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New York Giants Competitive Edge Week 6: Defense/Special Teams vs. Rams Offense/Special Teams

How well does the New York Giants defense and special teams units stack up against the Los Angeles Rams? Olivier Dumont breaks it all down.

With the Giants offense so banged up, the pressing need for the defense and special teams to step up and produce game-changing moments has grown substantially bigger by the week.

Defensively, the Giants were dealt a beating against the Dallas Cowboys last week and found it difficult to muster more turnovers beyond the batted interception and botched snap fumble recovery they were able to lay their hands on. 

On special teams, it hasn’t been a whole lot better. Despite a sound showing from kicker Graham Gano and the return game throughout these first five games, the Giants special teams has struggled to generate the sparks and momentum-shifting plays this offense could benefit from.

This week, both units take on a very talented Los Angeles Rams offense and special teams unit that has proven to be entirely instrumental to their 4-1 start. With the odds heavily in favor of the Rams to capture the win, the Giants will need their very best from their defense and specials to pull off the improbable upset.

Rams Pass Offense

  • Quarterback (Matthew Stafford)
  • Running Backs (Darrell Henderson Jr., Sony Michel)
  • Tight Ends (Tyler Higbee)
  • Wide Receivers (Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, Van Jefferson, DeSean Jackson)
  • Offensive Line (LT Andrew Whitworth, RT Rob Havenstein, RG Austin Corbett, OC Brian Allen, LG David Edwards)

Unlike the Giants passing offense depleted by injuries, the Rams passing offense is almost at full strength. Currently ranked as the second-best passing offense in the league (310.2 yards/game), the Rams are also third in passer rating (113.2) and fourth in passing touchdowns (12).

Spearheading this group’s success has been their new veteran quarterback, Matthew Stafford. Despite some great seasons over his 12-year tenure in Detroit in which he threw for 4,000+ yards eight times (which included a 2011 performance that consisted of 5,038 yards and 41 touchdowns), his first season in Los Angeles has granted him the opportunity to evolve into an elite, new few version of himself. He has proven to be extremely effective with this offense.

In five games this season, Stafford has posted career-high numbers in completion percentage (68.0), yards per completion (13.6), passer rating (113.2), and sack percentage (2.3). He has taken advantage of a better pocket by executing clean, pinpoint passes to his receivers for large gains.

But a big part of the career-high success that Stafford is having with the Rams is also connected to the handful of influential components he has now at his disposal that he didn’t always have in Detroit.

This includes a strong group of offensive linemen that ranks in the top ten in the league in pass-blocking efficiency (87.7). This core group of pass blockers is a resilient bunch that is filled with talent.

If quarterback Tom Brady is the ageless wonder for his position, tackle Andrew Whitworth has to be the ageless wonder among offensive linemen. The 39-year-old, two-time All-Pro left tackle has been a rock for this unit since arriving in LA in 2017, and he has gotten better since then.

Over his last two seasons, Whitworth only conceded two sacks and decreased his total pressures allowed from 29 in 2019 to 16 in 2020 despite allowing 34 pressures and five sacks in 2018. Although he had a bit of a slower start to his 2021 campaign (which included conceding a sack against the Colts in Week 2), Whitworth has been lights-out over these last two weeks, only allowing a single pressure over that period.

What’s also been so game-changing for Stafford is the versatile array of receiving weapons with which he’s had to work. Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and DeSean Jackson make for one deadly trio that brings lightning quickness, exceptional route running, and a knack for extending plays for big gains.

Kupp has been on pace to have one of his best seasons yet, ranking third in the league in receiving yards (523), second in touchdown receptions (5), and sixth in yards after the catch (203).

Add in the likes of a tall, athletic, red zone threat in Tyler Higbee, and the Rams pass offense has just about all the tools they need to get the job done on Sunday.

Giants Pass Defense

Pass Coverage

  • Cornerbacks (James Bradberry, Adoree’ Jackson, Darnay Holmes, Josh Jackson, Sam Beal)
  • Safeties (Jabril Peppers, Logan Ryan, Julian Love, Xavier McKinney)

Five weeks in, and this Giants pass coverage has not shown any improvement in containing opposing quarterbacks. Following last week's showing that saw Dak Prescott throw for 302 yards and three touchdowns on the day, this Giants pass defense is now dead last in the league in opponent completion percentage (74 percent) and is 23rd in passing yards per game allowed (270.2/game).

