Week 16 Predictions: Giants at Rams

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings missed a third straight day of practice and has officially been ruled out of Sunday's game in St. Louis. Jennings has a sprained right ankle that he aggravated on the first play of last Sunday's game against Washington.

Earlier this season, Jennings missed four games with a knee sprain. This is the first game he'll miss due to the ankle injury, which he suffered in Week 13 in Jacksonville, but he was a non-factor in Week 14 in Tennessee and was injured on the first play of the game in Week 15.

Jennings said Friday that his hope is to return to practice next week and play in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles next week. In the meantime, rookie Andre Williams will make his sixth start of the season. Orleans Darkwa will serve as his backup, and Chris Ogbonnaya is likely to be active for the first time as a Giant.

The only other Giants player on the injury report this week was middle linebacker Jameel McClain, who missed Wednesday's practice with a knee injury but practiced Thursday and Friday. McClain is listed as probable and is expected to play.

Fantasy: Rashad Jennings

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19


Christopher Harris analyzes RB Rashad Jennings for Week 16.

Prediction: Rams will beat Giants

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
The New York Giants have been benefiting a great deal from the schedule this month. Their last three opponents have a combined record of 7-35, which makes it a bit of a disappointment that they haven’t won all three of the games. But they gave the game away in Jacksonville in Week 13, which is a reminder that they can lose to any team at any time.

The St. Louis Rams are 6-8, which is obviously no great shakes, but they have victories this year against Seattle, San Francisco and Denver, and they’ve allowed a total of 12 points in their last three games. The Rams play a level of defense the Giants have not encountered since the Week 11 game against the 49ers in which Eli Manning threw five interceptions.

Both of these defenses come into the game playing well, so I don’t expect a lot of points either way in this game. But I think the Rams will generate more pressure on Manning than he’s faced in recent games, and this is the week we remember that the Giants are a team with a lot of problems. Rams 16, Giants 10.

Holiday vibe at Giants practice Friday

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Earlier this year, when the New York Giants were struggling out of the gate, some of the players asked coach Tom Coughlin if they could play music at the beginning of Friday practices. Coughlin said yes, later explaining that he viewed relaxing some of his Friday practice rules as a way of showing the players the coaches were in their corner and believed they were trying hard. So it has become a Friday tradition -- loud music selected by the players and played during the stretching and warmup portion of practice.

This particular Friday being Dec. 19, this week's music selection had a holiday vibe. Here's the playlist that rolled out at the start of the portion of practice open to the media:

"Christmas in Hollis" -- Run DMC

"Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" -- Bruce Springsteen

"Santa Claus is Comin' to Town" -- The Jackson Five

"Jingle Bell Rock" -- Unknown

"Ludacrismas" -- Ludacris

And then it spun into a non-holiday Nelly tune and a couple of more usual selections.

These are the kinds of thing I figure at least some of you guys would like to know.

What Ben McAdoo has learned in his 'rookie' year

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- We've talked a lot about the development of the New York Giants' young players, and you know every case is different. Rookie Odell Beckham Jr. is a comet; third-year receiver Rueben Randle continues to frustrate. Second-year defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is having a dominant season, while second-year end Damontre Moore continues to make slow progress in understanding his responsibilities in the defense.

Lost in this, on occasion, is the fact that Giants offense coordinator Ben McAdoo is himself a rookie. Prior to this year, the 37-year-old McAdoo had never been a coordinator at any level and had never been an in-game playcaller. He's been both for the Giants this year. On Thursday, I asked him what he's learned this season and how he's different as a coach than he was a year ago.

"You don't fall into the trap where you think the system is everything," McAdoo said. "In tough times, you think about players, not plays. That's the first thing that comes to mind."

McAdoo said expanded exposure to a variety of viewpoints has helped educate him about his new job as he's done it. Having been a position coach (tight ends and quarterbacks) during his time in Green Bay, he's now in a position to hear a variety of opinions and perspectives as a coordinator overseeing several different position coaches. And the on-the-job lessons about in-game play calling have helped as well, as there's no better teacher than experience.

But I found it interesting, especially as we watch the offense run through the red-hot Beckham every week instead of a run game that has faltered, that McAdoo's first answer to the question of what he's learned is that there are times when you have to rely on your personnel rather than your plan or your scheme. Understanding that is the mark of a good coach, I believe.

"Simply, the best play may not be the best play because it doesn't get the person the ball who gives you the best chance to win the game," McAdoo said. "Getting the ball to the right guy at the right time is critical."

McAdoo stands as an interesting figure for the Giants in the coming years as a young, developing offensive coordinator the team views as a potential head coach. It should be fun and interesting to track and analyze his development along with that of the players.

Jason Pierre-Paul doesn't care about sacks

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jason Pierre-Paul is suddenly among the top 20 players in sacks in the NFL with 9.5, and has a chance to crack double digits for only the second time in his career -- in a contract year, no less.

Yet when asked Thursday if that numerical milestone would mean anything to him, Pierre-Paul's response was a tad surprising.

"Nope!" he said. "I'm just playing football, and I think I'm doing a great job of it."

[+] EnlargeJason Pierre-Paul
AP Photo/Bill KostrounJason Pierre-Paul has racked up six sacks in the Giants' past three games.
The stats certainly back Pierre-Paul up. He has six sacks in the Giants' past three games -- 1.5 in the loss to the Jaguars, two in the win over the Titans, and 2.5 in last week's victory over the Redskins. He's now tied for 15th in the league, with the Dolphins' Cameron Wake and the Bills' Jerry Hughes -- but he doesn't sound too excited about it.

"Way before my sacks went up I was playing good," Pierre-Paul said. "At the end of the day it’s all about numbers, but I was playing great before that."

