Approach to the Game – St. Louis Rams at New York Giants, October 2, 2005: This is a crossroads game for the Giants. It is more about the Giants than their opponent, the Rams. Being 3-1 heading into the bye week is a lot better than going into the off-weekend on a two-game losing streak.
Giants on Defense: The Giants are 31st in overall defense based on yards per game (408.3). Only San Francisco is worse. And the Giants are giving up almost 25 points per game. Let that sink in for a moment. The Giants will be hard-pressed to field a winning team unless those statistics dramatically improve and fast.
My biggest concern heading into game against the Rams is the psychological hangover from last week’s butt-whipping. Don’t underestimate the significance of what the Chargers did to the Giants’ defense and what impact that could have on the mental outlook of that unit. The Giants’ defense did not show a lot of mental toughness last Sunday, raising the obvious question about whether it has the mental toughness to rebound even after a week. There must also be concern about the soundness of the defensive schemes of Defensive Coordinator Tim Lewis.
The Giants’ run defense was near the top of the league until the Chargers’ game. But that seems a long time ago since HB LaDainian Tomlinson put up the third largest rushing total against a Giants’ defense in team history. We all know that the Rams are a pass-happy bunch, but the Giants need to immediately shut down any semblance of a running game on Sunday. If they do so early, Rams’ Head Coach Mike Martz will abandon the run. HB Steven Jackson (chest) is “questionable” so we may see more of HB Marshall Faulk this weekend. I don’t need to tell you how dangerous Faulk can be as a runner or a pass receiver. The latter is of particular significance too as the pass coverage by the linebackers and safeties last Sunday was not good.
The front seven of the Giants needs to re-assert itself. DE Osi Umenyiora draws the toughest assignment, facing LT Orlando Pace. DE Michael Strahan will likely face rookie Alex Barron as RT Rex Tucker (calf) is doubtful. Barron is very talented, but he missed much of training camp and this is match-up the Giants need Strahan to dominate. Inside, DT William Joseph will line up over LG Tom Nutten (who may be limited with a toe injury) most of the time as DT Kendrick Clancy battles RG Adam Timmerman. Andy McCollum is a good center.
Jackson is a big, powerful runner. Faulk is an elusive cutback runner with outstanding vision. Both can catch the football out of the backfield. Unlike last Sunday, the Giants need to maintain good gap discipline, especially against Faulk who will cut back if he spots an opening. Linebackers Nick Greisen and Carlos Emmons are physical in coverage, but neither is terribly fast. There could be one-on-one match-up problems for the Giants here when Faulk is sent out as a pass receiver.
WR Isaac Bruce (toe) is unlikely to play, but his back-up, Kevin Curtis, is a good player with excellent speed. He actually may be a better receiver than Bruce now. Last year in the playoffs, Curtis started for Bruce and caught 7 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown. CB Will Allen will draw him. Opposite of Curtis is one of the best receivers in football, Torry Holt, who has excellent acceleration and quickness. CB Will Peterson, who is “questionable” with a back injury, would normally line up over him (Late Update: Peterson has a fractured back and will not play). If he can’t go, Curtis Deloatch would likely draw that tough assignment. The Rams often use 3-WR sets so the Giants will see a lot of Shaun McDonald in the slot. McDonald is smaller, but he is very quick and fast. Bottom line? The Giants will face three quick, fast deep threats on Sunday. Given the fact that the Giants are 30th in pass defense, the QB Marc Bulger and his receivers have to be licking their chops. The Rams’ offensive system can be confusing for young corners, so guys like Deloatch and Corey Webster (if he plays) might have some problems. Deloatch also may lack the quickness to stick with the Rams’ receivers who make very sharp breaks.
Much will depend on the pass rush. Mike Martz is not a big believer in maximizing pass protection. Bulger will be vulnerable if the down four play a good game and the Giants employ a number of well-timed and well-executed blitzes. However, keep in mind, the more you blitz, the more vulnerable you are to the big play down the field. Your coverage will be looser, enabling the Rams wide receivers to run unmolested through much of the secondary. The defense needs to force Bulger to make some ill-advised throws.
