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5 storylines to follow in Giants vs. Rams

TAYLOR-STAFFORD-STORYLINES

The New York Giants will look to close out the calendar year with a victory at home against the Los Angeles Rams on New Year's Eve.

The Giants took the Eagles down to the final play on Christmas Day but wound up falling just short to their division rival, losing 33-25. It was the second consecutive loss for the Giants, which brought their record to 5-10 on the season.

On the other sideline, the Rams enter this matchup having won two consecutive games and five of their past six. Los Angeles had an extended break leading up to this game, as they last played against the Saints on Thursday Night Football, a game that ended as a 30-22 win for the Rams. The victory improved their record to 8-7 as they currently hold the No. 6 seed in the NFC playoff picture.

Here are five storylines to follow in the New Year's Eve matchup.

1. Taylor to start at QB

After starting his sixth consecutive game under center, quarterback Tommy DeVito was replaced at halftime of Monday's loss against the Eagles. DeVito completed nine of 16 pass attempts for 55 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions for a passer rating of 63.3 in his two quarters of action while adding a five-yard run. The offense totaled just 100 net yards and three points in the first half.

Tyrod Taylor went into the game in relief of the rookie quarterback, and completed seven of 16 passes for 133 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown to touchdown to Darius Slayton in the fourth quarter.

Daboll announced Wednesday morning that Taylor will start in Week 17 against the Rams.

"I thought Ty did some good things in the second half of Philly so he earned the right to start this game," Daboll said. "Let's get ready for the Rams, really have nothing else to add on it. That's where we're at."

"It means everything to me," Taylor added about being named the starter. "I mean, obviously the work that you put in week in and week out. I've been playing this game for a long time and anytime I get a chance to lace up the cleats and go out and compete means the world to me. That's where I'm the happiest, and it's what I love to do, to be able to go out and not only show your peers but prove to yourself what you could do.

"It's not a me thing. It's a team sport, and I'm excited for our guys to go out for these last two weeks to put our best foot forward and to compete at a high level. Regardless of playoffs or not, there's always something to play for and that's the mindset that we've got to have."

2. Another tough test

The Giants' defense struggled to contain the Eagles' potent offense on Christmas Day. Philadelphia had success both through the air and on the ground, as quarterback Jalen Hurts threw for over 300 yards and a touchdown, and added another score with his legs. The Eagles finished the game with 465 total yards of offense, the third-highest yardage total the Giants have surrendered on the season.

The area that hurt the defense the most was the run game, as the Eagles' 170 rushing yards were the third-most the Giants have allowed this year. The run defense was the Achilles heel of the unit last season, and the defense is struggling in that area again this year. The Giants rank 29th in rushing yards, 30th in rushing touchdowns and 31st in rushing yards per attempt allowed.

After a hot-and-cold start to the season, the Rams' offense has been on a roll in recent weeks. Over their last five games, the Rams have scored at least 28 points in every outing while totaling no less than 399 yards of offense. This recent offensive surge coincides with the return of running back Kyren Williams from injured reserve, but more on that later. Heading into Week 17, the Rams rank eight in points and seventh in yards.

3. Saquon reaches milestone

The sixth-year running back reached an impressive milestone in Philadelphia. Barkley's 80 yards on the ground saw him move into fourth place on the Giants' all-time rushing list with 5,126 yards, jumping ahead of Brandon Jacobs (5,087). The 26-year-old back needs 171 rushing yards over the last two games to move into third place on the list; Joe Morris currently sits there with 5,296 rushing yards. Barkley's current mark of 71.2 rushing yards per game is the most in franchise history.

The Los Angeles defense is coming off its best performance against the run all season. In last week's victory over the Saints, the Rams surrendered a mere 35 total rushing yards. Alvin Kamara gained only 19 yards on nine carries, while Taysom Hill was limited to two yards on two carries. It marked the fifth time in their last six games that the Rams defense held their opponent to less than 90 rushing yards. The unit ranks 13th in rushing yards, 14th in yards per attempt and 10th in rushing touchdowns allowed on the year.

View rare photos of the history between the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams.

4. Special teams update

Due to injuries at the position, the Giants have had a bit of a revolving door at kicker this season. Graham Gano played nine games before landing on injured reserve, while Randy Bullock played in six games before finding a similar fate. Cade York was then scheduled to take over as the kicker for the Giants last week, but an injury suffered during practice led to him joining Gano and Bullock on injured reserve. This opened the door for Mason Crosby to kick for the Giants on Christmas.