From not staying in front of their opposing receivers to conceding too much cushion to exhibiting lapses in chemistry amongst themselves, this group has struggled tremendously with being more aggressive and disruptive in coverage. It has allowed 18 big-play pass completions of 20+ yards and three of 40+ yards, and the unit has missed out on crucial turnover opportunities, leading the league with five dropped interceptions.

At the cornerback position, the Giants defense has leaned quite heavily on both James Bradberry and Adoree' Jackson, each tasked every game with keeping the opposing teams’ best wide receivers in check. But to the surprise of many, both have fallen below expectations so far this season.

Against Dallas last week, Bradberry allowed a season-high 81 yards on six targets, including a 49-yard touchdown pass to CeeDee Lamb on a play in which he might have been expecting help from safety Julian Love.

Outside of maintaining a decent opponent reception percentage over his first five games (74.2), this was the third game this season Bradberry allowed a passer rating of 125 or higher. Considering he was a Pro Bowler last year, that’s not a good sign.

Jackson leads the team in opponent reception percentage (68.8 percent) and has only allowed one passing touchdown this season, that in Week 2. That said, this is also the same cornerback who conceded 88 yards through the air against Dallas last week, 25 of which came after the catch.

Moreover, Jackson has yet to hold opponents to under 75 percent receiving conversions since Week 2 of this season. Though the talent and skill are all there, consistency has been tricky to come by for Jackson.

When it comes to the Giants safeties, the good news is that Jabrill Peppers could make his return this week after sitting out with a hamstring injury against the Cowboys. The bad news is that both he and Logan Ryan have struggled in coverage this season, with Ryan yielding three receptions on all three targets against him last week.

Despite the struggles this unit has endured, keep an eye on safety Xavier McKinney. After receiving a season-high in snaps (78) and being targeted for a season-high four passes, McKinney only allowed two to be completed for 30 yards and five yards after the catch. This talented youngster has shown plenty of signs of life this year and continues to be a talent on the rise.

Pass Rush

  • Defensive Line (Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Johnson, Danny Shelton)
  • Edge (Lorenzo Carter, Azeez Ojulari, Oshane Ximines)
  • Safeties (Jabril Peppers, Logan Ryan)

What’s promising about this Giants pass rush is that bursts of their potential have been on display throughout the season so far.

But what’s concerning about this unit is that the output hasn’t been enough, and they’ve grappled with maintaining a solid level of consistency. Placing second to last in the league in sacks (8), the Giants pass rush has undoubtedly played a role in the struggles this pass defense has dealt with.

Up front are Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence II, and Austin Johnson, a powerful, sturdy three-headed monster that has combined for 31 pressures and 4.5 sacks so far this season.

Despite such, though, Williams hasn’t recorded more than two pressures per game since Week 1; Lawrence has yet to record his first sack of the season and has only two pressures over the last two weeks. Johnson has only three pressures to account for since Week 1.

Again, the spurts have been there, but the production has been on a downward trend, and that has to improve if this pass defense wants to succeed.

It hasn’t been a whole lot better off the edge. Rookie Azeez Ojulari has had an impressive rookie campaign so far, gathering already three sacks and ten pressures in five games. But Lorenzo Carter has been quiet this season with only two pressures to account for in his last three games. Even Oshane Ximines, who’s known for his pass-rushing talent, has struggled to provide a spark off the edge.

The positive upside with this pass rush is the tenacity and quickness Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan provide on blitz packages from the line of scrimmage. Though their involvement hasn’t been frequent, both could pose problems should they be called on to do so.

Competitive Edge: Rams

When you have a pass defense that is last in the league in opponent completion percentage and second to last in sacks, it’s going to be hard to give them the competitive edge.

It also doesn’t help their cause when they also just so happen to be playing the second-best passing offense in the league who has a quarterback throwing a career-high in completion percentage. As a result, the competitive advantage lies in heavy favor for the Rams passing offense.

What makes this Rams pass attack so good is really how well-balanced they are and how well Stafford has gravitated to the talent around him.

Though Stafford only averages 2.57 seconds to throw in the pocket, it’s much better than the career average of 2.40 he had over his time with the Lions, and he’s taken full advantage of that.

