Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gameday Preview Week 2: St. Louis Rams


The Road Warriors Ride Again

"Warriors, come out and plaayyyyyyy..." - 1970s' cult classic, The Warriors
On one side of the defending champions' Super Bowl rings, in between each player's name and number, it reads: "Eleven Straight on the Road." Eleven straight wins away from Giants Stadium; eleven straight wins in enemy territory, eleven straight road wins - an NFL single-season record. In denying New England's date with destiny in win number eleven, the Giants also rewrote history in their own right, earning them the moniker "Road Warriors."

The Road Warriors will look to make it twelve straight away from the Meadowlands this Sunday as they head to St. Louis to take on the Rams, a team that was absolutely embarrassed in their 38-3 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1. The Rams, who finished 3-13 in 2007, looked like they could fare even worse in 2008.

Coming out on the wrong end of such a one-sided beat-down, and opening the season in front of their home fans, the Rams will look to come out fired up. Some point to the Giants' recent history of "playing down" to their opponents, and worry that if these two elements mix, the Giants will risk a letdown. The Rams have a lot of talent on their roster, regardless of what last week would lead you to believe. They feature a number of pro-bowlers on both sides of the ball, including RB Stephen Jackson, QB Marc Bulger, WR Tory Holt. Certainly, if the Giants don't show up to play, even the lowly Rams could seemingly steal a win. (For more on the Rams' roster, Giants.com beat writer Michael Eisen provides a full team scouting report here.)

Stats and accolades aside however, while an upset this weekend is possible, it is not plausible, and here's why:

CHAMPIONSHIP ATTITUDE

All off-season the Giants have preached one thing - becoming a better football team. While every team may talk that talk, the Giants have a unique experience that leads me to believe they will walk the walk as well this season. In 2007, they began the season buried in a ditch; they finished on the mountain top. Getting to the summit was not easy, but required a team putting all of the pieces together at the right time.

Few teams have ever gone through such a dramatic roller-coaster ride in a single season, and I think the short time in which the Giants went from the bottom of the pile to the top has allowed them to understand and capture exactly what it takes to stay there. When the Giants talk about becoming a better football team, it means playing every week like they played those last six weeks of the season - playing like champions.

Champions do not measure their performance against that of their opponent, but against their own potential; champions correct mistakes and elevate their game week after week; champions show up to play, no matter how "easy" the opponent.


MATCH-UPS

Of course, it was not only attitude but also ability that carried New York to a championship last season...and most of that ability is still wearing Giants blue.

The Giants match up favorably in a number of categories against an out-classed Rams team.

  1. Giants' Front 7 vs. Rams' O-line: The Giants' front seven are physical, athletic, and can bring the pressure from all sides, which does not bode well for a Rams offensive line that is beat-up and looked awful last week against Philadelphia. Spagnuolo's defense will employ a similar scheme to that of Jim Johnson's Eagles, which could result in a long day for QB Marc Bulger and RB Stephen Jackson. No time to throw and nowhere to go...
  2. Giants' Receivers vs. Rams' Secondary: While the Rams defensive backs should not perform as poorly as they did last week, that still doesn't mean they will perform well. Led by Plaxico Burress, the Giants receiving corps will look to get behind the secondary and attack down field.
  3. Giants' Running Attack vs. Rams Defense: The Giants stable of running backs and outstanding O-line should control the line of scrimmage much like they did last week against the Rams' dinged up D-line. DE Leonard Little will not play because of a hamstring injury while second overall pick DE Chris Long will be working with a broken thumb. Also, do not forget, Sunday will be Giants' FB Madison Hedgecock's coming out party against the team who cut him one year ago. "Mad Dog" will be looking to put some bodies in the turf.

THE RAMS ARE A SINKING SHIP

Despite talk that the team will come out fired up at home and looking to rebound from their embarrassing season opener, the reality is that the Rams already act like they have given up on this season. Listening to Coach Scott Linehan or Marc Bulger speak to media on Wednesday, neither one gave an impression that they felt this team had any chance of winning this week against the Giants. Rumors are also circulating that many in the Rams locker room were joking around and laughing after getting their butts handed to them against Philly.


