QB Sanchez tasked with resurrecting Redskins vs. Giants
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The visiting New York Giants enter Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins having won three of four games and fresh off an upset of the Chicago Bears.
The Redskins stagger in having lost three straight and starting their third quarterback in four weeks.
Yet it's the Redskins who remain in the playoff conversation.
The Redskins (6-6) are tied for second in the NFC East with the Philadelphia Eagles, one game behind the Dallas Cowboys, and are part of a group chasing a wild card spot.
All they need to do by Sunday is turn recently unemployed Mark Sanchez back into a serviceable NFL starter and figure out why their defense is suddenly very porous.
With Colt McCoy sidelined, the 32-year-old Sanchez will make his first NFL start since 2015. In relief of McCoy against the Eagles, Sanchez was 13 of 21 for 100 yards and an interception.
"We understand that this division is really up for grabs, so these next few games, especially the divisional games, carry a lot of weight," Sanchez said. "Our focus and our energy is about playing against the Giants. We moved on from that last one and now we'll get a chance to get some reps and be ready to play."
A full week of practice as the starter will give the recently signed Sanchez access to more of coach Jay Gruden's playbook as he plays against a coach from his past.
"I'm familiar with what he is, and he came to us and heck he was playing in two AFC Championship games for the Jets, so he knows how to win and lead and he had that about [him] in Philadelphia," Giants coach Pat Shurmur, Sanchez's offensive coordinator in Philadelphia, said. "He's good at throwing on the run. He executes well from the pocket and then we've got to look at what they do and just kind of surmise the plays they'll run with him."
The Redskins signed quarterback Josh Johnson to back up Sanchez. Johnson was a fifth-round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2008, Gruden's final year as an offensive assistant with the team. He threw his last NFL pass in the 2011 season.
Ranked near the top of the league early on, Washington's defense has surrendered more than 400 yards in four of its past five games. The Redskins allowed opponents to rush for 100 yards twice in the first 700 games, but in each of the past five.
"The last four weeks we have to be very, very, very sound," Gruden said of his run defense. "We have to be good physical, tackling football team and if the running back bounces it out to the unblocked corner, he's got to make the tackle. And that didn't happen a couple of times in that game [Monday] night."
They'll also need a pass rush. When the Redskins beat the Giants 20-13 in Week 8, Eli Manning was sacked eight times. The Redskins only sack of Carson Wentz Monday night was wiped out by a penalty.
Had the Giants (4-8) held a late lead against the Eagles two weeks ago, they'd be in the playoff chase.
New York is still ranked only 12th in the NFC on offense (350.2 yards per game) but running back Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, Jr. are producing. Barkley has 954 yards and eight touchdowns rushing to go with 602 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Beckham has 77 catches for 1,052 yards and two touchdowns. He's also thrown two more touchdown passes than Sanchez this season.
The Giants defense ranks 14th in the NFC, allowing 377 yards per game. They've lost defensive back Landon Collins, their leading tackler, who will have shoulder surgery and is out for the rest of the season.
"We're going to do it with the guys that have been playing," Shurmur said of filling the void. "[Sean] Chandler will be in there, we still have the guys that have been playing, and we'll just try to work the next man up."