Eli Manning – © USA TODAY Sports Images
New York Giants at St. Louis Rams, December 21, 2014
The Giants 2-game winning streak – which really should have been a 3-game winning streak had it not been for the unbelievable collapse against the Jaguars – has some fans feeling a little better than they did last month. However, despite their 6-8 record, the Rams are a major upgrade in competition for New York and the best team the Giants have played since losing to Dallas on November 23. The Rams are an ascending team that has beaten some of the NFL’s best, including the Broncos and Seahawks. There are some serious match-up problems for the Giants in this game. We’re about to see if this little December “run” has been a mirage.
Can the blockers up front give Eli Manning a chance?
The Rams have arguably the best defensive line in football. On top of that, Gregg Williams is one of the most aggressive defensive coordinators in football. He doesn’t care if his down four can do the job all by themselves, he will still bring the blitz in any situation. The Rams are fast, physical, and very good up front. This may be the best pass rushing team the Giants face all year and that’s saying something when you consider some of the teams the Giants have already played. Two huge match-up problems for the Giants are DT Aaron Donald (8 sacks) versus RG John Jerry and RDE Robert Quinn (10.5 sacks) versus LT Will Beatty. The Rams also have an NFL-high 23 sacks from blitzes and will be facing a group of linemen, tight ends, and backs who have not excelled against blitzing defenses this year.
Will Eli Manning avoid the killer mistake?
Love him or hate him, we all know that Eli at times will make some mind-blowing mistakes, especially when under constant duress and/or becoming frustrated. With no running game, Eli will be under siege on Sunday. He is going to get hit a lot. He is facing a team whose defense is peaking. But the Rams do have issues of their own on offense. Eli has to play smart and not put his defense in a bad position. Throw the ball away. Take the sack. If the play isn’t there, punt. Don’t turn the football over. That includes fumbles as well as interceptions. Eli has to become more of a game manager on Sunday.
What can Odell Beckham do against a talented and well-coached defense whose #1 game plan will be to take him out of the game?
Odell Beckham is now officially a marked man. Ben McAdoo has done a fantastic job of moving him around – outside, inside, backfield, etc. – just to make it more difficult for opposing defenses to double and possibly triple-team him. Gregg Williams is a dick, but he’s a very good defensive coordinator. He will make it his defense’s duty to not let Beckham beat them. The Rams will get their hands on Beckham, hit him with or without the ball, and try to get into his head. St. Louis defensive backs have talked about it all week…they are intent on not letting Odell do his thing against them. Can Odell overcome all of that and get into their heads?
Can the Giants defense rise to the challenge?
The Giants offense will not be able to score a lot of points against this opponent. The only chance the Giants have is if the NYG defense – which has played very well at times during the last three weeks – can play a complete game on Sunday against a team with quarterback issues. Much of that is on the players, but also much is on Perry Fewell. The Giants can ill-afford giving up a couple of touchdown drives. The Giants need to play like the Cardinals did against the Rams – blow for defensive blow – in a game that ended 12-6. The defense can’t start slow or finish slow. No letup. Force three-and-outs and turnovers.
BREAKING DOWN ST. LOUIS:
The Rams have some size on the offensive line and some talented skill players. I would say the best thing they do offensively is use misdirection and trick plays to help cover for issues at the quarterback position. WR Tavon Austin is a very fast, quick, dynamic play-maker who actually touches the ball more as a rusher (31 rushes) than receiver (28 receptions). The troubled but talented ex-Titan Kenny Britt can make plays. TE Jared Cook leads the team in receptions. The Rams will spread the football around. There are seven players on the team with over 20 receptions.
The quarterback. Aging journeyman Shaun Hill has taken over for Austin Davis. Hill is more of a game manager and is being called upon not to lose games. The Rams are 26th in offense in terms of yards and 20th in terms of scoring. They struggle to run the ball at times although rookie running back Tre Mason can break the big play. The Rams have given up 41 sacks.
The Rams are very talented in the front seven and have very good overall defensive team speed. The Rams are 11th on defense but that ranking is a bit misleading as the Rams defense has been getting better as the season has progressed. St. Louis is very good in third-down situations and in the red zone. They have only given up 12 points in the last three games.
RDE Robert Quinn and LDT Aaron Donald are the main headliners up front but LDE Chris Long – who missed most of the season – has returned and he is very good as well. Alec Ogletree and James Laurinaitis are former high-round draft picks and 3-down linebackers who lead the team in tackles.
Perhaps the secondary. It’s a feisty group with good overall athleticism. But even though the Rams are ranked 10th in pass defense, their pass rush probably covers up for some vulnerabilities in the secondary. The problem is you have protect your quarterback long enough to exploit their defensive backs. The Rams run defense has not been consistent, but remains 12th against the run.
Coached by Jim Fassel’s son, the Rams probably run more trick plays on special teams than any other pro team. They are very fast on specials and dangerous on punt and kick returns. Tavon Austin has one punt return for a TD and Benny Cunningham is averaging almost 30 yards per kickoff return.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
RG John Jerry
John Jerry isn’t very good. And Aaron Donald – who may end up being defensive rookie of the year – is the type of player who Jerry is likely to struggle against big time.
WR Odell Beckham
He and Eli are carrying the offense right now. And Beckham – who may end up being offensive rookie of the year – is THE reason to tune in and watch the Giants right now.
FROM THE COACHES’ MOUTH:
Tom Coughlin on the Rams - “The team is built on speed and physicality…They are allowing in the last five weeks just 9.2 points per game…allowing in the green zone just 14 touchdowns, the fewest in the NFL. In the last nine games they have 35 sacks.”
Jeff Fisher on the improved Giants pass rush - “I think the Giants are playing better as a team. When you get a lead like they did against Washington, in particular, they are able to roll up and rush. I think their pressure is also a result of the match-ups up front. Their ends are outstanding. They have been winning the match-ups against tackles and they have played some young quarterbacks that are holding the football.”
The Rams defense versus the Giants offense is a scary match-up. The Rams have shown some vulnerability to the run, but the Giants haven’t been able to run the football against any halfway decent run defense. If the Rams were not a blitzing team, the match-ups up front would be scary enough, but throw in Gregg Williams’ aggressive and confusing blitz packages, and one has to seriously fear for Eli Manning’s safety in this game. Eli will be under a tremendous amount of pressure. He has to play smart. Giants fans won’t like it, but I think the Giants have to play it conservatively on offense if for no other reason than to protect the quarterback. I might take some shots on first down. But don’t be surprised to see some head-scratching runs on third down.
The only way I see the Giants winning this game is if the Giants’ defense matches the Rams’ defensive intensity and the Giants somehow manage to not get out-played on special teams. But as well as the Giants’ defense has played at times during the last three weeks, they really have not played a complete game. And while the Rams are not a good offensive team, they run a ton of misdirection and misdirection gives Perry Fewell’s players fits.
Two more bad signs? Jeff Fisher and Tom Coughlin go way back and Fisher has good success against Coughlin. And as good as the Giants used to be in playing in domes, they have now lost four of their last five in domes.
Most importantly, the Giants may have the better quarterback and Odell Beckham. But the Rams are the better football team.
Rams 20 – Giants 3.