For this season’s second overseas NFL match up, the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants will battle it out in an effort to seize what would be either team’s fourth win. Both teams are 3-3 through the first six weeks of the season, though a disparity in division quality has each team sitting in different spots within their division. The Rams still hold their second place spot behind the Seattle Seahawks, while the Giants are last in the NFC East and are currently the only team in the division not over .500 (the Eagles have only played five games thus far, but are currently 3-2).
Rams Offense vs Giants Defense
Last week was a season-high performance for the Rams. It was the most fluid and sturdy that the offense had looked all season. The Detroit Lions were the league’s worst defense heading into the week, per Football Outsiders’s DVOA, but it was still an encouraging offensive display. The Rams will need to carry that success over to this week if they want to beat the Giants.
New York’s defense is as good as it is bad. It is a feast or famine type of personnel group. The back four, lead by cornerback Janoris Jenkins (miss you, please write back home sometime) and safety Landon Collins, is a strong group, but the front seven is tougher to valuate.
There are a couple of studs up front, namely defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison, but the ensemble lacks consistency. The linebacker corps is hit or miss in the run game, only one of the linebackers can be trusted in coverage and the pass rush has been vastly underwhelming. As a whole, the defense struggles to make impact plays. The Giants are tied with their in-state rival, the New York Jets, for the least amount of defensive takeaways this season. One fumble recovery and Jenkins’s two interceptions are the team’s only takeaways.
- New York isn’t afraid to play straight up man-to-man coverage. It seems they trust safety Landon Collins in solo coverage quite a bit, so that allows them more freedom to play man coverage. Collins will also drop into deep coverage from pre-snap looks down near the box.
- Linebacker Devon Kennard is a sneaky good run defender, but he only plays in base formations (for the Giants, that’d be four defensive linemen and three linebackers). Kennard sets the edge very well.
- No team in the NFL has fewer sacks than the Giants. They only have six on the season. They do not consistently generate pressure well. Their edge guys, Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon, have nice peaks, but also have low valleys. Unfortunately, the Rams tackles will allow for more peaks than valleys.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has the freedom to spice up his coverages because of the personnel New York has on the back end. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple (if health permits him to play) make for a good cornerback trio. Behind them, Landon Collins anchors a safety group that avoids big plays.
Collins can blitz, play man-to-man, be a “Rat in the Hole” or cover deep. He’s a chess piece for Spagnuolo and his versatility helps the Giants defense adjust to whatever the offense lines up in. For every offensive action, Collins is the defensive reaction.
Spagnuolo makes great use of Jenkins, as well. Jenkins has earned a lot of trust in New York. The biggest indicator of that trust is a coverage similar to what Nick Saban calls “Mable”.
Here’s the SparksNotes on “Mable” coverage: It is a Cover 3 shell, but the back side cornerback in solo coverage plays straight up man-to-man and the zone players shade their coverage toward the strong side. It creates a bit of a risk on one side, while the strong side gets shored up.
The inherent risk of this Cover 3 wrinkle is somewhat negated when the defense has a player they trust in solo coverage. Jenkins has provided that to the Giants. On the play above, Jenkins displays excellent reactions and smooth movements to keep up with wide receiver Breshad Perriman. Jenkins wiped Perriman from the play.
With Perriman taken out of the equation, the rest of the play sets itself into motion without much issue. The defender lined up over the No.2 receiver to the strong side successfully passes off the receiver to the centerfielding safety. To finish off the play, Collins, the back side flats player (short area outside of the hash), picks up tight end Dennis Pitta on the crossing route and pops Pitta when the ball gets to the catch point. The play worked exactly as New York intended it to.
Attack New York’s Linebackers
The Giants have four linebackers who see a fair amount of snaps. If the Giants are in their base formation, the starting three are Jon Casillas (weak side), Kelvin Sheppard (middle) and Devon Kennard (strong side). Kennard is the only one of those three who is above average, but he only plays in base formations, mostly as an edge defender down near the line of scrimmage. He’s an excellent run defender when he is on the line of scrimmage.
Keenan Robinson is the other linebacker, who plays a majority of his snaps in “nickel” sets next to Casillas. Robinson is legitimately good and is easily the Giants best coverage linebacker. Though, he still needs his rest sometimes, leaving Sheppard to come in for relief duty. That then puts Casillas and Sheppard as the only two linebackers on the field. That is when New York is most vulnerable.
Over the past few weeks, Los Angeles has made great use of play action and run concepts that look like play action. They were especially successful with it last week against a miserable, crippled Lions linebacker crew.
Here, the Giants have all three starting linebackers on the field, but Kennard is not in his normal position down at the line of scrimmage. The Green Bay Packers open up a back side pursuit lane by design on this play. Wide receiver Randall Cobb is lined up almost like a tight end. Instead of blocking after the snap, Cobb shoots out to the flats as if he is running the short route for a normal boot-action concept. This creates a 2-on-1 for Casillas and Sheppard versus Green Bay’s left tackle David Bakhtiari. Both Giants linebackers failed to capitalize.
