Oct 122001

Approach to the Game – New York Giants at St. Louis Rams, October 14, 2001: It looks like HB Tiki Barber (hamstring) won’t play on Sunday against the explosive Rams and HB Ron Dayne (neck) will be playing hurt. That’s like fighting a heavy weight champ with one of your fingers broken. The experts gave the Giants little chance to upset the Rams before knowing Barber, the Giants most explosive offensive player, was out. They give them no chance now.

The Rams always make a big deal out of playing the Giants. For some reason, these whiney bitches love to harp on comments made by the Giants years ago about the Rams being a finesse team. Whatever – get over it. They also will undoubtably play up the “We should have been the NFC Champs”-angle to motivate themselves.

Giants on Offense: The Rams have completely revamped their defense with eight new starters and are coming off their first shut out in years. The new emphasis on their defense is to not take many chances in the secondary by playing primarily zone coverage and keeping everything in front of the defensive backs. St. Louis wants to force opposing offenses to attempt to march patiently down the field. They feel – with reasonable justification – that most teams won’t be able to do that as they will make mistakes (penalties or turnovers) that will stall the drive before that happens. The Rams also believe that opposing teams will get impatient and try to force things.

This new defensive scheme is also helped by the addition of faster players on defense who can run and chase. Force the opponent to move in small chunks and put a lot of hats on him.

The Giants have some advantages and disadvantages in facing this type of defense. If Ron Dayne is relatively healthy, the Giants should be able to grind the ball at the smaller front seven of the Rams. But the Rams will also expect this so expect some run blitzing. Also, when it comes time to pass, Amani Toomer, Joe Jurevicius, and Ike Hilliard are more intermediate threats than deep ones, so this plays more into their game. The bad news? Without Tiki Barber, the Giants are missing their most explosive underneath passing threat. Moreover, the Giants don’t have any credible threat at tight end. There will be a lot of pressure on Damon Washington and Dan Campbell to perform as receivers in this game and these two do not have a proven track record in that department. Also, Kerry Collins has not demonstrated much patience this year; if he doesn’t in this game, the Giants won’t win.

To me, Kerry Collins is the key to this game for the Giants. It’s time for him to stop being an average quarterback, take the bull by the horns, and be an impact player in a ball game (like he was against the Vikings in the 2000 playoffs). No excuses. The offensive line provides him with decent pass protection, he has good wide receivers, and a credible threat at halfback. Make plays, not turnovers, and put four or more touchdowns up on the board. The Rams have some good young talent on defense, but this is no unit to be feared.

The receivers also must show up this week – ALL of them. If the Giants are going to be forced to march down the field, the team can ill-afford dropped passes or poor route-running. But more than that, do something spectacular! Toomer wants to you believe he is one of the best receivers in the game. Prove it Amani! Joe Jurevicius, you have a contract coming up. Ike, you want a new contract. Make plays that win games and the rewards will follow. The Giants will see an old foe, CB Aeneas Williams, who was traded to the Cardinals in the offseason. He’s a terrific player and will usually be matched-up on Jurevicius unless the Rams decide to move him to the opposite side to cover Toomer. In nickel coverage, just like Jason Sehorn, Williams moves to the slot – so Ike Hilliard will see a lot of him too. The other corner, Dexter McCleon, is only so-so. The nickel back is Dre’ Bly, who has a nose for the football but who lacks great speed.

Also key will be the underneath receivers who must play their best football since the Rams’ schemes should present opportunities underneath. This means FB Greg Comella, HB Damon Washington, TE Dan Campbell, HB Ron Dayne, and TE Howard Cross must make a play or two in the passing game (yes, I did say Howard Cross).

The front seven on defense is quick, but on the smaller side. If Dayne gets effective blocking up front, he should be able to do some damage. All three linebackers play more of a speed game than a power game. However, they can shoot gaps and disrupt plays. If I’m Sean Payton, I don’t get too cute with the running plays and run right at these guys. I wouldn’t do a lot of running parallel to the line of scrimmage in other words.

Of course, all of this depends on the Giants winning the battles up front. The Giants offensive line MUST out-play the Rams’ defensive line or the Giants have absolutely no chance to win this game. LT Lomas Brown draws the toughest assignment in DE Grant Wistrom – a two-way defensive end who can be very disruptive and who has given the Giants problems in the past. The Rams use a platoon system on the left side. Chidi Ahanotu is the run defender and Leonard Little is the pass rusher. Little is built like a linebacker, but he has a quick first step. Luke Petitgout has to be careful not to be beat to the outside. Inside, the Giants should be able to get some movement on DT Jeff Zgonina, a journeyman, and DT Brian Young, a second-year player who is a bit undersized. Coming off the bench however is impressive rookie DT Damione Lewis. Much will depend on how healthy Ron Stone (shoulder) and Glenn Parker (concussion) are. Dusty Zeigler also needs to do a good job of getting out on the linebackers as do the tight ends and Greg Comella.

