The Giants’ surging pass rush, and their matchup with the Washington Commanders’ offensive line, could be the reason Brian Daboll’s team wins Sunday night’s pivotal NFC East clash.
Edge rusher Azeez Ojulari agrees.
“I do,” Ojluari said at his locker on Thursday. “We can get there. When we get our one-on-ones, if we can win those. We all wanna eat. We all wanna make an impact.”
Ojulari’s return to the lineup two weeks ago against Washington improved Wink Martindale’s pass rush immediately and exponentially.
The Giants’ defense has recorded nine sacks in the last two weeks after posting a total of 20 in their first 11 games combined.
That includes five sacks, three forced fumbles and one recovered in their 20-20 Week 13 home tie with Washington. Ojulari has three sacks, a forced fumble and a recovery in the last two games. He has at least one sack in three of his four games this season.
Sunday night’s most favorable matchup, however, appears to belong to defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence.
He will line up over center Wes Schweitzer, Washington’s third-stringer who is better at guard. Lawrence has had a Pro Bowl-level season and is hungry for a rebound from last week’s humbling loss to All-Pro center Jason Kelce and the Philadelphia Eagles.
“It’ll tell you something about yourself as a person and as a team, how you accept the challenge,” Lawrence said of Sunday’s stakes. “I think we’ll all be ready. We all prepare well, and regardless, we’ll go out there on Sunday night and play some football.”
Rookie No. 5 overall pick Kayvon Thibodeaux, who turned 22 years old on Thursday, is relishing the opportunity to shine under the bright lights of prime time.
“Primetime likes me,” he said with a smile. “Primetime is always a great time to go out there and play. There’s always [talk] about who’s the best and who can do this and who can do that. One thing that never deceives you is your eyes, being able to see it.”
Martindale has schemed smart blitzes to get favorable matchups for his edges in key spots, recently getting them matched up on an offensive guard while the tackle has to take an outside blitzer.
“Guards are usually not as good in space because they’d be tackles if they were,” Martindale said Thursday.
Defensive lineman Leonard Williams did not speak to the media all week, missed the Philly game with a neck injury and was limited for three straight practices from Wednesday through Friday. But the Giants need him, too.
Martindale’s defense has to stop the run or the pass rush won’t matter. The Eagles gashed them for 253 yards last Sunday, often on the edges, and the Giants’ defensive coordinator admitted Thursday that he’s running out of proposed solutions.
“I don’t think it’s just always on the edges,” Martindale said. “I think there’s some right up the middle, too, that we’ve had some issues with. It’s like … you’re plugging the dike, and I’m running out of fingers and toes to plug the dike.”
It’s possible Landon Collins could elevate from the practice squad to play linebacker in certain packages against his former Washington team, but that wouldn’t be a cure-all.
Still, the Giants’ primary talent advantage in this game appears to be when their defensive line rushes Taylor Heinicke against a Washington front that is short on blue-chippers.
That goes especially on the interior, where Lawrence has dominated and won games for the Giants before.
The Washington Commanders will play the Giants in two consecutive games separated only by a bye. It is just the third time since the 1970 merger that a team has played the same opponent in consecutive regular season games, per Elias Sports Bureau.
In 1991, the Seattle Seahawks and San Diego Chargers played each other in Weeks 9 and 11, with both teams on bye in between. Both teams won at home.
Then last season, the Cleveland Browns played the Baltimore Ravens in Weeks 12 and 14 with a bye in between. The Ravens won the first game at home, 16-10. The Browns exacted revenge, 24-22, in Cleveland.
So does it afford Washington any advantage? Well, Martindale coached with the Ravens last year and didn’t even remember the Browns facing Baltimore back-to-back, so the Ravens clearly weren’t overly concerned with it.
And Giants center Jon Feliciano said if anything, that’s an exhausting schedule for Washington going into its break.
“We’ve talked about it jokingly, like, that’s a late-ass bye week,” Feliciano said with a laugh. “That must have been a long, grueling first 13 weeks. That’s rough.”
GIANTS GAME STATUSES
Out: CB Adoree Jackson (knee), OLB Elerson Smith (Achilles, injured reserve), OL Josh Ezeudu (neck), OL Shane Lemieux (toe). Questionable: CB Nick McCloud (illness), DT Leonard Williams (neck), TE Daniel Bellinger (rib)
Notes: McCloud and Bellinger are expected to play. It’s not clear where Williams stands. He did not speak to the media all week after sitting out the loss to the Eagles and being limited in three practices. OLB Jihad Ward and WR Richie James both were cleared out of the concussion protocol on Friday and taken off the final injury report altogether.
COMMANDERS GAME STATUSES
Out: OL Saahdiq Charles (concussion). Questionable: CB Benjamin St. Juste (ankle), DE Chase Young (knee), WR Cam Sims (back), DL Efe Obada.