week 14. As a re­sult, the Red­skins signed safety Josh Evans on Wed­nes­day to bol­ster the unit that has al­ready gone through six dif­fer­ent safeties this sea­son.

With their play­off po­si­tion as­sured, the Giants have noth­ing to lose or gain on Sun­day, but Giants coach Ben McA­doo said that his starters are go­ing to play. In a con­fer­ence call, he wouldn’t go into de­tail on just how long they will play, but he did con­tin­u­ously say that his start­ing play­ers would play be­cause he doesn’t “know any other way to do it” when it comes to play­ing foot­ball.

The Red­skins are pre­pared for who­ever the Giants de­cide to field. They are pre­par­ing for the starters, but have an un­der­stand­ing of who New York could po­ten­tially throw in, es­pe­cially backup quar­ter­back Josh John­son. De­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Joe Barry spent two years with John­son with the Tampa Bay Buc­ca­neers, and Gru­den spent some time with him with the Cincin­nati Ben­gals. If the Giants re­place Eli Man­ning with John­son — or any other po­si­tional player for that mat­ter — the de­fense will be pre­pared.

“We’re get­ting ready for the New York Giants’ of­fense,” Barry said. “It doesn’t mat­ter what 11 guys are out there. We can’t con­trol that. We don’t even have to think about it.”

Sun­day: 4:25 p.m. TV: Fox

Ra­dio: 980 AM wash­ing­ton­ /sports GIANTS AT RED­SKINS

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