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Eli Manning, New York Giants (December 21, 2014)

Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images

Game Preview: New York Giants at Los Angeles Rams, October 23, 2016

THE STORYLINE:
Unless the Cowboys collapse, this is a “must” game for the Giants if they want to keep any division title hopes alive. This is a dangerous game for the Giants against an opponent that is very much capable of beating them, with the added distractions of playing in London and now the Josh Brown affair. Just find a way to win this game and heal up during the bye for the second-half push.

THE INJURY REPORT:

  • WR Odell Beckham, Jr. (hip) – probable
  • RB Rashad Jennings (thumb) – probable
  • RT Marshall Newhouse (calf) – out
  • DE Olivier Vernon (wrist) – probable
  • LB Keenan Robinson (knee) – probable
  • CB Eli Apple (groin) – probable
  • CB Trevin Wade (ankle) – probable
  • FS Darian Thompson (foot) – out
  • SS Nat Berhe (concussion) – out
  • LS Zak DeOssie (ankle) – questionable

NEW YORK GIANTS ON OFFENSE:
Statistically, the Rams are a middle-of-the-pack defense (17th overall, 23rd against the run, 17th against the pass). But they remain a typical Jeff Fisher defensive team – physical, aggressive, and borderline dirty. They try to get under your skin and thrive off of turnovers. The heart of the Rams defense is their defense line, which has been banged up but is unfortunately getting a bit healthier just in time for the game against the Giants. Their two best players are DT Aaron Donald and RDE Robert Quinn. Donald has three sacks, but he is leading the NFL with QB hits and pressures. Quinn has missed two games with a shoulder injury but is expected to play. Last season, John Jerry actually did a good job on Donald. Jerry and his his interior line mates will be on the spot again as will Ereck Flowers. In the back seven, the Rams utilize more run-and-hit tweeners at linebacker and safety that enhances their overall defensive athleticism and speed. In fact, their defensive depth chart lists only one starting linebacker and six defensive backs.

What we’ve seen from the Giants on offense is this: continued issues running the ball, continued issues in the red zone, and an inability to sustain drives without the big play. Like a true West Coast Offense, the Giants often use the short passing game in lieu of the run – hence the very pass-centric nature of the offense.

After last year’s game where Odell Beckham torched the Rams defense and after witnessing last week’s Ravens game, you can guarantee that Jeff Fisher is going to double- and possibly triple-team Beckham in this game. The Giants “broke out” offensively last week ONLY because of the return of the Manning-to-Beckham long-distance connection. Now if Beckham is able to still be a major factor, the Rams are toast. But more likely others are going to have to pick up the slack – especially Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz. The Giants can’t always count on Beckham to put up 150+ yards and two touchdowns per game. That’s just not realistic. And it’s time for the big boys up front – Flowers, Pugh, Richburg, Jerry, and Hart – to start moving people off the line and for the backs to gain yards. The Rams are 23rd overall against the run and 19th in yards-per-rush. If there was an opponent to finally get the ground game going, this is it.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON DEFENSE:
The Rams looked like a train wreck offensively early on in the season but have been playing better of late because their quarterback is playing much better. Ben McAdoo provided a good overview himself of the Rams offense: “Their offense is ascending. They’re getting better. (QB Case) Keenum has found his groove a little bit here over the last three weeks or so. He’s completing a high percentage of balls. Big body receivers who can catch the ball everywhere. They have great range that can come up with the catches. Their tight end is playing well, (TE Lance) Kendricks, he’s a good player and a complete player, which is tough to find in today’s game. Of course, (RB Todd) Gurley. He really has a chance to make everything go for them. We really have to stop him and commit to stopping him.”

Gurley has struggled against defenses geared up stop him, only averaging 2.9 yards per carry. But he is certainly capable of taking over a game and the Giants primary defensive task must be to keep him in check. Keenum has actually done a good job of spreading the ball around to WR Kenny Britt (30 catches, 2 TDs), WR Tavon Austin (26 catches, 1 TD), Kendricks (18 catches, 1 TD), WR Brian Quick (16 catches, 3 TDs), and Gurley (15 catches). And Keenum completed a remarkable 84 percent of his passes against the Lions last Sunday. While Britt and Quick are the bigger receivers McAdoo references, Austin is the smaller, quick-as-hiccup dynamo who can break open a game.

Game plan is simple. Stop Gurley. Make the Rams one dimensional and get after Keenum – a journeyman quarterback coming off a strong game but who someone the Giants should be able to rattle if they can pressure on him. It’s well past time for Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon to have a breakout game. With Darian Thompson and Nat Berhe out again, Andrew Adams once against will be under the microscope. He’s performed reasonably well given the circumstances – just don’t give up the big play. The return of Eli Apple should help – provided he is reasonably healthy and not too rusty.

NEW YORK GIANTS ON SPECIAL TEAMS:
Of course the big PR nightmare this week is the Josh Brown story. Statistically, Brown has proven to be one of the best place kickers in all of Giants history. Now he may not return. Robbie Gould will kick against the Rams. The game may come down to him. Benny Cunningham has six career returns over 40 yards. Tavon Austin is very dangerous on punt returns. And the Rams will use trick plays on special teams, especially out of the punt formation.

FROM THE COACH’S MOUTH:
Offensive Coordinator Mike Sullivan on DT Aaron Donald: “He is a fantastic football player. I don’t know if there’s another defensive tackle that’s playing at such a high level. Just the disruption that he causes in both the run and the pass, and the number of quarterback hits he has and in terms of the pass game. Then also, he’s behind the line of scrimmage in the run game as well. When you talked about someone we have to be aware of and know that we take into account from a protection standpoint, from a double team standpoint in the run game, he’s at the forefront of our mind. He’s a heck of a player and we’re going to have our hands full for sure.”

THE FINAL WORD:
There are a number of Giants who I keep expecting to have breakout games, including JPP, Vernon, Shepard, and to a smaller extent, Will Tye. The Giants defense is too talented to have this few sacks and turnovers. Something has to give soon. If the Giants win the turnover battle, they win this game.

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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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