Yadda, yadda, yadda. Let’s stop talking X’s and O’s. This game will be about attitude. The Giants’ defense needs to come out and set the tone early with smart, physical play. I want to see some intensity, some hitting, some meanness. But the Giants also need to play smart. The Giants were mentally beaten as much as they were physically beaten against the Chargers. Martz obviously saw that misdirection and trickery fooled the Giants badly. The Giants need to be aggressive, but also be cognizant of their responsibilities. And show some mental toughness please! If the other team scores right off the bat, it is not the end of the world. Giant defenders need to realize that this team’s legacy is built on defense. Being near dead last in defense simply is not acceptable.
Giants on Offense: To win on Sunday, the Giants are most likely going to have to score a lot of points. QB Eli Manning had a breakout game last Sunday, but that does not mean he will not experience setbacks or make mistakes. Indeed, keep in mind that three of Manning’s passes should have been intercepted last week (and two returned for touchdowns). He’s still a very young player who will be starting his eleventh game on Sunday. Still, this is the type of game that the Giants need Manning to play well. The Rams’ defense is ordinary, but like most of the Giants’ opponents, they are likely to gear up to stop HB Tiki Barber and dare Manning to beat them. The Giants may want to open things up early in order to defeat this strategy.
The right cornerback for the Rams is Travis Fisher. He has good speed, but lacks size. This is a good match-up for the Giants and WR Plaxico Burress. Left corner DeJuan Groce is also on the small side. He’s quick, but not terribly fast. This is another good match-up for the Giants with WR Amani Toomer. Both corners know how to play the football so Manning needs to be accurate. The nickel corner is Corey Ivy, a diminutive corner at only 5’8’’. This is a game where I’d like to see Tim Carter play quite a bit, especially given the fact that FS Michael Hawthorne (ankle) is “questionable.” Mike Furrey will start at free safety if Hawthorne can’t go. I’d like to see some post patterns down the field.
An interesting match-up will also be SS Adam Archuleta versus TE Jeremy Shockey who is a hybrid safety/linebacker-type.
Of course, much will depend on the ability of the offensive line to protect Manning. The scariest match-up is left end Leonard Little against RT Kareem McKenzie. Little is an exceptional pass-rusher and his quickness and speed most likely will give McKenzie problems. Since Little is undersized, one of the arguments for sticking to the run early would be to have McKenzie or one of the tight ends maul him for a while. The right end is Anthony Hargrove, an athlete who can rush the passer, but who is still green and can be run on. Inside, former first rounder Jimmy Kenndy will line up over LG David Diehl and former first rounder Ryan Pickett will battle RG Chris Snee. Both tackles can play the run.
The Rams pretty much revamped their linebacking corps in the offseason. Former Cowboy Dexter Coakley is the starter on the weakside. He is good in coverage and provides the Rams with flexibility when addressing Shockey or Barber out of the backfield. However, he can be run on. MLB Chris Claiborne comes over from Minnesota. SLB Pisa Tinoisamoa is a bit of a linebacker/safety hybrid who also will likely help out on Shockey a great deal. But like Coakley, he can have problems at the point-of-attack. The bad news for Tiki and Shockey is that these guys are athletes who can run. Combine them with Archuleta and the Giants’ passing game may have to be directed farther down the field. However, you can run on the Rams if the blocking is solid up front. The big key is getting those two defensive tackles handled. Also, I wouldn’t do a lot of east-west running on the Rams as their quickness and athleticism could prove disruptive. I would run right at them, off-tackle.
Giants on Special Teams: The Giants have to get their kickoff coverage unit sound again.
Like ex-Giant Head Coach Jim Fassel, Mike Martz has long been guilty of fielding teams that lack solid special teams. The Giants can and need to dominate this area of the game on Sunday. However, Chad Morton may be limited with a hamstring injury.