We're two hours before kickoff, and one crucial matchup has already been determined: Steven Jackson vs his conditioning test. After failing to "look fluid" in a 40-yard dash, as Bernie Miklasz put it, the Rams' workhorse has been stabled. (Cadillac Williams owners in fantasy all take a deep breath of relief.)
With that out of the way, here are three crucial matchups that will dictate whether the St Louis Rams win or lose this game.
Roger Saffold v. Jason Pierre-Paul and Jason Smith v. Justin Tuck
The phrase "it all starts up front" is often used, but holds so true for tonight. The New York Giants are missing their best corner in Terrell Thomas and first-round pick Prince Amukmara. After watching Jabar Gaffney turns these corners around with double moves last week, I’m convinced that Gibson and Sims-Walker can do the same. However, they won’t have the opportunity to if Sam Bradford doesn’t have the time to throw the ball.
The two youngsters looked like they had their hands full last weekend against Trent Cole and Jason Babin. They both struggled at times. Unfortunately for them and Sam Bradford, the competition will not get any easier anytime soon. Tonight, they face off against two great defensive ends in Pierre-Paul and Tuck.
The second-year man, Pierre-Paul had 4.5 sacks as a rookie last year. He was all over the place in the Giants’ loss last week to the Redskins, recording 6 tackles, 3 for loss, and 2 sacks. The 15th overall pick in the 2010 draft looks to be on his way to being another great Giants defensive end.
It is reported that Tuck, who has had some neck issues thus far, will be in the line-up for the first time this season. Tuck is coming off an 11.5 sack season that earned him a trip to the Pro-Bowl. He is one of the most complete defensive ends in the game. Jason Smith will have his hands full. I expect that he will be helped out by Cadillac Williams or a tight end tonight. Perhaps, we’ll also see some screens in attempt to slow Tuck down.
Illinois Mike and Lance Kendricks v. Giants LBs
Last week against these Giants, the Redskins’ Fred Davis had a career day with 105 yards. This group is not good in coverage. Mathias Kiwanuka is a defensive end coverted who now starts at outside linebacker. Starting middle linebacker, rookie Greg Jones, is stout against the run.
Having lived in East Lansing, Michigan during the last three football seasons while Jones was earning All-American honors for the Spartans, I can tell you he is a pass-rushing machine. What he is not, and what caused him to fall to the 6th round in the draft this past April, is a plus defender in coverage. A college coach who game planned against Jones once told me he is a defensive end playing linebacker. The Giants are quick to take him off the field on passing downs. The Rams must exploit this match up.
How successful can Illinois Mike and Kendricks be? Well look no further than what New England’s Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were able to accomplish yesterday. The duo combined for 148 yards on 11 catches and 3 touchdowns. Are Illinois Mike and Kendricks as good as those two? No. Can they be? Let’s hope so.
Nicks and Manningham vs. the Rams secondary
With Ron Bartell out for the year and Bradley Fletcher nursing a toe injury, this does not look like a promising match-up for the Rams. The two combined 20 touchdowns last year. Nicks put 122 yards on the Skins last week. Manningham had 48 yards on 4 catches, but is very capable of taking over a game. He had three 100-yard games to end 2010.
I expect the Giants go after Justin King and Al Harris. The obvious goal is to get as much pressure on Eli Manning with the Rams front four. Hopefully, Robert Quinn can ease Rams’ fans sorrows about him not dressing last week with a sack or two.
Keys to tonight:
- Protect Sam Bradford. Give him a chance to attack this secondary.
- Catch the ball.
- Establish the run early and set-up play action.
- Stop the run on 1st and 2nd downs to force obvious passing situations on third down.
- In order to accomplish number 3, the Rams will have to tackle well, especially at the line of scrimmage. The Giants' backs are big and run hard and are harder to stop once they get rolling.
- Win the field position game. Last week out of the 13 drives the Giants had last week, only one was started outside their own 30 yard line.