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5 Things We Learned

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5 Things We Learned: Xavier McKinney and Bobby Okereke's snap streak

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With the calendar set to flip to 2024, the Giants are continuing preparations for their New Year's Eve matchup against the Rams.

The Rams enter at 8-7 and in possession of the sixth seed in the NFC playoffs. After going into their bye week at 3-6, Los Angeles has won five of its last six to catapult back into the playoff picture.

Giants coordinators Wink Martindale, Mike Kafka and Thomas McGaughey met with the media Thursday for their weekly press conferences.

Here are five things we learned ahead of the Week 17 matchup.

1. Kafka talks QB decision

With the Giants down 20-3 at halftime against the Eagles, head coach Brian Daboll made a switch at quarterback, putting Tyrod Taylor in for Tommy DeVito to provide a spark. The 34-year-old threw for 133 yards and a touchdown and helped bring the Giants within one score of defeating the division rival. Offensive coordinator Mike Kafka complimented the veteran for staying ready and leading the offense when called upon.

"Tyrod did a great job just stepping up," Kafka told reporters. "He made some big plays, he did some nice things with the football, with his legs. I was not shocked. I think he's a guy that's going to prep and do it the right way and he did a nice job stepping in for us."

One noticeable difference between the two halves during Monday's game was the offense's willingness to push the ball downfield. In the first half, the Giants did not attempt a single pass 10+ yards down field. However, that changed in the second half. While under center, Taylor completed three of five intermediate passes (10-19 yards) for 52 yards and a 95.4 passer rating. Of course, Taylor also connected with Darius Slayton on a deep pass which resulted in a 69-yard touchdown. Kafka acknowledged that the gameplan is catered around each player's strengths, so the quarterback switch at halftime led to a bit of a change in the play-calling.

"I think there's differences, you're going to build the gameplan around each player's strengths," the offensive coordinator said. "Whether it's quarterback, running back, receivers, o-line, you want to build the best game plan you can around the guys (and) what they do best…

"(Tyrod's) been in the league for 13 years; I think there's a lot that he does, not just on the field but as a leader, as a good teammate. I think Tyrod does a hell of a job in the huddle getting guys organized, so there's a lot of things that he does just outside of playing the quarterback position that makes him special."

View photos of the Giants on the practice field ahead of the Week 17 matchup against the Los Angeles Rams.

2. Okereke and McKinney's snap streak

Heading into the penultimate game of the 2023 campaign, inside linebacker Bobby Okereke (132) and safety Xavier McKinney (104) rank first and second on the team in total tackles. A big reason for that has been their ability to stay on the field. Okereke and McKinney are two of only three defenders across the entire NFL that have not missed a single defensive snap this season (Washington's Kamren Curl is the third).

"I think it's a tribute to them that they've taken care of their bodies," defensive coordinator Wink Martindale said. "They've been fortunate without any injuries but how they've taken care of their bodies resting, working out, doing all the things you have to do to prepare to play every Sunday to get in a 60-play car accident basically is what it is. I think they're both playing really well."

Okereke's 132 total tackles has him tied for the ninth-most in the NFL heading into Week 17. Meanwhile, McKinney's 104 total tackles are the sixth-most among safeties. In addition to racking up a lot of tackles while playing every snap, both players have performed well in coverage this season. According to Pro Football Focus, Okereke is the eight-highest ranked linebacker in coverage this year, while McKinney ranks sixth among safeties.

3. Stafford 'playing at a Hall of Fame-type level'

The Rams have won five of their last six games following their Week 10 bye, due largely to their offensive surge. The unit's success can be credited to numerous players, but it all starts with quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The 35-year-old has thrown multiple touchdown passes in five consecutive games, with a 14-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and an average of 277.6 passing yards per game during that span. Stafford has finished with a passer rating above 100 in all five games and has only taken six total sacks over that stretch. Count Martindale as one person thoroughly impressed with the veteran quarterback's recent play.

"I think that Stafford is playing at a Hall of Fame-type level and each team, we've talked about it here, each team gels and they have gelled offensively," the defensive coordinator said. "I think that Matthew is - I mean, he's making throws that you just sit there and go, 'wow.' From all different kind of arm angles, no looks, all those things you've heard about, you're seeing him do it and they're playing at a very high level. I think that the thing that (Rams head coach) Sean (McVay) has done is that they've made a commitment to the run game and changing their offensive line this year. Now, it's a two-headed monster that you have to deal with.

"So, they put you in a bind of what you want to try to do and how you're going try to do it, but Stafford is playing unreal. I mean, he's a great football player, but I think that he and (Ravens quarterback) Lamar (Jackson) should be up for the MVP candidate. That's the kind of year he's having, and they've scored over 30 points a game since you when you were talking about."

4. Aaron Donald 'an alien'

While the Rams have undergone significant changes over the last decade, one thing has remained consistent – the presence of Aaron Donald. Over his first nine seasons in the NFL, the defensive lineman made the Pro Bowl every year, was named Defensive Player of the Year three times, and was selected as a First-Team All-Pro seven times. This has been one of the most impressive starts to a career the NFL has ever seen and perhaps the most dominant since Lawrence Taylor.

Now in his 10th season, Donald has done more of the same in 2023. The 32-year-old has registered six sacks, just a half-sack shy of the team-lead, in addition to 14 tackles for loss and 21 quarterback hits, both of which rank first on the Rams. Heading into Week 17, Donald is the third-highest ranked interior defensive lineman by PFF, trailing Dexter Lawrence and the Jets' Quinnen Williams. Donald is likely to line up against center John Michael Schmitz for a lot of Sunday's game, which will provide the rookie center with one of his toughest tests of the season.

"Aaron Donald is a Hall of Fame type player," said Kafka. "He's a really good, talented player. He plays in a good scheme that's well coached. It's going to be a big challenge, not for just a rookie but for everyone on the front line."

While he does not have to gameplan for the All-Pro lineman himself, Martindale called Donald "one of the best" to ever play the position.

"He's just an alien," Martindale added. "There's no other - he's just unreal and it's down after down after down after down. He is one of the best. He'll go down as one of the best three techniques of all time."

5. Challenge of facing Kupp, Nacua

The Rams offense has been firing on all cylinders lately, with wide receivers Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp playing a significant role in the offensive success. Let's start with the rookie, who is fresh off the best game of his young NFL career. Nacua caught nine passes for a season-high 164 yards against the Saints last week and scored his fifth touchdown of the year. The first-year wideout ranks fourth in the NFL with 1,327 receiving yards, while his 96 receptions are tied for the eighth-most.

Despite it being his rookie season, Nacua has already shown a lot of similarities to the All-Pro he shares the WR room with. Kupp missed the first four games of the season due to a hamstring injury, but has still totaled 710 receiving yards in his 11 games. The 2021 Offensive Player of the Year has topped 110 receiving yards in two of the last three games while finding the end zone in three of the last four.

"They have the same skillset," said Martindale. "They got great hands, they run great routes, they are great run-after-catch guys, they're physical when they block. It's like having tight ends out there playing wide receiver, that's how well they block. So, we got to work on getting off blocks and shedding blocks and things like that, just like you would if there's a tight end coming to block you."

The defensive coordinator went on to call Nacua and Kupp "the two best blocking wide receivers in the league."

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

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