While the Rams do play it more conservatively in the secondary, they will blitz. Expect them to attempt to stifle Dayne early with some run blitzing. The Giants may be best advised to pass first to set up the run. On passing downs, the line, tight ends, and backs, must be alert to the blitzes. So do Kerry Collins and the receivers who may be able to take advantage of it.

To me, this game is on Kerry Collins’ shoulders. It’s time for him to step it up.

Giants on Defense: Boy I’d like to be able to play this game with an EXPERIENCED Will Allen and Will Peterson. As promising as these two look, they haven’t seen anything like the Rams’ system, quarterback, or receivers. The casual fans is tempted to say, blitz the heck out of the Rams – our corners can cover. Just keep in mind that the two Wills are very inexperienced still and to leave them all alone out on an island is risky, risky business. On the other hand, the Dolphins tried to rush the Rams with their front four and playing everyone else back and got killed. Pick your poison.

The Rams remind me a bit of a hybrid between the old run-and-shoot teams and the great San Francisco 49er teams of the 1980’s. Running is an afterthought; passing the ball is the primary function. And while the Rams do take their shots down the field, the emphasis is on the short passing offense and getting the ball into the hands of the receivers as they are moving forward. The Rams’ receivers and All-World Marshall Faulk are all great run-after-the-catch players. QB Kurt Warner accurately delivers passes on time to these guys and lets them do all the work. Getting pressure on Warner is tough because he gets rid of the ball so quickly (short passes only require 3- and 5-step drops).

The way Bill Parcells used to beat the old 49er teams was to get pressure on Joe Montana up the middle. Rushing from the outside took too long. By the time the blitz or the end got there, the ball was already gone. Warner is not a real mobile guy so the Giants don’t need to worry about containment as much as they normally do. I would send someone up the gut quite a bit – be it a safety or linebacker. Disrupt Warner’s rhythm and timing. The only way to do that is to get pressure on him immediately.

At the same time, I wouldn’t send the Giants’ best blitzer – Mike Barrow – too much. To me, the big advantage the Giants have over most defenses in defending the Rams is the presence of Mike Barrow. Barrow has the speed and quickness to be a factor in defending Faulk in pass coverage. And defending Faulk is the key to the entire game. I’m not saying that Mike can stay with Faulk all by himself the entire game, but he can make things interesting.

The other guy who needs to step up his game is Jessie Armstead. In previous years, Armstead would be the one to draw Faulk – and he may do so on Sunday a bit too. If Jessie has a monster game (and I’m not just talking about noticeable plays, but keeping a receiver quiet in pass coverage), then the Giants have a real shot to win this thing.

To be honest, I wouldn’t even get Brandon Short on the field. The minute he steps out there, the Rams will target him with their passing attack. Secondly, and maybe more important, Sam Garnes and Shaun Williams play like linebackers. Why not simply play in nickel coverage the entire game? This is another strength the Giants have that many teams don’t – two big, strong, aggressive safeties. Take advantage of it.

Besides Faulk, the Rams have three other explosive play-makers at wide receiver: Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt, and Az-Zahir Hakim. And just when you got those guys covered, Ricky Proehl comes out of nowhere to bite you in the ass. It will be interesting to see how Defensive Coordinator John Fox plays this. If he keeps the Giants in the nickel (and I would), one would assume that he would leave CB Jason Sehorn in the slot. Do the Giants use Sehorn to cover Faulk then? Or will he spend most of his time on Hakim? The quick, little Hakim can present some problems with Sehorn who has a longer stride. The real potential nightmare is having the rookies cover Bruce and Holt. Allen will probably draw Bruce and Peterson most likely will see a lot of Holt. Are they ready? The smart money says no, but stranger things have happened. A huge MUST? Make sure tackles! If the Giants don’t, then it will be off to the races.

Of course the pass rush everything. If the Giants could get quick, immediate pressure with their front four, that would make things much easier. But that’s hard to do against a system that is designed to get rid of the ball quickly. DE Kenny Holmes can’t get a break. He faces yet another top quality opponent this week in LT Orlando Pace. The Giants need Michael Strahan to play a great game against an average player like he does when he plays against a well-regarded opponent (i.e., Jon Runyan, Korey Stringer, Kyle Turley). RT Ryan Tucker is a bit beat up and Strahan needs to perform at the top of his game. But to me, the real pressure will be on the defensive tackles since I believe the pressure has to come up the middle. DT Cornelius Griffin started coming out of his shell this past weekend, but faces the tough Adam Timmerman this week. DT Keith Hamilton must have a big game against LG Tom Nutten.

Special Teams: The Giants face a VERY dangerous punt returner in Az-Zahir Hakim. Rodney Williams must be careful not to out-punt his coverage. Covering kicks has been a problem for the Giants and it is not known whether Owen Pochman will be activated for this game on kick-offs. Is this the game where we see a fake punt from New York? The return game could really help New York this week if Amani Toomer and Ron Dixon get it together.

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Eric Kennedy

Eric Kennedy is Editor-in-Chief of BigBlueInteractive.com, a publication of Big Blue Interactive, LLC. Follow @BigBlueInteract on Twitter.

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