*The Giants.com staff debates Big Blue topics heading into Sunday's game: *
The Giants' top priority this week is slowing down Aaron Donald.
JOHN SCHMEELK - Fiction:With the injuries on defense, I think the Giants' top priority will be figuring out how to stop Todd Gurley, Jared Goff and a talented Rams offense. With the suspension of Janoris Jenkins and potential absences of B.J. Goodson, Olivier Vernon and Kerry Wynn, it won't be easy. Gurley is the most important player to slow down. Offensively, slowing down Aaron Donald should be the top priority. He is probably the best defensive lineman in football and the Giants could be without both Weston Richburg (concussion) and Justin Pugh (guard). The surest way to bother Eli Manning is interior pass pressure and no one is better at getting it than Donald. D.J. Fluker, John Jerry, and Brett Jones will have their hands full.
DAN SALOMONE - Fact: What do quarterbacks hate the most? Pressure up the middle. And who does that better than anyone in the game? Aaron Donald. He's the Odell Beckham Jr. of defenders and is the best player on the Rams' side. If the Giants plan on doing anything offensively, they need to slow him down.
LANCE MEDOW - Fiction: Aaron Donald is one of the Rams' most dangerous defensive linemen, but Los Angeles has so much depth in the front seven, it would be misleading to say the Giants, specifically, need to focus on him throughout the game. L.A. is tied for fourth in the NFL with 23 sacks. Ten different players have recorded at least one sack with eight collecting at least two. New York's offensive line will have to focus on slowing down various players, including Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn and Connor Barwin -- not just Donald. The Giants' main focus should be slowing down Todd Gurley. He's posted four 100-yard games in the first seven contests and it's no coincidence the Rams are 4-0 when he surpasses the century mark.
Jared Goff will become the best quarterback of the 2016 draft class.
JOHN SCHMEELK - Fiction:Goff has had a really nice bounce-back year, but it is hard to predict he will be a better player than either Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott. Both those guys have played better early in their careers and have more raw tools physical tools than Goff does. Goff will be good but he will not reach the level of Wentz or Prescott.
DAN SALMONE - Fiction:It is -- and will be -- Carson Wentz. When you grow up in Minnesota like I did, you know a thing or two about the football program at nearby North Dakota State (everyone lumps our states together anyway), where Wentz was a member of five consecutive NCAA Division I FCS national championship teams, including two as a starter. So it's not a shocker the gritty quarterback currently has the Eagles with the best record in the NFL.
LANCE MEDOW -Fiction The 2016 draft class currently includes three other starting quarterbacks. The Eagles' Carson Wentz (2nd overall pick), Jacoby Brissett of the Colts (3rd Round) and the Cowboys' Dak Prescott (4th Round). Goff has made a significant jump from his rookie year to his sophomore campaign, but as of right now, my eye test tells me it will be Wentz or Prescott. My only concern with Wentz is his tendency to run quite often, which exposes him to numerous hits over the course of the game. Durability is a big part of success at that position and how he handles the contact over his career will be a big indicator as to whether he'll top the list. Prescott doesn't expose himself to as many hits and put together one of the most impressive performances ever by a quarterback. He's essentially picked up where he left off in his first year in the league.
Evan Engram will catch a touchdown for the third consecutive game.
JOHN SCHMEELK Fiction:Teams are going to start paying very close attention to Evan Engram, and he won't get in the end zone every week. It might not stop this week, but it will eventually. I'll bet Wade Phillips is making sure his team is not forgetting about the type of havoc Engram can wreak if they do not stay attached to him at all times. He'll get his catches and yards but ultimately be kept out of the end zone. Linebacker Mark Barron, a converted safety who can cover, is an interesting matchup to watch with Engram.
DAN SALMONE - Fiction: Three in a row is a lot to ask from any player, let alone a rookie and let alone a tight end. We'll see how healthy Sterling Shepard looks and how many passes come his way if he does in fact return this Sunday. Either way, Engram will still get plenty of targets, but it could be tough sledding out there against an improving Rams defense in what could be some bad weather at MetLife Stadium.
LANCE MEDOW - Fact: For the most part, the Rams have fared well against opposing tight ends this season. There was a stretch where a tight end caught a touchdown pass in three straight games from Weeks 3-5 (Garrett Celek, James Hanna, Jimmy Graham) but none in the last two. However, I don't think they've faced a tight end that is as prominently featured as Evan Engram, who has essentially become the number one wide receiver. Eli Manning has consistently targeted him in the red zone and I don't think that trend will stop coming out of the bye.
Tavon Austin is the X-factor in Sunday's game.
JOHN SCHMEELK Fiction: Fiction slam! Tavon Austin is technically a wide receiver but he is more like a man without a position. He has twice as many rushing attempts as he has targets! (25 vs. 12). He only has seven receptions for 34 yards. He only gets on average 4.5 touches per game. He is not involved enough to be an X-Factor. Look at Cooper Kupp or the Rams tight ends (Gerald Everett and Tyler Higbee) who could give the Giants fits in the middle of the field.
DAN SALMONE - Fiction: I'd go with the Rams' special teams outfit as a whole, but if you want a specific player, I'll say Johnny Hekker. That's right, a punter. I'm expecting a tight game in the elements, which means special teams play will be at a premium. And Hekker, who owns the NFL single-season record for punts inside the 20, likes to throw the ball on some trick plays as he is also the holder on field goals. This game could be won or lost on a big special teams play.
LANCE MEDOW - Fiction:Tavon Austin is a dangerous special teams player but when you look at the first seven games of this season, he's been relatively quiet as a punt returner and on offense as a receiver/runner. I think the Rams offensive line is the X-factor. Todd Gurley's running lanes and Jared Goff's decision making/comfort in the pocket is dependent on that unit and how the line sets the tone will determine how much success the offense will have against the Giants defense. The Los Angeles offensive line has surrendered just 10 sacks in seven games, so it has done a nice job protecting Goff. But most importantly, the line's play has taken pressure off of Goff to a point where he can lean on the run game and not put the ball in harm's way. If the Giants want to do damage against the Rams, they'll have to find a way to win the battle in the trenches.