The New York Giants have struggled on offense all season.
Even in their win last week over the Baltimore Ravens they couldn’t get their offense going at all until the second quarter was nearly over. Once the offense did get rolling, however, it was nearly unstoppable. Odell Beckham Jr. had one of the best halves of football by any receiver ever, and Eli Manning proved that the reports of his career’s demise were greatly exaggerated. The Giants proved that their passing game can still be as explosive as any in the NFL.
But that was last week, against a beat-up Ravens’ defense.
How can they keep the offensive momentum rolling against a healthier Rams defense?
Stats At A Glance
Rushing Yards - 76.0 (30th)
Passing Yards - 288.2 (3rd)
Total Yards - 364.2 (13th)
Points - 19.3 (25th)
Rushing Yards - 115.7 (23rd)
Passing Yards - 264.2 (16th)
Total Yards - 361.8 (17th)
Points - 22.8 (17th)
Play The Shell Game
The Giants’ offense has improved personnel at every level from the previous two years, but they simply haven’t been able to get in a consistent rhythm. Part of it has been problems executing by the players. Receivers not running the correct routes, linemen not executing their blocks, running backs not picking up blitzes, bad decisions by the quarterback. All of that keeps the offense from functioning the way it should.
But also the Giants have proven more prone to falling into ruts than in the first two years under Ben McAdoo. While the running back and tight end/H-back might change, in large part the personnel grouping is the same every play — “11” personnel, usually out of the Shotgun. To a certain extent, it makes sense. Being in the ‘Gun lets Eli Manning survey the field more easily than being under center and he receives the snap further way from the pass rush. Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Victor Cruz are the team’s best receiving threats, so why take any of them off the field?
But that predictability also makes it easy for opposing defenses to key on the offense. There are only so many plays you can run from that alignment, both running and passing. The result has been an offense that seems to be going through the motions at times, clunking along until they trip up and have to punt the ball away.
It’s an offense that needed a spark to reach its prolific potential.
The spark that gave life to the offense on Sunday didn’t even come with Beckham on the field — . though his impact in the second half can’t be understated. It came from undrafted rookie receiver Roger Lewis Jr, a player who had only been active for two weeks prior to the Giants’ Week 6 tilt against the Ravens, and on a newly-installed play.
It was unexpected. And that’s just what the Giants’ offense needs. They need to play shell games with the receivers, moving Beckham, Shepard, and Cruz around the field, forcing the defense to find them put the defense into uncomfortable match-ups.
They need to use more four receiver or two tight end sets — personnel sets and alignments they seldom use. They need to give defenses new looks and match-ups, force them to slow down and think about what the Giants are doing, rather than playing fast because they already have a good idea of where the ball is going.
Slow Down The Rams’ Defensive Line
The Giants are once again facing a defense built on a disruptive defensive line. In fact, defensive tackle Aaron Donald might just be the best defensive player in the NFL with J.J. Watt out with a back injury.
But beyond Donald, Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers can’t be ignored. The Giants dealt well with the Rams’ DL when the two teams faced off in 2014, with Quinn book ended by Chris Long (now with the Patriots).
The offensive line will need to do so again, but this time Donald isn’t a talented rookie, but a veteran playing some of the best football of his career.
Donald doesn’t look like the prototypical NFL defensive tackle, but the Giants know they can’t overlook him.
“He is one of the best defensive tackles in the football.” Justin Pugh said about Rams DT Aaron Donald, “His get off is incredible, he has great speed and quickness with his hands. I played against him in college too, so I have played against him a few times. He plays with great leverage. He is not the biggest guy in the world though. When you walk in, you aren't going to be like, 'Oh. That is probably one of the best defensive tackles in football.' You probably wouldn't even think that. But you put on film and he has gotten like 37 quarterback hurries, three sacks -- it has been nice these past few weeks, I have kind of gotten to play guys similar in build and quickness in Mike Daniels and Jernigan. But I think he is the best of the bunch.
Donald and the Rams had a “slow” game against the Detroit Lions, who used a combination of blocking techniques with a young and injured offensive line to slow the Rams’ rush. Granted, a “slow” game still saw Donald get a sack, a tackle for a loss, and several hurries.
The Giants’ interior offensive line has been strong this year, with Justin Pugh and John Jerry both quietly having very good seasons, and Weston Richburg building on a great first year at center.
The Rams move Donald around their defensive line and he will face both the left or right guard on any given play, so both Pugh and Jerry will have their hands full all game long. When one isn’t facing Donald, they will likely have to give Richburg help with nose tackle Brockers. The Giants have shown a better ability to deal with even fronts than odd fronts, and part of that is because Richburg still struggles to deal with true nose tackles. He is smart and nasty, has great technique and quickness, but Richburg still has difficulty dealing with straight ahead power, and that can disrupt the flow of the Giants’ running game or collapse Manning’s pocket.
The X-Factor on the defensive line is Quinn. He has missed the last two games with a shoulder injury, and is currently listed as “day to day”. If he doesn’t play, that will make life for offensive tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart much easier. If he does play, it seems like he will face Flowers most often — Quinn is listed as the team’s right defensive end. Flowers had a good game against one of the best edge players in the game in Terrell Suggs, giving up just one bad play for a sack, but controlled the disruptive Suggs most of the game. A shoulder injury can be very limiting for a defensive end, but Flowers will need a repeat performance to keep the pressure from snowballing.
If the line can hold up, Manning should have the time to carve up a Rams secondary that surrendered four touchdowns to Matthew Stafford (8 receptions, 165 yards, 1 TD to Golden Tate).
Keeping Their Cool
All of the noise around Beckham has its genesis in the Giants’ 2014 game against the then-St. Louis Rams. That game, Jeff Fishers’ squad came in looking for a fight, after a week of complaining that Beckham taunted opposing teams by dancing in the endzone after they failed to stop him from getting there. The Rams took cheap shots at the Giants — and Beckham in particular — all game long, culminating in a sideline brawl when linebacker Alec Ogletree hit Beckham on the other side of the stripe. There was also a scary moment when a Rams defender launched himself at Beckham, only to miss and collide with another teammate.
Fisher’s teams have a reputation of playing right on the ragged edge of the rules, and these two teams have a history of “chippy” football. The Giants have to assume that they’ll see more of that in London town, and act accordingly — i.e., react.
Between narratives and their own reactions to the goading of other teams, the Giants have been under the officials’ microscope, and they can not hamstring themselves with penalties or gift the Rams free yards or second chances. As much as in any game, the Giants will need to keep their cool and let the other side commit the penalties.