The pageantry, fanfare, and celebration are now officially done – and now it’s time to get down to business for the reigning champions of the football world. Granted, the task at hand is the lowly Rams, but don’t tell the Giants that.
If there’s anything the Giants have learned in the past year, it’s not to count out any team no matter what the common perception is. “In the NFL you know you can’t take anyone lightly,” stressed Eli Manning early in the week. “If you don’t show up with your A game, then not only are you going to lose, you will be embarrassed.”
But perhaps the Giants are being a bit too reverential. This is, after all, a Rams team that looked as badly as humanly possible last week against an Eagles team devoid of a true number one receiver … and, at the risk of sounding repetitive, these are the world champions. “They were victimized by big plays and some outstanding throws and catches by people way down the field,” said Coach Coughlin of the Rams. “I don’t know that there is anything that is a whole lot different from our plan in terms of what we normally do. How we go about [making big plays], we will have to see.”
At stake is, among other things, the Giants streak of road wins – something the team took great pride in and drew inspiration from last season. “It doesn’t matter where we are and who we are playing against, we are going to go out there and compete and find a way to win,” Manning explained, but he also realizes last year was something that will be hard to replicate. “I think it was just a matter of we were playing well on the road; it depends on the team, the game, and the situation.”
Others seemed to put less importance on the location than the W. “Winning, of its nature, whatever it is, is a great satisfaction,” said Coach Coughlin. “Whether it is home or away, it’s putting the final touches on all of the preparation that you have done all week long and seeing if it pays off.”
When it comes down to it, whether the team wants to admit it or not, you get the sense this is a game the Giants should win. If they go out and implement their game plan and play hard from whistle to whistle, this team will be hard to beat. Whether another Lomabardi Trophy is in their future is yet to be determined, as we’ve already seen with injuries on the defensive line, things change all too quickly in the NFL.
The Giants were lucky to dodge another bullet on their defensive line last week. Mathias Kiwanuka has practiced and will play this weekend after having is ankle rolled up on in a horrible cheapshot from Chris Samuels. Good thing because the prospect of Jerome McDougle or Renaldo Wynn starting isn’t pretty. The rest of the injury report is dotted with bit players – RW McQuarters will be a game time decision but Domenik Hixon offers little drop off on punt returns. Tynes will not play for a few more weeks to come at least.
The Rams will miss Leonard Little off the edge and Drew Bennett’s speed deep. They will also be without Jacob Bell at guard. James Hall is nicked up but will likely start for Little. The rest of injury report for the Rams is filled with bit players who wouldn’t likely see the field anyway.
Eli Manning is coming off an unstable week against a mediocre secondary in Washington – against a better team he probably would have thrown two or more interceptions. Eli desperately needs to put together a dominating performance to solidify the post-Super Bowl hype he’s riding at the moment and the fan desperately want to believe he can. Luckily the Giants draw a secondary that was torched by the Eagles last week, and one that should be under siege all day. The only threat in the defensive backfield for the Rams will be an aging Corey Chavous while their most proven pass rusher in Leonard Little is expected to sit. This game is tailored made for Eli to pad his stats, if he can’t then it’s conceivable that we could begin to hear whispers questioning just how good Eli is again …
On a good note, he and Plaxico Burress are clicking like we’ve never seen before. Burress is finally healthy, re-upped to a shiny five year deal and content as the number one receiver. If Burress’ up and down tenure with the Giants tells us anything it’s that something has to give sooner or later, but until it does expect the Giants to exploit the mismatch he perpetually creates. Steve Smith will likely wreak havoc over the middle of the field on shallow routes, the 2nd year man from USC is quietly breathing down Amani Toomer’s back for the 2nd receiver spot on the depth chart and he presents a nice compliment to Burress with his sure hands and tight routes. Sinorice Moss could present an interesting threat as well to a Rams secondary that was beat long all day by the Eagles last week.
The running game presents so many different options that sometimes it’s hard to fit them all in. Last week Ahmad Bradshaw struggled to get on the field, it’s not clear who will get the bulk of the back-up work this week but Derrick Ward ran hard last week and is looking good coming off his broken leg. Nevertheless, expect Bradshaw to be worked into the gameplan a little more this week as he offers the Giants a change of pace from the big fellas. The Rams are undersized in the middle with La’Roi Glover and Adam Carriker while their linebackers are all dwarfed by Jacobs. Translation – a long day for the Rams safeties, just ask LaRon Landry.
The offensive line should have an easy week ahead, as mentioned the Rams most proven and productive pass rusher will sit this week. Trying to get at Eli this week will be highly touted but undersized Chris Long and a streaky James Hall, both players should be handled easily by the talented Giants tackles. Will Witherspoon presents an interesting pass rush option from the middle linebacking spot and if anyone poses a big threat to pick up a sack it’s the underrated linebacker. The run game should also have an easy job opening holes with the undersized tackles inside as mentioned earlier, the same group that gave up over 100 yards on the ground last week.
The defensive line seemed to live a lot on its reputation last week against an inexperienced quarterback, struggling to get pressure at times and recording only one sack. This week they’ll draw a talented set of tackles in Orlando Pace and Alex Barron, two former first round picks. If they can beat either of the two, they’ll be gunning for an injury prone and struggling quarterback in Mark Bulger. The run game will have their hands full with an extremely dangerous Steven Jackson. Containing the Rams’ only consistent offensive threat is the first step in imposing their will on the Rams defensively, so you may see less three and four defensive end plays called this week. The Giants also lack significant depth at the end positions which make it much harder to sit a set of productive tackles – Fred Robbins is proving to be a major player inside while Barry Cofield quietly plugs holes each week. And Jay Alford gives the Giants a fantastic three man rotation.
The linebackers are going to have their hands full dealing with Steven Jackson, but Danny Clark was impressive guarding the screen against the Redskins. The well traveled strong side linebacker seems to be picking up the new system nicely. Antonio Pierce is … well … Antonio Pierce. Vocal, playing hard on pretty much every snap, and in the middle of controversy – his presence is vital to stopping Jackson, just hope the disciplined Antonio shows up. Gerris Wilkinson just can’t seem to make the starting weak side job his own, after serving quietly under Mitchell last year he figured to have the job wrapped up this year but then Brian Kehl comes in and impresses – whomever starts this week will have a lot asked of him in terms of stopping the run and pass rush.
The Secondary did well last week with the exception of a few drives. Aaron Ross and Corey Webster will have to account for an always dangerous Torry Holt but absolutely nothing beyond that and I would expect to see a nickleback on the field very little. Michael Johnson and James Butler figure to start again this week with Kenny Phillips spelling them. They could be used to stack the box against Jackson forcing the Rams to air things out a little more. And when the Giants force quaterbacks to hold the ball longer, good things happen.
Dante Hall is still dangerous returning kicks, but nowhere near as dangerous as he used to be. Still, if the Giants’ cover team continues to struggle with the loss of David Tyree, Hall could pose a big threat this week. Bradshaw will likely see the majority of the kick return work for the Giants and we all saw how explosive he could be last year. And as expected, Carney and Feagles will handle kicking duties.
An easy win should be in the cards for the Giants to continue their road win record. Still, they would be foolish to think the Rams will roll over like they did against Philadelphia. Expect the Giants to lead this one early and gradually build their lead all day long, and I’d be surprised if the Rams are still in the game come the fourth quarter.
Prediction: 31-13 Giants