Giants have focus solely on stopping Rams today

Sunday, October 2, 2005

New York has matched St. Louis' 2-1 record despite distractions in its first three games.

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Four weeks into the season, the New York Giants are ready for some football. Period.

Off-field distractions marked the first three weeks, from the anniversary of Sept. 11 to the New Orleans Saints' home-away-from-home game at Giants Stadium to quarterback Eli Manning's first visit to San Diego since jilting the Chargers on draft day last year.

Football will be the sole focus on Sunday when the Giants face the St. Louis Rams in a matchup of 2-1 teams trying to forge an identity in the young season.

"It's always about football, no matter what. But this is the first game back to a normal preparation," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "So hopefully we get ourselves focused in on this particular week."

The Giants are eager to erase the memory of a 45-23 drubbing at the hands of San Diego last weekend, a game in which their defense looked confused.

The Rams, meanwhile, are coming off close victories against Arizona and Tennessee after a 28-25 opening loss to a San Francisco team that has been outscored 76-34 in two games since.

The lone positive for the Giants last week was Manning's best performance as a pro -- 24-for-41, 352 yards, two touchdowns -- accomplished in a stadium full of screaming fans calling for his scalp. He also demonstrated calm in the face of repeated blitzing, though he said he expects a different type of challenge from the Rams.

"Their front four is fast and they get good pressure on the quarterback without doing a whole lot of blitzing," Manning said. "They drop a lot of people in coverage where there are not a whole lot of lanes. So we have to have a good plan to protect the front and block them up and get the ball out quick."

The Giants' defense was dealt a blow when starting cornerback William Peterson was diagnosed with a lower back injury that could force him to miss the rest of the season. Other changes were anticipated in the starting lineup after the unit allowed 485 yards in the San Diego game.

"The Rams have a great offense. It's going to be a great test for us," said Giants linebacker Carlos Emmons.

Whoever lines up today will be tested by the Rams' passing attack, led by the combination of Marc Bulger to Torry Holt that has already produced 23 receptions for a league-best 358 yards and two touchdowns. Isaac Bruce, the NFL's all-time active leader in yards receiving with 11,889, hyperextended his left big toe last week against Tennessee and is doubtful. Third-year pro Kevin Curtis is second behind Holt with 14 receptions for 148 yards.

The Rams have had difficulty protecting Bulger this season, allowing 15 sacks in three games.

Part of the problem could stem from an unsettled situation at right tackle, where Rex Tucker injured his right calf in the opener and was replaced by Blaine Saipaia. Rookie Alex Barron, the Rams' first-round draft pick out of Florida State, is scheduled to replace Saipaia on today.

Barron's first assignment: block Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, the NFL's all-time sacks leader among active players. Last week, Strahan and the rest of the Giants were held without a sack against San Diego.

"That's not a good matchup for him this week to have his first start against Strahan, obviously," said Rams coach Mike Martz. "So we'll have to do something to help him or we are just going to play the game and do what we can."

Rams running back Steven Jackson, who leads the team with 201 yards rushing, is questionable with a chest injury.

Backup Marshall Faulk has rushed only 12 times for 77 yards, but still possesses the speed and slashing ability that made him one of the NFL's best backs in his prime, according to Martz.

"The main issue is durability for him at his age now," said Martz. "Speed is not the issue, his weight is down, he's playing as well as he's ever played, but he's got some wear and tear on those knees. To ask him to carry the load, he knows it's not going to be good for him physically. This will allow us to use both of them most effectively and hopefully, potentially, extend his career."

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