Instead of attacking the run play, Casillas and Sheppard retreated, both deceived by Cobb’s route and a zone blocking look that is typical of boot-action plays. The two linebackers lose a ton of ground and gift running back James Starks a wide open field to work with. Defensive tackle Damon Harrison nearly shut down the play all by himself, but after Starks narrowly escaped Harrison’s grasp, the Packers running back was able to scamper around for ten yards.
Rams Defense vs Giants Offense
Say what you will about Odell Beckham Jr.’s “antics” on the field, but he is arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL. Somehow, Beckham moves at top speed all the time. Right off the snap, Beckham generates separation, only to separate even more once he breaks off into his route. He is a masterful technician with elite athleticism, making him an absolute menace to (attempt to) cover. And then, of course, there is no telling what kind of incredible catch he could make once the ball is in his vicinity.
The Giants offense lives and breathes through Beckham Jr. That being said, they have some other quality pieces and have recently gotten healthier at the running back position. Starting running back Rashad Jennings returned to play last week, though the Giants offensive line gave him no chance against a vicious Baltimore Ravens defensive line. In addition to Beckham Jr., Eli Manning also has Victor Cruz and rookie Sterling Shepard at his disposal at wide receiver. The Giants have plenty of skill players that the Rams defense will have to handle.
- New York’s offensive line is bad. Left guard Justin Pugh is a level above the rest, but for the most part, the Giants don’t get any help from their offensive line in the run game or in pass protection. Also, their running game largely functions on man blocking principles.
- Eli Manning is prone to mistakes if the pass rush gets to him. With Robert Quinn returning, the Rams should have the horses to get to Manning.
- The Giants will base some trick plays (reverses, fake reverses, etc.) around Beckham Jr. Something to watch for.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Friends
Beckham Jr. is damn near uncoverable. Speed, savvy, acrobatics; Beckham Jr. has it all. He is one of the few wide receivers whose offense is ran through him. The Atlanta Falcons do this with Julio Jones and, to a lesser extent, the Cincinnati Bengals do this with A.J. Green. Beckham Jr. is in the Wide Receiver VIP Section.
This play is automatic for the Giants. Beckham Jr. runs a killer “dig” route and Manning loves hitting him on that route. Beckham Jr. will run this route out of any number of formations. Solo, pro set with two receivers, stacked over another receiver, in a trips formation (like above) - it doesn’t matter. Beckham Jr. can and will ruin your defense with the “dig” route.
Beckham Jr. is not the only elite route runner on the Giants, though. Rookie status aside, Sterling Shepard is already one of the NFL’s best route runners. Although he has statistically slowed down after a red hot start, Shepard has still been getting open very well despite his youth in the league.
Manning missed this particular throw, but that does not take away from Shepard’s route. With a couple of shifty steps at the line of scrimmage, Shepard gets the inside release that he wanted without much of a fight. Shepard never tips his route until he breaks his route off at a depth of above ten yards. Defensive back Micah Hyde lost this play immediately. After Hyde lost ground off the snap, he was never going to watch up to Shepard after his cut at the top of the route.
New York’s Single Back Counter Run
The Giants don’t have an exciting or exotic run game. They have a few interesting plays to look out for, though. Many of those more interesting plays involve Beckham Jr. somehow, be it was the ball carrier or as a decoy. That said, it is the Giants “counter” concept could be a real problem if the Rams front doesn’t stay on their toes.
By motioning Will Tye to an alignment tight to the line of scrimmage in front of the running back, the Giants begin their illusion of a straight forward running concept. Running back Bobby Rainey then begins his run by taking a step to the right. Between Tye’s alignment and Rainey’s first step, weak side linebacker Jake Ryan hesitates in his decision making and weak side edge defender Julius Peppers runs a tight fit to try to close what he thought was going to be a cut back lane.
With Peppers running too tight and Ryan playing flat footed, Tye and left tackle Ereck Flowers had easy blocks to make. They executed their relatively easy blocks and gave Rainey room to run free. When it comes time for the Rams to defend this, Robert Quinn’s discipline will be critical. He will be in Peppers’s role on this play, so it is on him to stay true and force this play inside, instead of letting it bounce outside.
The Giants defense has enough holes and flaws for the offense to have a decent game. Todd Gurley probably won’t have too exciting of a game on the ground, but New York is prone to allowing some major plays in the run game via poor reads and missed tackles. It’s tough to see how Case Keenum gets the passing game going, though. The Rams receivers and tight ends have played excellently, but Janoris Jenkins and Landon Collins, along with Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme, will make it tough to win through the air.
New York’s offense feels like they’re going to have their rebound game against the Rams. Los Angeles will be without defensive tackle Michael Brockers, the team’s best run defender. On top of that, cornerback Trumaine Johnson is still out. The Rams don’t have anyone capable of covering Odell Beckham Jr. or even Sterling Shepard. The Giants are primed for an offensive crusade.
Lastly, I’d like to touch on something unrelated to what is going to happen on the field. More information leaked recently about New York’s kicker Josh Brown, who has been under fire for the domestic abuse of his wife, Molly. Brown’s behavior was subhuman and it’s a shame that is took this long for the Giants to do anything about it (and even then, they’ve hardly done anything). Please read this powerful piece regarding sexual and domestic violence from Ben Natan of Bleeding Green Nation: It’s On Us.