Since being hired as head coach of the St. Louis Rams in 2009, Steve Spagnuolo has used his previous coaching stops with the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles as a pipeline for rounding out the depth chart in free agency. Bringing in known commodities is a time honored tradition in the NFL and any other business. Coaches get a player they can depend on, a guy who knows the system and can impart that wisdom on his new teammates.
All four former Giants play on the defensive side of the ball. All four are being counted on heavily this week as the Rams take on Giants offense as capable of breaking out for 30 points as they are capable of struggling. Which former Giants have the biggest task this week?
DT Fred Robbins
Added in 2009.
The Rams hope that the free agents added this season can have the kind of impact Robbins had last year in his first season with the Rams. He anchored the middle of a defensive line that lacked answers inside for years. Chris Long and James Hall thrived with a stouter man in the middle, and Robbins himself added 6 sacks for good measure.
Robbins return to the Meadowlands, or whatever it's called now, makes for a great matchup. The Giants offensive line struggled last week with pass protection. It's a younger group still getting familiar with each other, and Robbins will be called upon to do what he did so well last year to opposing interior linemen.
S Craig Dahl
Added in 2009.
Dahl came to the Rams during the 2009 offseason, along with another Giants safety, James Butler. The New York Giants signed him as an undrafted rookie in 2007. He played in nine games that year with two starts, but went to IR with a torn ACL in December, before the Giants' Super Bowl run. He beat out Butler for a starting safety job in camp last year. Darian Stewart was starting over Dahl in the preseason, but Dahl saw more snaps last week against the Eagles.
With Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, Dahl will again have plenty of work helping out the Rams' run defense. The Giants lack the speed among their receivers that the Eagles have, so he gets a more favorable matchup in coverage this week.
S James Butler
Added in 2009 (starting to sense a theme here?)
Butler was one of the more important additions in 2009. Obviously his presence did nothing to prevent the Rams from going 1-15, but he was the lone veteran in the locker room familiar with Spagnuolo's defense and leaderships style.
Butler is the fourth safety on a team carrying five. After the Rams drafted Jermale Hines in the fifth round this year, it looked like Butler could be a roster casualty. Instead, he provides important depth in the secondary, especially with the cornerbacks stretched thin, and on special teams. Butler will see work in nickel and dime packages this week.
LB Bryan Kehl
Added in 2010
A fourth-round pick by the Giants in 2008, he was released last fall. Kehl was one of several players to get some playing time on the weakside last year as the Rams looked for answers to a talent shortage at that spot. He was the starter there until halfway through the preseason, once free agent addition Ben Leber got up to speed on the scheme.
Kehl has the athleticism and coverage ability desirable for linebackers in this system, but he struggled with his gap responsibility last year and in the preseason. Nevertheless, he had enough talent to convince the Rams to keep him this year along with six other linebackers. Like the safeties, the linebackers will be important this week. Sometimes in this system, with such an aggressive front four, linebackers can struggle with gaps. Kehl and the other linebackers have to maintain against a team that will use lots of options and redirections with a terrible twosome of runners.