EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — If Robert Griffin III’s performance last week didn’t get the New York Giants’ attention, all they have to do is remember what the Washington Redskins did to them in 2011.
The Redskins were the only team to beat the Super Bowl champions twice during the season, and the Giants are aware that was before RG3 turned their NFC East rivals into an offense that can put up points quickly.
So forget the idea that the Giants (4-2) are going to have a letdown against the Redskins (3-3) after their dominating performance against the San Francisco 49ers. This is a game for first place in the division and New York can’t afford another loss after dropping games to the Cowboys and Eagles.
Washington also has much to gain. A third straight win over New York on Sunday at MetLife Stadium will put coach Mike Shanahan’s team into a first-place tie in a league where parity seems to be the watchword this season.
“This is a team that has given us a lot of trouble, it is always a dogfight playing them regardless of if they win or we win,” Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. “So we know what kind of game to be expecting, a game that will come down to the wire and a game we have to play our best game to win and they will be motivated too, they get an opportunity to, a win against us, they will be number one in the division. It’s a lot of motivation on both sides.”
What’s different this year is that Griffin, the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, has added a new dimension to the Redskins’ attack. The former Baylor star not only leads the league, hitting 70 percent of his passes, his six touchdowns rushing are second overall.
Last week might have been his best game. In a 38-26 win over Minnesota, he ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns, the last coming on a 76-yard fourth-quarter run in which he simply turned the corner and outran the Vikings down the sideline.
“I saw it,” said Giants safety Antrel Rolle, who had two interceptions last week and was named the NFC defensive player of the week. “I wasn’t surprised, we all knew what kind of athlete he was coming into this league, and he just displayed more of that, which has been shown pretty much all year this past Sunday.”
Griffin seemingly is getting better. While he is still learning, he said the NFL game has slowed down a little for him.
“It’s not to the point where it slows down like a veteran guy like a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning, or anything like that. It’s definitely slowed down a little bit. Just being able to see things and just have an in-game experience. The only time you can really notice the speed of the game if you’re sitting around watching it, and most of the time as a quarterback, I’m not sitting around watching anything. I’m trying to attack a defense and do things of that nature. Everything is sped up in my mind to go out and execute and be aggressive.”
The Giants’ defense might have some advantages this week. It had its best game of the season, limiting the 49ers to three points after San Francisco had scored 79 in the previous two weeks. The Jason Pierre-Paul led defensive line posted a season-high six sacks and took away a 49ers running game that was among the best in the league.
Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell’s unit also should be used to playing mobile quarterback. It dominated Cam Newton in a win earlier this year on the road and it did a good job of containing Michael Vick in a loss in Philadelphia.
“Trust me, we chase quarterbacks all the time,” said Pierre-Paul, who challenged Griffin to run his way. “”We turn and run to the ball, no matter what. He may get past us and zoom right past us, but trust me we’re right behind him. You’ve got to respect that, too. It’s not all about the speed. We’ve got guys, all 11 guys that can run to the ball very quick.”
Shanahan downplayed the familiarity with mobile quarterbacks.
“I think from our perspective, we have the ability to do a lot of different things,” Shanahan said. “It all depends on what defense we’re facing and that gives Robert the ability to not just one style of offense. We believe we have the flexibility to do a number of things. Hopefully we can at least keep the defense honest and somewhat off-balance. That’s what you’re hoping for; at least that’s what we’re hoping for.”
On the other side of the ball, the Giants have found their running game in posting consecutive wins over the Cleveland Browns and 49ers. Ahmad Bradshaw has 57 carries for 316 yards in those two games.
The running attack has made things a little easier for Eli Manning, who has not been sacked in the last three games. He is second in the league with 1,772 yards passing, throwing 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.
This week, he will be going against the NFL’s worst pass defense.
“We’re giving up a lot of yards,” Shanahan said when asked what was wrong with his pass defense.
Part of the problems has been the lack of a pass rush and blown coverages, he said.
“I think we’ve gotten better,” Shanahan said. “We did lose (linebacker Brian) Orakpo, we did lose (defensive end Adam) Carriker, two of our starting guys, and a couple of safeties. We’ve had some guys that have stepped in and played better. I think we’re getting better in those areas, because those guys have taken other guys’ places with a lot more experience, and adjusting very quickly to our defensive scheme. Hopefully, we just keep on getting better as the year goes on.”
The Giants come into the week hoping that the win over San Francisco was the beginning of a run similar to the season-ending, six-game winning streak that carried them to their second Super Bowl title in five years.
“That has been our best football against that caliber of a football team,” Tuck said. “Hopefully we can build on that. We are not going to sit here and look back on San Fran, we got to make sure we are looking forward. It is comforting knowing that when we are playing on all cylinders, that is how we can play football.”