Alongside Whitworth, center Brian Allen and right tackle Rob Havenstein have been robust with pass blocking. Ever since he allowed a sack in Week 1, Allen only allowed three pressures over the next four weeks, while Havenstein has maintained a 97.2% pass-blocking efficiency rating and has not conceded a sack since Week 3.

The versatility at the wide receiver position could prove to be a tough challenge for this Giants pass defense to control. Woods’ speed downfield and strong hands led him to run all over Seattle’s pass defense last week, gathering 150 yards on 12 receptions.

Toss in Jackson, the former Giants deep-threat foe who’s currently averaging 30.7 yards per reception, and this Rams passing offense has all the playmakers it needs to secure a big win on Sunday.

Rams Run Offense

  • Running Backs (Darrell Henderson, Sony Michel)
  • Tight Ends (Tyler Higbee, Johnny Mundt)
  • Offensive Line (LT Andrew Whitworth, RT Rob Havenstein, RG Austin Corbett, OC Brian Allen, LG David Edwards)

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When you have a passing offense that is as hot and successful as the Rams, it doesn’t make much sense to tap into a run game that’s been nearly the polar opposite.

Ranking 23rd in rushing yards per game (98.0) and 14th in attempts (128), this Rams rushing attack has just a 3.8 yards-per-carry average to show for despite the solid workload.

Aside from this concern, the Rams have some strong players on this unit whose success has fallen under the radar this season. The first to come to mind is that of Darrell Henderson. Henderson, now in his third season, has fulfilled his potential.

Posting 147 yards on 39 attempts with a 3.8 yards-per-carry average in 2019, Henderson went on to rush for 624 yards and five touchdowns on 138 attempts with 4.5 yards-per-carry last season.

This year, he’s already collected 294 yards and three touchdowns on just 60 attempts with a career-high 4.9 yards per attempt. From his bullet-like speed to his downhill power, Henderson’s talent out of the backfield could cause problems on Sunday.

To complement him in the running game, the Rams acquired Sony Michel via trade with New England. Though Michel had some good seasons as a Patriot, his transition to his new team hasn’t been so smooth.

In 45 attempts, Michel has 163 yards and one touchdown with just a 3.4 yards-per-carry average to account for. To make matters worse, Michel conceded a costly fumble in Week 4 against the Cardinals to set up their third touchdown of the game.

Giants Run Defense

  • Defensive Line (Leonard Williams, Dexter Lawrence, Austin Johnson, Danny Shelton)
  • Edge (Lorenzo Carter, Azeez Ojulari, Oshane Ximines, Quincy Roche)
  • Linebackers (Tae Crowder, Reggie Ragland, Carter Coughlin)

The Giants are currently 27th in the league in rushing yards allowed (138.4). They are coming off two horrendous performances in Weeks 4 and 5, in which, after yielding a total of 170 yards against the Saints, the Giants allowed the Cowboys to run for 201 yards the very next week.

Much like the Giants pass rush, the run-stopping talent has struggled. Entering this game, the Giants run defense have found it challenging to be more intrusive and disruptive at the right time.

One major area of concern is that this unit tends to allow run plays to develop before attempting to break through in stopping the rush attempt, all too often allowing significant gains to occur as a result.

Until they manage to hold running backs at the line of scrimmage or catch them in their backfield on a more regular basis, the Giants run defense will continue to struggle to keep opposing running backs at bay.

Competitive Edge: Rams

In these past two weeks, this Giants run defense was up against two of the best offensive lines in the league that just so happened to be protecting two of the best running backs in Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliot.

However, when a run defense allows an opponent average of 4.7 yards-per-carry and has only managed to force just three fumbles, the concerns for this group are far more significant than these last two performances.

The Rams take a slight edge in this showdown and for a few keys reasons. First off, having a passing offense as good as the Rams alleviates the pressure and microscope on the run game, which is significant because that opens a lot more space for running backs to exploit and take advantage of.

In addition, Henderson is an exceptional back that knows how to maximize every attempt he gets. Similarly to that of Cowboys running back Tony Pollard, Henderson, who is coming off a season-high performance of 51 yards after contact last week, has a very sharp eye when making the right reads and bursting through gaps when they’re open, using his excellent agility to elude tacklers and extend his runs.

