Looking to rebound from a season-opening defeat in Washington, the Giants will play their first 2011 home game Monday night against the St. Louis Rams. The Giants will host a Monday night game for the first time since 2003. Both teams are 0-1. The Giants lost to the Redskins, 28-14, while the Rams fell at home to Philadelphia, 31-13. The Rams are coached by Steve Spagnuolo, who was the Giants' defensive coordinator in 2007 and '08, including their victory in Super Bowl XLII. In 2010, the Giants were 5-3 at home and St. Louis was 2-6 on the road. The Giants have won their last four games against the Rams but trail in the regular season series, 25-13. The postseason series is tied, 1-1.
The Rams have a new offensive coordinator this season in former Denver head coach Josh McDaniels, who is using a lot of play action and multiple receiver sets. The offense struggled last week, running 31 plays inside the Eagles' 20-yard line but scoring only 13 points. McDaniels' crew was decimated by injuries in the Philadelphia game, when the Rams lost both their leading rusher and receiver from the 2010 season. Steven Jackson, who ran for 1,241 yards, has a pulled quad and Danny Amendola (85 catches) has a dislocated elbow. Jackson is listed as day-to-day, but he is not expected to play on Monday. Quarterback Sam Bradford hurt his index finger when it collided with an opposing player while following through on a pass, but he is expected to play. Left tackle Rodger Saffold got kicked in the leg and right tackle Jason Smith sprained his left ankle. They are also expected to play.
The injuries occurred after the Rams made several moves to upgrade an offense that was ranked 26th in yards per game and was tied for 26th in scoring last season. They signed guard Harvey Dahl (formerly of Atlanta), wide receiver Mike Sims-Walker (Jacksonville) and running backs Cadillac Williams (Tampa Bay) and Jerious Norwood (Atlanta). Two rookies – tight end Lance Kendricks and wide receiver Greg Salas – are also expected to get plenty of snaps.
Despite all those imports, the most important offensive player is Bradford. The No. 1 overall selection of the 2010 NFL Draft, he is an extremely smart, very accurate quarterback. But the Rams want to spread and stretch the field after Bradford had only 26 completions of 20 or more yards, the third-fewest in the league last season among starting quarterbacks. Bradford is at his best under pressure. In 2010, he threw seven touchdowns and two interceptions and had a passer rating of 82.3 when he was blitzed. His overall rating was 76.5. Bradford's backup is veteran A.J. Feeley, who has 15 career starts and played the final 8:17 after Bradford was hurt last week.
The Rams will miss Jackson, who is a three-time Pro Bowler. He has rushed for more than 1,000 yards in each of the last six seasons, the NFL's longest active streak. But in Williams, St. Louis has a very talented back to take over the workload. Williams is a big, powerful runner with 3,768 career rushing yards. He has good vision and quick feet, which help him avoid the first tackler. Williams is also a good receiver. Norwood is the third-down back. He has battled injuries and was limited to two games with the Falcons because of a torn ACL. Norwood is an explosive one-cut-and-go runner. The fullback is converted linebacker Brit Miller, who has significantly improved his blocking technique. The Rams this week signed running back Quinn Porter off the Cleveland Browns' practice squad.
With Amendola sidelined, the Rams' top receiver is Brandon Gibson, a scrappy third-year pro who makes good sight adjustments and has the speed to go deep. Sims-Walker is a sure-handed possession receiver who often lines up in the slot. Salas, a fourth-round draft choice from Hawaii, is tied for sixth in NCAA history with 4,345 receiving yards. He is quick and adept at finding voids in zones and is expected to be the third receiver on Monday. Dominique Curry, Danario Alexander and Austin Pettis could all be in the mix against the Giants.
Billy Bajema is listed as the starting right end. He is used primarily as a blocker, though his receiving skills are underrated. Kendricks is an athletic receiver who had an 18-yard catch last week. Michael Hoomanawanui is a move tight end who runs hard after catching the ball. Stephen Spach is also on the roster.
