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Giants hoping defense doesn't rest against 'Skins

LANDOVER, Md. - Used to be a December NFC East game featuring the New York Giants was all about defense.

LANDOVER, Md. - Used to be a December NFC East game featuring the New York Giants was all about defense.

In a way, it's still about defense. Or, better yet, the lack of it.

The Giants stumble into tonight's game against the Washington Redskins in a position unusual for the franchise - the offense has been trying to bail out the other side of the ball.

"We have to fix it," New York cornerback Terrell Thomas said. "It's a concern for our secondary and defense. We have to shut it down this week."

After a 5-0 start that had the Giants (7-6) looking like the toast of the NFC, they are now on the verge of being toasted in the playoff race. They've fallen to third in the division and have entered must-win territory as they look up the standings at Philadelphia (10-4) and Dallas (9-5).

"I think so," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "You never really want to put that pressure on yourself, especially when they say you can still make the playoffs even if we don't all three of these. But, for me, personally I think we are - just because we haven't played great ball. Even if you do make the playoffs, you don't want to go into the playoffs limping."

And, oh, that defense is limping. The Giants allowed six plays of 20 yards or more in last week's 45-38 loss to the Eagles. They've allowed 22 such plays over the last 5 weeks after giving up only 18 over the first 8 weeks of the season. The coaching staff has tinkered with the personnel - Mathias Kiwanuka has replaced Osi Umenyiora in the starting lineup the last two games - and coach Tom Coughlin had to give defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan a vote of confidence this week.

Coming into the weekend, the Giants' No. 9 ranking in total defense still looks fine, but it's misleading because it only counts yardage. In scoring defense, the Giants are 28th in the league, giving up 25.4 points per game.

Perhaps, Coughlin said, his players are playing a bit too narrow-minded.

"Sometimes you get so wired into what your exact assignment is, you don't recognize the big picture," the coach said.

The Redskins (4-9) have also felt the sting of the big play, allowing 11 plays of 20 or more yards over the last three weeks. They've also tinkered with the lineup - moving free safety LaRon Landry back to strong safety on many of his snaps. They looked better in last week's 34-13 win over Oakland, but it helped that they played the second half against underachieving quarterback JaMarcus Russell after Bruce Gradkowski was injured.

Conversely, both offenses have been in high gear. Eli Manning had a career-high 391 yards against the Eagles, and Jason Campbell has topped the 100 mark in quarterback rating in back-to-back games. The Redskins couldn't score more than 17 points for the first eight weeks of the season, but now they've notched at least 24 in four of the last five.

So is there a prime-time shootout in the works?

"I just know they had more than 500 yards of offense, so they've got it cranked up," Washington coach Jim Zorn said. "What we have to do is slow that down and continue to keep pace with what we're doing. I don't know if the scores are going to be there in this game like they were in that game. Actually, I hope not."