Giants Special Teams: Kicking & Return Game

  • Kicker (Graham Gano)
  • Kickoff Returner (C.J. Board)
  • Punt Returner (Jabril Peppers/C.J. Board)

The special teams kicking and return game for the Giants has been mostly solid this season. Though Graham Gano has missed two of his last four field-goal attempts, he’s still maintaining a good field goal percentage of 84.6 and is perfect on the year in extra points.

Although the return game has had its share of inconsistencies, both Board and Peppers have been effective with the few opportunities they’ve received. Just last week, Board took off for a total of 54 yards on just two kick return attempts, with one going as long as 33 yards.

Despite only receiving seven kick return attempts this year, the Giants have managed to climb their way into the Top 10 in average kick return yards per attempt (23.0), making the most out of the few chances they’ve received so far.

As for their punt return game, the Giants are Top 5 in the league in return yards per attempt (11.3) and boast the third-longest punt return of the season, which went for 26 yards against the Saints.

With Peppers aiming to be back in uniform this Sunday, beware of this underrated Giants special teams attack and the impact they could impose against the Rams.

Rams Special Teams: Punting & Return Coverage

  • Punter (Johnny Hekker)

The Rams special teams punting and coverage unit is a bit of a mixed bag. Front and center of the success this group has achieved is one of the better punters in the league in Johnny Hekker.

Despite only mustering a gross per punt average of 42.1 yards on 13 attempts, Hekker is tied in fourth with punts placed inside the 20-yard line (9) and is supported by a coverage team that is eighth in punt yards per return allowed (6.7).

Despite this coverage team's success against punt returners, they haven’t found the same success against kick returners. Ranking ninth in the league in kick returns yards allowed per attempt (25.0), this Rams special teams unit has struggled to find a way to be more effective in limiting big chunks of returns, and it’s showed.

From a Week 1 performance against the Bears that consisted of allowing four kick return attempts to go for a total of 106 yards (which included a 50-yard return) to allowing the Seahawks to gather 46 yards on two attempts last week, this group hasn’t found it easy to slow down opposing kick returners.

Competitive Edge: Giants

This clash has the making of a close one, but the Giants will have the competitive edge in this matchup and for a couple of reasons.

For starters, even with his recent misses, Gano is tied in second for field goals made (11) and has the cool and collected feel to nail them when they matter most.

But the biggest tiebreaker this week has to be the threat Board presents with his skillset as a returner. Board, with his vertical speed and vision, could find a favorable matchup against the Rams porous special teams coverage this week.

Rams Special Teams: Kicking & Return Game

  • Kicker (Matt Gay)
  • Kickoff Returner (Tutu Atwell)
  • Punt Returner (Cooper Kupp)

At the forefront of this special teams attack is kicker Matt Gay who’s having his best year yet. He's missed one field goal on 11 attempts, and one extra point on 16 tries this season.

The Rams return unit has been relatively quiet. With a combined total of only 12 return attempts between kickoffs and punts, this group hasn’t been that active through their first five games.

With that said, even when they have, the Rams have struggled to make the most out of their return attempts.

In seven kick returns, the Rams have only averaged 20.4 yards. And on punts, they are near the bottom of the league with a 4.8-yard average on five attempts. If they want to put their offense in better field goal positions, this will need to change.

Giants Special Teams: Punting & Return Coverage

  • Punter (Riley Dixon)

As the weeks move on, the 61-yard punt Riley Dixon managed to kick against Denver in Week 1 is starting to feel like a distant memory. Dixon has struggled with his consistency in directional kicking and ball placement since.

The Giants punt coverage unit hasn’t been consistent either. The unit is currently ranked in the top-10 league-wide for most punt return yards allowed per attempt (10.6) and gave up a 17-yard return from Lamb last week.

However, aside from a shaky showing against Washington’s kick return unit in Week 2, this Giants coverage team has been pretty sturdy throughout and has kept opposing teams to only 19.2 yards per kickoff return attempt.

With Keion Crossen and Gary Brightwell spearheading the success of this unit--they have a combined seven special teams tackles between them--this special teams coverage could be in store for an eventful day on Sunday.

Competitive Edge: Giants

Though Gay has been a gem for this Rams special teams attack, the unproductiveness of their return unit has been quite concerning and hasn’t played a role in setting up their offense in good field position.

Despite facing a Giants special teams unit that’s been a bit shaky with containing punt returners, the Giants coverage team has proven to be quite effective at limiting lengthy gains across the board and have great tacklers at their disposal to implement that effectively. 


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