Rams-Giants: The breakdown
By Jim Thomas
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
When the Rams run the ball
Five starters are missing from the Giants' defensive lineup for Super Bowl XVII against New England. You'd never know it by what happened in New York's season opener Sept. 4 against Washington. The Giants kept the lid on Clinton Portis, limiting the Redskins to 84 yards rushing and 3.5 yards a carry. The Rams feel Steven Jackson is ready for a full workload, and so does Jackson. "I'm definitely looking forward to it," he said. "I think that's when the offense and the team thrive, when we control the ball on the ground."
Offensive coordinator Al Saunders said he strayed from the run too early against Philadelphia. Look for a renewed commitment to the running game, albeit with a shuffled offensive line that features Adam Goldberg at left guard in place of the injured Jacob Bell.
When the Giants run the ball
Brian Westbrook didn't have eye-popping numbers last week, but Philadelphia seemed to get the rushing yards when it needed them, There were times when the Rams' front four — particularly the defensive tackles — got pushed around by Philly blockers. The Giants have a tough, smart, physical offensive line. No superstars, but this is a cohesive unit in which all five players started all 16 regular-season games a year ago. In the backfield, Brandon Jacobs isn't the only concern for St. Louis. Derrick Ward, a mini-Jacobs with quick feet, will get some touches. And when the Giants aren't pounding away with the 264-pound Jacobs and 228-pound Ward, speedy change-of-pace back Ahmad Bradshaw may see some action.
When the Rams pass the ball
The Rams have to do a better job of blitz pickup and a better job of getting the ball to seven-time Pro Bowler Torry Holt. All four Philadelphia sacks last week came when the Eagles sent more than four pass rushers at Marc Bulger. Two of the sacks came when backs (Antonio Pittman, and later, Jackson) missed their pickups; one came when two offensive linemen were beaten (Jacob Bell and Alex Barron); another came on a blindside rush that Bulger simply didn't see. The Giants aren't a heavy-blitzing team, but they have a very similar system as the Eagles, so they have the capability. Holt, meanwhile, has to have more than two balls thrown his way this week. New York has a smart, confident secondary — no slouches for sure, but not as talented as Philly's unit.
When the Giants pass the ball
If Plaxico Burress lost any sleep this week thinking about the Rams, it's because he couldn't wait to get on the field. The last time the Giants faced St. Louis, Burress caught a career-high 10 balls for a career-high 204 yards (on Oct. 2, 2005 in the Meadowlands). Burress matched that regular-season high for catches with 10 grabs in last week's opener. His size (6-5, 232 pounds) makes him difficult to cover, and he can still get downfield. Expect the Giants to test the Rams. Amani Toomer has slowed, but can't be taken lightly as a possession receiver and red zone threat. His eventual successor, Steve Smith, is a classic possession receiver and smooth route runner.