Giants Bring Same Attitude, Far Different Cast To Meet Rams
RamsNation Writer Barry Waller
For whatever reason, the Rams and Giants have got a little rivalry going over the last three seasons, even though the Rams have beaten the Giants all three meetings, once in the Meadowlands.
It was former Giant fullback Greg Comella, who started all the now too familiar, and just as wrong now as then, stuff about the Rams being a "soft" team, one that could be physically beaten into surrender, and the Giants players, few of whom go back to the 1999 31-10 Rams massacre of Comella and his team, are still singing the same tune this week as they visit St. Louis to take on the similarly 0-1 Rams.
Comella is one of 35 ex-Giants from the 2000 roster that won the NFC Title, but took a 38-24 beating at home, despite the Rams being without Kurt Warner and Marshall Faulk. The Giants made it a bit closer last season, but again they faced a mostly Faulkless Rams offense in a 15-14 St. Louis victory. After that maximum, but unrewarded effort, Jim Fassel's squad mostly packed it in with a 2-5 finish and ended the season 7-9, just as they had in 1999.
There are 18 Giants remaining on their roster from the 2000 NFC Champs who played any real part in that team's successful campaign, and only 11 starters. The salary cap, and big deals for single season sack record holder Mike Strahan and quarterback Kerry Collins, and some other poor deals have left the Giants in a bad way in 2001. They lost most of their offensive line and their leading tackler, LB Jessie Armstead in free agency this season, along with starting strong safety Sam Garnes. Fullback Comella and their kicker and punter are also new, with two rookies, Matt Bryant and Matt Allen filling those last two all-important roles.
There has been a ton of hand wringing in the Rams Nation concerning untested John St. Clair starting at right tackle, but St. Clair was at least drafted. The Giants lost three Pro-Bowl veterans in tackle Lomas Brown and guards Glenn Parker and Ron Stone this off season, and are replacing them with three former undrafted free agents, G Rich Seuber (2001), OT Chris Bober (2000) and G Jason Whittle (1999), who have a total of seven starts among them, five belonging to Whittle.
To make matters work, one of their returning veteran starters, center Dusty Ziegler, is still on the mend from off -season knee surgery and was inactive for the Giants opener against the Niners.
That meant Bober had to move to center, and the only remaining 2000 starter playing on opening day Thursday, tackle Luke Pettitgout, had to shift to left tackle, with veteran backup and college teammate Mike Rosenthal playing his usual spot. Zeigler is listed as doubtful this Sunday.
Is it any wonder why the Giants rushed for only 43 yards in the week one loss? Starting running back Tiki Barber gained 29 yards on 15 carries, which is bad enough without considering that 16 were on one play. Barber was playing hurt, as he always seems to be in his 7-year career, but 13 yards on 14 carries is horrible even on one leg. Barber's fellow RB, Ron Dayne did next to nothing as well. Dayne had a pretty good game against the Rams in 2001, with 88 yards on 20 carries and one TD, after a 9-66 performance in the 2000 match.
The Giants were able to do a decent job passing in game one, though as usual their quarterback, Kerry Collins, threw too many interceptions, three in this case, to keep his team from losing at the end. Collins did shred the Niner pass defense with a 28-45 performance for 342 yards, most of the damage being done by wide receiver Amani Toomer, who may well be the most underrated NFL wide out.
The 6'3 208 pound Toomer, the Giants second round pick out of Michigan in 1996, has caught more passes, 229, than any Giant receiver in history over three seasons, and has been over 1000 yards all three seasons since becoming a full time starter, following a trio of injury plagued seasons starting with a serious knee injury half way through his rookie year. According to Fassel, Toomer is in the best shape of his career, and started 2002 off with a bang, outshining the Niners Terrell Owens with a 9 catch, 134 yard night.
Owens torched the Rams 1999 World Champion defense for 9 catches and 162 yards, and last season caught three for 61, one for 42 yards. In the 2000 game, Toomer left early after fumbling on a hard hit and sustaining a concussion in the process. As the biggest Giant weapon, the Rams must pay close attention to Toomer, who has a knack for breaking long TDs. Bigger receivers, such as Toomer, have given the Rams defense fits in the past. In 2001, just such a big man, 6'4 Joe Jurevicius, was the whole Giant offense last season, with 6 catches for 101 yards.
Luckily, Joe was another cap casualty in 2002.
Veteran Ike Hilliard provides a decent second option for Kerry Collins, but he has too often been hurt for Fassel's taste, and there were plenty of rumors floating around this spring that he would not be back for his sixth season in New York since being drafted seventh overall in 1997. Look for the Rams to use lots of double tight ends, like the Rams; in the passing game, and lots of safe, short slant passes to Toomer, hoping to break a long one against the Rams cover 2, with an occasional long bomb to Hilliard, and lots of passes to the running backs as well.
