The St. Louis Rams will play their first game on Monday Night Football since Dec. 11, 2006 when they meet the New York Giants. That season the Rams finished .500 -- and it's been all downhill since. Why are they on prime time now? Once you hit rock bottom in the NFL -- which the Rams did for three seasons -- you have no choice but to rebuild with high draft picks. For the most part, the Rams have done that. They are young and upcoming. And their coach, Steve Spagnuolo, as everyone in the New York area knows, was a defensive coordinator for the Giants in 2007 and 2008. Right now, it might not be a marquee battle, but it is a nice match up and a test for both teams.
St. Louis enters Week 2 with a banged-up lineup, most notably with star running back Steven Jackson a game-time decision after straining his quad in Week 1 and not practicing all week.
For those that are unfamiliar with the Rams, let's take a look at the weaknesses/strengths of their defense, offense and special teams.
Defense: There have been reports that the Giants will run the ball more in Week 2. The Rams gave up 236 rushing yards against the Eagles, but for three quarters they were pretty much kept in check, and Michael Vick had 97 of them. Let's just say this was a tough game for a young defense to begin its season against, and many plays that Vick created because of his legs. St. Louis will not be a top-tier defense against the run, but they are much better at run defense than pass defense. If the Giants want to win this game, I'd say a key would be to target the Rams' less-than-stellar corners. Their cover guys are decent, but a downfield playmaker like Hakeem Nicks could eat them alive.
The Rams excel on defense when they get pressure on the quarterback, which is a Spagnuolo specialty. Their biggest assets lie on their defensive line, but they'll give Eli Manning blitzes from all over. Chris Long had 8.5 sacks last year, has one this year, and has become a beast on the left.-end of the defense. The other defensive end, James Hall, who is 34, had a career-high 10.5 sacks last season because of how defenses had to defend Long. Rams' first-round pick, Robert Quinn, who was inactive in Week 1, will debut this week. He is a highly-athletic, explosive pass-rushing defensive end who will look to make an impression in his first regular-season game.
James Laurinaitis is a standout middle linebacker and captain of the defense. A tackling machine, the 24-year-old has had 120 and 114 tackles over his past two seasons. He will be busy on Monday.
Offense: The addition of Josh McDaniels as offensive coordinator was a great move by the Rams because he's creative and will maximize the team's offensive potential -- that is, if the receivers can catch the ball and the line can give young gunslinger Sam Bradford some time. In the last game, Bradford was sacked four times, and his receivers dropped at least a half-dozen passes.
For the most part, the Rams have a very solid offensive line. But they will have their hands full with the pass-rushers -- especially Justin Tuck -- the Giants employ. Luckily for the Rams, tight end Michael Hoomanawanui will return this week, and he could help with blocking responsibilities.
With or without Jackson in the lineup, I believe the Giants will make Bradford -- and his receivers -- beat them. Jackson is the team's most dangerous offensive weapon on the ground and in the air, so missing him will leave a huge void. But, Cadillac Williams had 91 yards on 19 carries as the primary runner after Jackson got hurt in the first quarter, and I doubt the Rams will shy away from keeping New York's defense honest if their No. 1 weapon is out.
For the Rams, the game will come down to how their receivers fare against the Giants' secondary. Bradford has the ability to move an offense and make all the throws. Last season -- and in Week 1 this year -- the Rams' problem was that they had no deep threat, too many dropped balls and just too much inconsistency. Danny Amendola's dislocated elbow leaves rookie Greg Salas in the slot. 2011 second-round pick Lance Kendricks had a rough game this past week, but is very athletic and could create mismatches in the secondary. The coaching staff also loves him. Wide receiver Danario Alexander is expected to be active this week, and he's proven to be a big play maker ... when he's healthy. Mike Sims-Walker had one catch in Week 1, but he was also matched up with some stout Eagles' cover corners. Brandon Gibson has decent potential, but has been so inconsistent over the two seasons. Like I said ... the Rams have receivers in numbers, just nobody has stood out, yet.
Special Teams: Rams have a very good kicker in Dhani Jones, and a pretty reliable field goal kicker (with a big leg) in Josh Brown. Amendola normally handled punt-return duties, but now both punt return and kickoff returns could fall to Jerious Norwood, or newly-signed Quinn Porter.
Verdict: Ultimately, the Rams win because their coaches get the most out of a roster that doesn't have a lot of star names. Ken Flajole has done a good job with the defense, McDaniels is an offensive wizard and Spagnuolo comes from the Tom Coughlin mode and his team mirrors his intensity.
The Rams will struggle if this game turns into a shootout -- it's just not how their offense is made. They have a steady defense, with excellent pass rushers. Without Jackson, their offense is marginal, and they will need to get yards from Williams and Norwood.If there is no run game, they will not win. They don't have a clear-cut game-changer at wide receiver, but they have a nice group of young players with potential. They just need to catch the ball. My bet is the team shrugs off the forgetful loss they took in Week 1, they execute better and come out with a much better performance in Week 2.