RAMS (5-2) VS. GI­ANTS (1-6)


USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - LEADING OFF - Andy Fried­lan­der

An­nounc­ers: Kenny Al­bert, Ronde Bar­ber, Kristina Pink About the Rams: An un­ex­pect­edly high­scor­ing of­fense has re­ceived much of the pub­lic­ity through the Rams’ sur­pris­ingly strong start — their best start since 2003 — but lately the de­fense has risen to a cham­pi­onship level. In its last three games, Los An­ge­les has al­lowed 275.3 yards and 11 points per game while record­ing 11 sacks and five in­ter­cep­tions. The Rams have al­lowed fewer than 20 points in all three of those games, cul­mi­nat­ing in a dom­i­nat­ing shutout of Ari­zona to take them into their bye week.

About the Gi­ants: The Gi­ants come out of their bye week know­ing that, for all in­tents and pur­poses, their sea­son is over. And the sto­ry­lines float­ing around are the ones fa­mil­iar to los­ing teams — who’s to blame (GM

Jerry Reese fell on that grenade, but he surely has plenty of com­pany), a coach ( Ben Mc

Adoo) on the hot seat and whether to bench aging QB Eli Man­ning in fa­vor of third-round draft choice Davis Webb. The of­fense has been a dis­as­ter all sea­son, rank­ing a dis­mal 30th in scor­ing at 16.0 points per game, and a de­fense fea­tur­ing tal­ent such as DT Da­mon Har­ri­son, DE Ja­son Pierre-Paul, CB Jano

ris Jenk­ins and S Lan­don Collins hasn’t been nearly strong enough to make up for it. Matchup to watch: Rams DE Aaron Don­ald vs. Gi­ants LT Ereck Flow­ers. Both were first-round draft choices who be­came starters as rook­ies, but that’s where the sim­i­lar­i­ties end. Don­ald has grown into an of­ten dom­i­nant force as a pass rusher and run­stop­per, while Flow­ers has strug­gled from Day 1 and is still a weak link on a weak line. Player to watch: Rams RB Todd Gur­ley. QB Jared Goff has earned praise for his im­proved play, but Gur­ley still is the key to the L.A. of­fense. He has been as pro­duc­tive as any player in the league this sea­son — he en­tered his off week ranked No. 1 in touch­downs (8) and scor­ing for a non-kicker (48 points) and No. 2 in yards from scrim­mage (131.4 per game), and he has rushed for more than 100 yards in four of his last five games. Num­ber crunch­ing: 10.6. Com­bine the league’s sec­ond-high­est-scor­ing of­fense en­ter­ing the week — 30.3 points per game — with a de­fense that al­lows less than 20 points per game and what do you get? A 10.6 points-pergame av­er­age mar­gin of vic­tory, the NFL’s largest. KEYS TO THE GAME 1. Greg the leg: For such a high-scor­ing team, the Rams score sur­pris­ingly few touch­downs — 17, to be ex­act, tied for 10th most. Their to­tals are bol­stered by the league’s most pro­lific kicker. Greg Zuer­lein, who leads the NFL with 84 points, has made 21 of 22 field goal at­tempts, in­clud­ing 10-for-10 from 40 yards and longer. 2. More spe­cial: Zuer­lein isn’t all there is to the Rams’ spe­cial teams. KR Pharoh Cooper is sec­ond in the league at 30.9 yards per re­turn and has a TD. The punt-cov­er­age team ranks No. 2, al­low­ing a mere 3.7 yards per re­turn. As a re­sult, the Rams’ av­er­age start­ing po­si­tion of the 32-yard line is the NFL’s best. 3. Give the kid some help: Rookie TE Evan En­gram has be­come a true play­maker for the Gi­ants – but he’s the only one. Since the in­juries to WRs Odell Beck­ham Jr., Ster­ling Shep­ard and Bran­don Mar­shall, no one else has stepped for­ward. 4. Don’t quit: Last week Reese said it’s not time to sit Man­ning be­cause “hope­fully we can turn our sea­son around.” While that isn’t likely, it’s im­por­tant for the Gi­ants to keep the sea­son from be­com­ing a death march.

Rams’ Aaron Don­ald JAE C. HONG, AP

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