Last week St. Louis looked like they were just waiting for things to happen - no one had fire, no one wanted to step up to make it happen. It sounds like the Rams are still just waiting for something to happen. The Giants will not give them anything.


KEYS TO VICTORY
  • Strike early and often: Put the Rams in a hole early, and then bury them in it. If the Giants can open like they did against the Redskins...factor in better red zone efficiency... it will force St. Louis to play catch-up. If they fall behind early, the Rams must rely less on Stephen Jackson and the running game. This will open the door for New York's pass rush to bring the house at QB Marc Bulger and a weak offensive line.
  • Control the line of scrimmage: New York's physical lines must neutralize St. Louis's running game from the start, while also establishing their own. Controlling the clock and the flow of the game will require the Giants running attack and run defense to be on their A games.
  • Green Zone efficiency: The Giants will have to perform better in the "green zone" than their 1-for-3 effort against the Redskins last week. The longer they let St. Louis hang around, the more dangerous they'll become. It's important we put touchdowns on the board, and don't settle for field goals. Sevens, not threes.

AREAS FOR IMPROVEMENT/WHAT TO LOOK FOR
  • Green Zone efficiency: Like I said, before: sevens, not threes. Look for the Giants to explore more options in near the goal line this week.
  • Kick-off coverage: It's important that special teams give the Giant defense good field position to work with. By keep the Rams in their own territory, it will help open things up for the pass rush and Spagnuolo's more elaborate blitz packages.
  • Big Plays on Defense: If this defense is going to take that next step, it must got beyond its aggressive attack and find more ways to make the big play - creating turnovers and occasionally scoring on defense. Such plays can change the complexion of a game in just a few seconds. Just look at the Bears against Indianapolis the other night.
  • Chemistry in the Passing Game: On a couple of occasions in Game 1, Eli Manning and the Giants receivers looked a little out of sync. Since a number of the wide outs missed time during pre-season, this could be expected. Look this week to see how Manning and company move the ball through the air. I will be particularly interested to see how the younger guys are used against a struggling St. Louis secondary.
  • Distribution of Carries: Ahmad Bradshaw was conspicuous in his absence last week, not carrying the ball once against the Redskins. Tom Coughlin attributed it to an error on his part and said it had nothing to do with the player. Look to see if and how AB is incorporated into the RB rotation this weekend, and how the load is split with him, Jacobs, and Ward. Perhaps he will be brought in in red zone situations.

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Each week I'll give you two players to keep your eyes on. Typically I will select one offensive player and one defensive player. This week's players to watch are:

RB 27 Brandon Jacobs - "B-Jake" is looking for a big year and he certainly got off on the right foot last Thursday picking up 116 yards on 21 carries. Jacobs will be looking for another excellent performance this week behind a stellar offensive line and a full back with something to prove to his old team.



CB 23 Corey Webster - If the Giants are looking for big plays on defense, it might come from Corey Webster. Webster regained his starting role last year in the playoffs and had a couple of picks, including one in Green Bay that set up Lawrence Tynes's NFC Championship-winning field goal. Last week he had 3 passes defensed while playing very well in coverage. Look for him to take advantage of pressure on the Rams QB this week and make some plays.

... ...

Playing better football begins with improving on your last game's mistakes. This week will be a good indicator if the Giants are ready to take it to the next level. If they can improve on their first performance, it will help them build momentum as their schedule gets tougher. Getting off to a fast start and scoring touchdowns in the red zone will be critical, as will maintaining their level of intensity throughout the game. Special teams will need to improve on their kick-off coverage and the Giants defense needs to bring the heat and try to generate turnovers.

I expect the Giants to win this one easily, perhaps not in blow-out fashion like the Eagles, but in dominant fashion, stuffing the Rams offense and controlling the clock with a strong balanced attack.

Final score: Giants win 27 - 6


Go BIG BLUE!


1 comment:

Colin said...

Good call on Jacobs, he's definitely somebody I've been watching for a while.

I'd predict a slightly closer game though, maybe 27-10, and that's if Eli doesn't make any of his trademark "pass to the other team" maneuvers. But this is definitely going to be a nice win for us, no matter what.