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Monday, September 19, 2011
What to watch for: Giants-Rams

By Dan Graziano

It's "Monday Night Football" here in New Jersey tonight, as I'll head down Route 17 to the Meadowlands to see the New York Giants take on the St. Louis Rams. We will be chatting live during the game right here on ESPN.com, and of course I'll be blogging and columnizing and Rapid Reacting and all of the things we do from games we attend in person. It's going to be a long, late night, so take a nap this afternoon if you need one to make sure you can keep up. I know I will.

You already know I think one of the keys for the Giants is to commit to the run more strongly than they did in the opener against the Redskins. But I also think the run game is the key when they're on defense. The Rams were able to run up the middle with some success in their opener against the Philadelphia Eagles, and the Giants' defense has a similar weakness in the middle to the Eagles' defense -- i.e., a rookie middle linebacker who's likely to struggle if he has to make a one-on-one play against the running back. The Giants' Greg Jones looked better in his debut than the Eagles' Casey Matthews has looked in either of his games, but the rookie out of Michican State is still new at this, and even if Steven Jackson doesn't play, stopping Cadillac Williams and Jerious Norwood isn't exactly the same as stopping Indiana's run game. It will fall to defensive tackles Chris Canty and Linval Joseph to slow the Rams' backs at the line so they don't hit the soft middle of the Giants' defense with a head of steam.

On offense, the Giants should try to create those same mismatches with running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs against the Rams linebackers, especially if the Rams blitz as much as they did in their opener. It remains to be seen whether Steve Spagnuolo will blitz like that every week or whether that was just a plan to try and rattle (or eliminate) Michael Vick. Eli Manning gets rid of the ball very quickly, as Spagnuolo knows from his days coaching against him in practice when he was the Giants' defensive coordinator, and it's possible the Rams will choose to rush four and sit in coverage more than they did last week. If they do go blitz-heavy again, the run game is the Giants' best way to take advantage of that.

I think the Giants will win the game tonight, but to do so they must seek to control it, and the best way to do that is to control the ground game on both sides of the ball. If this turns into a shootout, neither quarterback has his full complement of receivers. But I don't think the Giants want to entrust this game to their banged-up secondary.