Most of the attention surrounding the Giants this off-season has centered on their top 2002 draft pick, tight end Jeremy Shockey, who the Giants traded up to select, following a stellar junior year at the U. of Miami. Shockey made a few good plays this pre-season, and has big time talent, but was mostly quiet against the Niners. Still, the Rams other defensive bugaboo, especially in the red zone, is the tight end, so he will be a concern for Rams fans well aware of their TE coverage troubles.
Defensively, the Giants are still strong, led by Strahan and defensive tackle Keith Hamilton, the two longest tenured Giant players, with Strahan in his 10th year and Hamilton entering his 11th. Strahan nearly one last year's game single handedly, as he took advantage of an injured Ryan Tucker, and St. Clair will not face a tougher task in 2002 than the one he will see Sunday against Strahan, one of the nicer guys in the NFL, except on Sundays.
The Giants signed Kenny Holmes as a free agent in 2001, hoping to give the Giants a devastating pair of defensive ends, but Holmes did not earn his huge deal last season, with only 56 tackles and 3.5 sacks. If not for the cap hit the Giants would eat by cutting Holmes, he probably would be an ex-Giant in 2002, when he will try to redeem himself. Cornelius Griffin, the Giants second rounder in 2000, starts at the other tackle spot, off a disappointing sophomore season following a promising rookie campaign. Griffin had some injury issues last season that could have led to his less than stellar second year.
The Giants, like Denver last week, don't blitz much, which is why that front four putting pressure on the quarterback is so important to their success defensively. The middle linebacker, Mike Barrow, was the Giants second leading tackler last season, and "Sam" linebacker Brandon Short added 59 tackles in his first season starting. The loss of Armstead, one of the team leaders, will hurt, as he is replaced by Dhani Jones, who had never started a game till this, his third season with the Giants.
While the Giants do have the ability to pressure Kurt Warner with four or even three pass rushers, their linebackers have nowhere near the speed or coverage ability that Denver's group possesses. Their safeties, 1998 #1 pick SS Shaun Williams and Garnes' backup the last two seasons, ex-Cowboy FS Omar Stoudmire, are both big hitters, but neither excels in coverage with only 10 total career interceptions between them. That duo will be trying to make good on that "hit the Rams in the mouth" philosophy on Sunday.
The Rams have had their way with the Giants recently mainly because the Giant cornerbacks lacked the speed to keep up with Ike Bruce and Torry Holt, not to mention Faulk. Jason Sehorn has never lived up to the contract he signed after his two big seasons in 1997 and 1998, and has recently been relegated to a nickel back role. The two young sophomore Giant corners, Will Allen, drafted in round one, and William Peterson a third rounder out of Western Illinois U., site of Rams training camp, will have their work cut out for them against the Rams in the dome.
Neither Peterson, who started five games in his rookie season, nor Allen, with 12 starts his rookie year, are considered burners, as both are what you would call big corners at 6' 200, and 5'101 195 respectively, so again they will be trying to pound the Rams receivers after they catch the ball, mostly with their safeties back in cover two, like the Rams.
The previous Giants defensive coordinator, John Fox, is now Panthers head coach in Carolina, so there may be some difference in how the Giants attack the Rams "Greatest Show", under new coordinator Johnnie Lynn, who was the secondary coach under Fox the last five years. Still, the system is the same basically, and Strahan will still be the main key to the game for the Giants defense. The Giants will again have to cause a bunch of Rams turnovers to repeat what they did in 2001, when they caused three fumbles, one by Faulk, who almost never fumbles, when he was injured on a sweep. Garnes also picked off a Warner pass in the game, that wasn't over until Adam Archuleta jarred the ball loose from Jurevicius and Grant Wistrom caught it in mid air to seal a 15-14 Rams win.
The Rams must do a better job in the red zone than last week, or than last year against the Giants, when Jeff Wilkins was forced to kick three field goals after drives stalled on the 10, 15, and 7-yard lines. The Giants meanwhile will try to keep it close, and also try to avoid the 12 penalties for 125 yards that plagued them the last meeting between the two teams. Both teams could have lots of trouble running the ball, so look for lots of short passes to fill the air Sunday afternoon. Whatever team turns the short gains into long ones and can finish drives will probably win the game.
The talent certainly favors the home team, as will a loud crowd, but after the Super Bowl, no Rams fan will ever count any opponent out again, at least not this season. It's a must game for the Rams, and the attitude at Rams Park is more tense than a walk down main street in Kabul, Afghanistan. If the Rams don't win one soon, things could really explode in Earth City. With Mike Martz and his team already in "bunker mode", with closed practices and more secrecy than the CIA, who knows what an 0-2 or possibly even 0-3 record, as the Rams travel to Tampa next week to meet the Bucs on Monday Night Football, could do to this Rams run of greatness.