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    Tuesday, March 05, 2024

    Commanders are looking to get back on track when they host the struggling Giants

    New York Giants quarterback Tommy DeVito drops back to make a hand-off during last week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys in Arlington, Texas. (Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo)
    Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb works for extra yards after catching a pass as New York Giants safety Jason Pinnock, right, defends. (Tony Gutierrez/AP Photo)

    Trying to reset his team after losing six of eight games, Ron Rivera's message this week has been about the opportunity in front of the Washington Commanders with the New York Giants coming to town.

    “It’s a chance to get ourselves on track and keep going,” Rivera said.

    Somewhat incredibly, the Commanders (4-6) are still in the playoff hunt given the underwhelming field of teams competing for the three wild-card spots in the NFC. They're favored to beat the struggling Giants (2-8), who are on a three-game skid and again are starting undrafted rookie Tommy DeVito at quarterback. But Washington has already lost to New York this season and isn't taking for granted facing a third-stringer Sunday.

    “He’s an NFL, professional quarterback,” Commanders cornerback Kendall Fuller said. “Anybody out there can win a football game. That’s the mentality that we’re going with, and we’re going to need all 11 guys on the field to be able to stop their offense."

    Washington is a 9 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook — the biggest spread in the team's favor since 2017. That's more reflective of the Giants coming off blowout losses of 49-17 at Dallas last week and 30-6 at Las Vegas on Nov. 5 than anything the Commanders have done.

    And it's certainly overlooking the Giants' 14-7 home win against Washington last month.

    “It's not like Washington's going to roll over just because we beat them the first time,” Giants right guard Ben Bredeson said. “Obviously, there were some things that worked, and there was definitely things that we need to improve on before going into the second matchup with them.”

    The Commanders' offense is much improved since then, averaging 420 yards and just under 26 points in the past three games. Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy has leaned into a pass-heavy approach that showcases Sam Howell, who has thrown more than any QB in the NFL and, as a result, leads the league with 264 completions and 2,783 yards.

    “I feel like he’s grown just being able to control this offense, have success in the league and knowing what it takes to be a professional quarterback in this league," receiver Jahan Dotson said. "He’s trusting in us, trusting in the process, trusting in the offense and he’s leading us to put us in positions to win football games, and that’s really all you want in your quarterback.”

    Giants defenders have certainly noticed a difference since the Oct. 22 meeting at the Meadowlands when they held the Commanders to 273 yards and sacked Howell six times. Washington's past three opponents have combined to sacked Howell just seven times, which is a credit to the second-year pro as much as the revamped offensive line.

    “They’re just getting the ball out quick,” Giants inside linebacker Micah McFadden said. "I think that’s the main thing that we’ve noticed is he’s getting the ball out faster depending on the down and distance.”

    DeVito got sacked five times by the Cowboys in his first NFL start, going 14 of 27 for 87 yards passing with two touchdowns and an interception and running seven times for 41 yards. The 25-year-old who still lives at home with his family in New Jersey is the third QB up for New York after starter Daniel Jones was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee and backup Tyrod Taylor injured his rib cage and landed on injured reserve.

    “(I'm) just doing the same thing I’ve done since I was 5-6 years old,” DeVito said. “In the same huddle, acting the same as I was — just having that competitive edge about me.”

    Same Giants line

    For the first time this season, the Giants seemingly are going to start the same offensive line from their previous game. That means Andrew Thomas at left tackle, Justin Pugh at left guard, rookie John Michael Schmitz at center, Ben Bredeson at right guard and Tyre Phillips at right tackle.

    Only once this season has the same line combination started two games. That was in Weeks 2 and 4 when Josh Ezeudu was at left tackle, Bredeson at left guard, Schmitz at center, Marcus McKethan at right guard and Evan Neal at right tackle.

    The Giants have used nine starting O-line combinations through 10 games.

    Big-play problems

    Washington's defense has allowed 44 plays of 20-plus yards, the third most of any team in the NFL. Four of them came in the most recent loss last week at Seattle, including a 64-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Kenneth Walker III.

    “I’ve been disappointed,” Rivera said. "It happens, and it’s unfortunate that we’ve given up the amount that we have.”

    Banged-up secondary

    New York's cornerbacks are dinged up. Adoree’ Jackson missed the Cowboys game with a concussion, and rookie Deon Banks hurt his ankle during the game and sat out the second half. Cor’Dale Flott, who intercepted Dak Prescott, left in the first half with a shoulder injury.

    Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson is going to have to have everyone on standby. New York finished last week with Nick McCloud, Darnay Holmes and rookie Tre Hawkins handling most of the snaps after halftime.

    Do-it-all Robinson

    The Commanders' passing fancy — 183 throws and 78 rushing attempts over their past four games — hasn't stopped running back Brian Robinson Jr. from making an impact. He had a career-high six catches and 157 scrimmage yards against the Seahawks, including a 51-yard touchdown reception.

    “I just want the ball," Robinson said. "No matter how you give me the ball, I’m going to do something with it: Kick it to me, punt it to me, throw it to me, hand it to me and I’m going to make a play.”

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