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Redskins Provide Clues To a 'Super' Victory

Posted Feb 3, 2012

How did the Redskins manage to beat the New York Giants twice and nearly beat the New England Patriots last season? The answer lies in two key stats: time of possession and third downs.


Let’s dispense with the topic of whether the Redskins’ showing against the New York Giants and New England Patriots last season means anything.

Instead, let’s figure out how the 5-11 Redskins managed to beat the Giants twice and nearly beat the Patriots.

As football fans well know, the Giants and Patriots face off in Super Bowl XLVI this Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

The Redskins defeated the Giants twice last season, 28-14 in Week 1 at FedExField and 23-10 in Week 15 at MetLife Stadium.

In Week 14, they nearly upset the Patriots at FedExField but ultimately lost 34-27.

How did they do it? And can the Giants and Patriots glean anything from those games to help them win?

Two stats stand out.

In all three games, the Redskins dominated the time of possession and were steady on third- and fourth-down conversions.

In Week 1 against the Giants, the Redskins controlled the clock for 32:36 and were 5-of-15 on third downs and 1-for-1 on fourth downs.

In Week 14 vs. New England, the Redskins' offense had started clicking again after a midseason slumber. They had a whopping 36:09-to-23:51 time of possession advantage and were 7-of-14 on third downs against the Patriots.

A week later against the Giants, the Redskins again controlled the clock for 35:00 and were 8-of-15 on third downs and 1-for-2 on fourth downs.

By converting third downs and time again, the Redskins were able to keep Eli Manning and Tom Brady and their explosive offenses off the field.

The first Giants game was nip and tuck, with Ryan Kerrigan’s 9-yard interception return of a batted Manning pass for a touchdown giving the Redskins a 21-14 lead through three quarters.

Then the Redskins launched a fourth quarter drive that was aided by safety Antrel Rolle’s unnecessary roughness penalty on 3rd-and-9.

Two plays later, Rex Grossman connected with Fred Davis for 22 yards on a 3rd-and-8 play. And two plays after that, Grossman threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney to seal the Redskins’ win.

The key play in the Patriots game came early when defensive end Andre Carter blitzed by undrafted rookie Willie Smith to sack Grossman in the end zone and jar the ball loose. Nose tackle Vince Wilfork recovered for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

The Redskins charged back to tie the game at 20-20 at halftime, thanks to some razzle-dazzle. On a wide receiver option reverse, Brandon Banks tossed a 49-yard touchdown to Santana Moss.

In the third quarter, the Redskins tied the game at 27-27 after Grossman found wide receiver David Anderson on a third-down, 6-yard touchdown pass.

The Patriots held a 34-27 lead late in the fourth quarter.

Grossman led the offense on an impressive drive, converting two more third downs including a 13-yard pass to Donte Stallworth on 3rd-and-9.

The offense stalled at the 5-yard line when Moss made two costly gaffes. First he was flagged for offensive pass interference, nullifying a touchdown and pushing the offense back.

One play later, third down went against Moss and the Redskins. On 3rd-and-goal at the 9, Grossman’s pass bounced off Moss’s hands into the arms of linebacker Jerod Mayo for a game-clinching interception.

The Redskins were at their best on third downs in the second Giants game.

They jumped out to a 17-3 halftime lead thanks to drives that were aided by key third-down conversions.

Grossman’s 19-yard pass across the middle to Stallworth on 3rd-and-12 set up Graham Gano’s 36-yard, first quarter field goal.

Early in the second quarter, Grossman tossed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Moss on a 3rd-and-8 out pattern to the end zone.

Darrel Young’s 6-yard touchdown run later in the second quarter was set up by a 16-yard pass from Grossman to Gaffney on 3rd-and-14.

In predicting Super Bowl XLVI, why not evaluate the two teams based on how they measured up against the Redskins?

On third downs, in particular.

The Patriots’ offense was markedly better than the Giants in converting third downs last season. They converted 46 percent to rank fifth in the league while the Giants converted 37 percent to rank 14th, one spot ahead of the Redskins.

The Giants’ defense was markedly better than the Patriots in defending third downs last season. The Giants yielded 38 percent of third downs to ranked 17th, one spot behind the Redskins, while the Patriots yielded 43 percent to rank 28th.

The Giants have been even better in the postseason, allowing just 28 percent of third downs.

Their defensive line, with the likes of Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, has played a big part in that.

The Patriots and Giants are evenly matched teams. Clearly Tom Brady and Manning are evenly matched quarterbacks.

Says here the winner of Super Bowl XLVI will convert more third downs and sustain long drives, keeping the other elite quarterback off the field.

If it’s true that defenses win championships, then the edge has to go to the Giants. Their defense, particularly on third downs, is the difference.

Go with the Giants, 28-25, in a thriller.