The offensive line is young but exceptionally talented. Smith was the second overall selection of the 2009 draft. Saffold, the 33rd choice in 2010, allowed only three sacks in 624 Bradford dropbacks last season. Smith has size, speed and length and the potential to be one of the NFL's best at his position. Saffold has the feet and movement skills to be a prototype left tackle. Dahl is a tough and nasty player at right guard. Left guard Jacob Bell gets good push in the run game. Center Jason Brown has 77 consecutive starts and is a rugged competitor who delivers accurate shotgun snaps.
Spagnuolo also brought in reinforcements for his defense. Defensive tackle Justin Bannan came from Denver, weakside linebacker Ben Leber from Minnesota, strongside linebacker Brady Poppinga from the Super Bowl champion Packers and safety Quintin Mikell from Philadelphia.
Because this is the third season working in Spagnuolo's scheme, the Rams expect to significantly improve a defense that was ranked 19th in 2010. Spags uses an attacking, blitz-heavy scheme that features a lot of movement up front. St. Louis strives to make up for shortcomings in the secondary by playing strong on the line, where players are rotated throughout the game.
The defensive line can give opponents problems. Left end Chris Long is a talented, explosive player who plays hard from snap to whistle. Next to him is former Giants captain Fred Robbins, who had six sacks last season. Robbins is a smart, productive player who quickly locates the ball and attacks. Bannan is exceptionally strong and hard to knock off his feet. The right end is 12-year veteran James Hall, who is extremely instinctive defending both the run and pass. He has a knack for running down a play on the back side. C.J. Ah You subs at both end and tackle and makes plays with his quickness. Darell Scott is a rotational tackle. Gary Gibson, a starter last season, is now a substitute run defender. Eugene Sims could also see some snaps.
St. Louis has an improved group of linebackers. In the middle is James Laurinaitis, who makes all of the defensive calls on the field. Laurinaitis can stuff backs in the run game and run with them in pass coverage. He ranks with the NFL's most productive middle backers. Poppinga is, quite frankly, a violent human being who is as tough and nasty a player at that position as there is in the league. He punishes opponents in the run game but has limited coverage skills. Leber is more cerebral, a quick scheme reader with better range. Chris Chamberlain is most effective when he has room to run and often plays in the nickel. Josh Hull, back after tearing an ACL last year, is an attacking player whose motto is apparently "see it and hit it." Former Giant Bryan Kehl is a sub backer who had 11 special teams tackles last season.
The Rams this week placed their best cornerback, Ron Bartell, on injured reserve after he suffered broken bones in his neck against Philadelphia. Their nickel back, Justin King, will take his spot in the starting lineup. Right corner Bradley Fletcher has a sprained toe. If he can't play, 14-year veteran Al Harris will step in. On Wednesday night, St. Louis re-signed cornerback Tim Atchison, who was with the Rams in training camp. He joins King and Harris as their only healthy corners. In Spagnuolo's defense, free and strong safety are interchangeable positions. Mikell, a very smart and aggressive player, is listed as the free safety. He is a good blitzer with movement skills. Former Giant Craig Dahl is the other starter. He is smart, competitive and fast to read and react. Darian Stewart was a college linebacker who plays with a mean streak. Another one-time Giant, James Butler, plays on special teams, as does rookie Jermale Hines.
Josh Brown is one of the NFL's very best kickers. He is fifth in NFL history with 28 field goals of 50 or more yards, all of them since 2003, the most in the league in that span. Last year, he made 22 of 29 attempts and scored 125 points. Brown had a perfect preseason that included 60 and 53-yard field goals. Punter Donnie Jones was third in the NFL last season with a 40.0-yard net average. With Amendola sidelined, the 6-0, 205-pound Porter, the running back signed this week, might return punts on Monday. Norwood has a career 25.5-yard average on kickoff returns. Chamberlain is the Rams' best player covering punts and kickoffs. Rookie Jake McQuaide is the long snapper.
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