By Paul Dottino
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It's clear that back-to-back wins have done much to boost the Giants' morale. It's much easier to look forward to any game after you earn a victory, especially against a division rival.
And so it goes for the Giants (5-9), who are trying to put together a four-game winning streak to close out their season. The Rams (6-8) present a difficult challenge in St. Louis, specifically because they own the NFL's most aggressive defense (blitzes on nearly 45 percent of snaps) and have a strong kick-return unit, which often alters field position.
Veteran running back Rashad Jennings (ankle) would have been a big help in recognizing the complex blitz packages. Rookie Andre Williams nearly has a full season under his belt and has done extra homework to make sure he is up to speed on whoever St. Louis sends into the backfield.
Here are three key matchups to watch:
1) Giants RB Andre Williams vs. Rams' blitz package: The Giants' primary goal will be to keep QB Eli Manning standing. The Rams have registered an NFL-high 23 sacks via the blitz, although they are only 10th overall with 36 sacks. They will send blitzers in clusters from any position on the field, and on any down, trying to confuse their opponent into trying to pick up the wrong defender.
Often, the best way to beat the blitz is with a big play. However, the Rams are unlikely to shy away from pressure on running downs since Williams has only three runs of 20-or-more yards this season. Ironically, the Giants have done an admirable job against extra pressure, allowing just seven sacks against the blitz.
2) Giants QB Eli Manning vs. Rams' defensive scheme: St. Louis defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is very aggressive. He will not only try to take advantage of the crowd noise when sending the blitz, but will show the blitz and back out, attempting to cause an even bigger quandary for Manning and Co. RDE Robert Quinn (opposite LT William Beatty) is tied for fourth in the NFL with 10 1/2 sacks and leads the league with five forced fumbles. LDT Aaron Donald (opposite RG John Jerry) ranks third among interior linemen with eight sacks.
3) Rams PR Tavon Austin and KOR Benny Cunningham vs. Giants' kick-coverage units: The Rams, like most dome teams, ensure that they have good team speed, an outstanding trait to have on special teams. Austin ranks sixth in the NFL with a 10.3 PR avg., and Cunningham is fourth in KOR avg. at 28.6. And remember, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher may be more apt than anyone in the league when it comes to running a gadget play in the return game.
Why is this important? Because the St. Louis defense hasn't allowed a touchdown in the past three weeks and the Rams own the NFL's 26th-rated offense (314.5 yards per game), so you can expect a low-scoring game. And the best way to win a game of this type is to capture the battle of field position, either via turnovers or on special teams.
PREDICTION: Rams 16, Giants 10
PREDICTION record vs. the spread: 11-3
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