The 39-year-old veteran spent 16 seasons kicking for the Green Bay Packers prior to this year. He was signed to the practice squad on Friday after York landed on IR, and was then elevated to the active roster on Sunday for the Week 16 matchup. In his first NFL attempt as a member of a team other than the Packers, Crosby drilled a 52-yard field goal in the first quarter to put the Giants on the board. He also made both of his extra point attempts.

When Bullock went down in Week 15, punter Jamie Gillan took over as the team's emergency kicker. Gillan was successful on his only field goal attempt from 40 yards out, but the extra duties led to the punter being limited in practice last week with a groin injury. In his first action following the injury, Gillan averaged 39.5 yards per punt, his lowest average punt since Week 2. Daboll told reporters Tuesday that the punter landed on his knee on the Eagles' first punt return, which bothered him for the rest of the game. Gillan participated in Wednesday's walkthrough practice, and Daboll told the media that the punter is "trending in the right direction" for Sunday's game against the Rams.

5. Scouting the Rams

After struggling in 2022, Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford has put together a strong 2023 campaign. The veteran quarterback has thrown for 3,648 yards, 23 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 14 starts this season, but has really stepped up his game in recent weeks. Stafford has multiple touchdowns in five consecutive games with a 14-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio during that span. He's earned a 100+ passer rating in each of those five starts.

"He's one of the top quarterbacks in the league, been that way for a long time," Daboll said about Stafford. "Playing good team football, don't have a lot of negative runs, five-plus runs are tops in the league, explosive pass plays. They're playing good football and he's – competed against him, watched him from afar, remember him coming out of Georgia. Great dude, he's one of the top quarterbacks in the league."

As briefly mentioned earlier, the Rams' recent offensive success matches up perfectly with the return of running back Kyren Williams. The second-year back was placed on injured reserve due to an ankle injury suffered in Week 6. He returned in Week 12, and in the five games since coming back, Williams has averaged 120.2 rushing yards per game. Williams is averaging 5.1 yards per attempt on the season and has totaled 1,057 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground in just 11 games. His 96.1 rushing yards per game currently leads the NFL.

Williams' return helped open things up for the entire offense, evidenced by Stafford's recent success. The biggest beneficiary of that has been rookie wide receiver Puka Nacua, who is coming off the best game of his young NFL career. Nacua caught nine passes for a season-high 164 yards in last week's win over the Saints while finding the end zone for the fifth time this year. His 96 receptions this season are tied for the eighth-most in the league, while his 1,327 receiving yards rank fourth.

Of course, you cannot talk about the Rams offense without mention Nacua's fellow wideout, veteran Cooper Kupp. The 2021 Offensive Player of the Year missed the first four games due to a hamstring injury, but has still managed to total 710 receiving yards in 11 games. Kupp has finished with over 110 receiving yards in two of the last three games and has scored a touchdown in three of the last four.

"They're two really good players, tremendous run after catch," Daboll said about the two Rams receivers. "Strong, physical, I mean, they do stuff that tight ends do in the run game, both of them."

Moving to the other side of the ball, the Los Angeles defense begins with one of the greatest defensive lineman of all-time, Aaron Donald. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and seven-time First-Team All-Pro selection is enjoying yet another dominant season. Donald has six sacks on the year, just 0.5 behind Kobie Turner for the team-lead, while his 14 tackles for loss and 21 quarterback hits both pace the Rams defense.

"One of the best to ever do it," Daboll said about Donald. "He's always a problem when you play him. As much as you try to gameplan for him, he always finds ways to make plays. He's one of the best defensive players, he's unbelievable."

Linebacker Ernest Jones is tied with the Giants' Bobby Okereke for the ninth-most total tackles in the NFL (132). Jones has had an impressive season, adding 4.5 sacks, 13 tackles for loss, five quarterback hits and six passes defensed.

In the secondary, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon has put together a strong campaign. The veteran defensive back leads the team with three interceptions and 13 passes defensed. Safeties Jordan Fuller and John Johnson have picked up two interceptions apiece, while cornerback Derion Kendrick is second on the team with eight pass breakups.

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