Stats back up that statement, too. Pro Football Focus has Pierre-Paul rated the second-best 4-3 defensive end in the league, behind only Wake. And against the run, he's No. 1, by a large margin -- not too shabby for a guy known as a pass-rusher.

Suddenly, Pierre-Paul -- who's been a big disappointment the past two years -- looks like a player who will get a big contract this offseason. He has stated that he would like to stay with the Giants, but whether they'll pony up is very much in question.

Giants defensive coordinator Perry Fewell gushed about Pierre-Paul on Friday. "I just think JPP has turned it up a notch this second half of the season," Fewell said.

And the play Fewell was most impressed by last week wasn't even one of Pierre-Paul's sacks -- it was his chase-down of Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III on the final play of the first half, which caused Griffin to fumble and negated a Washington touchdown.

"Amazing. Absolutely amazing," Fewell said. "Because RG3 as a 4.4, 4.5 (40-yard dash) guy, JPP was on the right side of the defensive line -- it just showed you his desire to want to make that football play, and I think that’s what he has done over the last three or fours weeks. He's turned it up, his desire to make plays."

"I was in awe, I really was," Fewell added. "It was like, wow. The guy continues to amaze you."

Pierre-Paul isn't the only Giants defensive player to step up of late. The team as a whole has 22 sacks the past three weeks -- in fact, the Giants are the first team since the 1989 Vikings to record seven sacks in three straight games (credit ESPN Stats & Information).

Second-year player Johnathan Hankins is now up to seven sacks -- the fifth-most by a defensive tackle in the NFL. And rookie linebacker Devon Kennard has 4.5 -- all of them coming the past three weeks.

Pierre-Paul credited improved communication across the defensive line, when asked about the sack surge.

"We’ve had to do some different things," Fewell admitted, in regards to the increased pressure on opposing quarterbacks. But that's all we got -- when asked what has changed, Fewell's answer was short, and not so sweet.

"If I told you that I’d have to kill you," Fewell said, with a smile.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- During the first four games of this season, when he was sitting out with a hamstring injury, New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was hearing from fantasy football owners on Twitter.

"When I was hurt, I would see a lot of tweets telling me, 'I dropped you from my fantasy team,'" Beckham said Thursday. "That's on them, I guess."

Some are paying for it, and some are benefiting. Of all the teams in ESPN.com fantasy league championship games, 39 percent have Beckham on the roster. The only players with higher such percentages are Dallas running back DeMarco Murray (41 percent) and Pittsburgh running back Le'Veon Bell (40 percent).

But Beckham is not among those fantasy owners benefiting from his brilliant statistical run, because the Giants' rookie does not play fantasy football.

"It's just not my thing," Beckham said. "I don't have time to do substitutions or things like that. It's too time-consuming."

He said he has been taken aback by just what a huge deal fantasy football is to people, now that he's such a significant figure in the industry.

"I don't really pay much mind to it, but people talk about fantasy all the time," Beckham said. "It's definitely pretty crazy. I didn't expect people to be so into it. But now, being at a point where you can be picked up on a fantasy team, you can see what a big deal it is to people."

He says he still gets tweets from people asking whether they should start him in a given week.

"I'm not your team's coach. You do what you want to do," Beckham said. "I don't play football to play for somebody's fantasy team. This is what I do. This is my job. It's what I love."

Beckham: Need to finish strong

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. has played just 10 games, but his performance in those 10 games has thrust him into the discussion for the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year award.

It's a crowded field that includes strong first-year performances by fellow receivers such as Tampa Bay's Mike Evans, Carolina's Kelvin Benjamin and Miami's Jarvis Landry, who's a close friend and former college teammate of Beckham's. Dallas guard Zack Martin also could receive consideration for his strong performance, though it's tough for linemen who don't get individual stats to win such an award.

But Beckham, who has 71 catches for 972 yards and nine touchdowns since missing the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, insists he's trying not to think about such things.

"If they vote for me, I win it, and it would definitely be a tremendous honor," Beckham said. "It's in the back of your mind, but at the same time, we've got two games left and I've got to finish strong."

Beckham said if he had a vote, he'd vote for a pair of his former LSU teammates No. 1 and 2.

"Jarvis Landry," Beckham said. "And [Bengals running back] Jeremy Hill."

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Giants vs. Rams preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
video When: 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis TV: FOX

The St. Louis Rams and New York Giants have both been eliminated from playoff contention and neither enters Sunday's matchup with much to play for.

But neither team has looked like it is ready to close up shop for the rest of the season, either, which could make this at least a mildly interesting game for the football diehards.

ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano discuss Sunday's game:

Wagoner: Dan, I'm sure you're getting a lot of questions about Odell Beckham Jr., but let's be real, he's going to be the most exciting player on the field Sunday. What is it about him that's allowed him to have such success, and is he as fun to watch up close as he is from a distance?

Graziano: Nick, I don't want to overstate the case here. But what we're watching with Beckham on a weekly basis (a daily one, in fact, when you take into account his practice antics) is a player gifted with such raw athleticism that he stands out on a field whose other occupants are also world-class athletes. He's impressive in all facets. He runs great routes. He has great hands. He plays bigger than his 5-foot-11 size would indicate, because he has the ability to outjump defenders and locate the ball in the air before they do. He has the blazing speed you've seen. Really, from a raw talent standpoint, he's the total package. What he's doing is even more incredible due to the facts that he missed all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, and that he and Victor Cruz played only two games together. Eli Manning is targeting Beckham pretty much all the time, and it's working. Expect to see a lot of him.

The Rams' defense has allowed a total of 12 points over its past three games. What's behind the surge?

Wagoner: There are plenty of reasons for the surge, up to and including taking advantage of a bit of a break in the schedule in terms of opponents. But make no mistake: The Rams' defensive surge is real. They held the high-powered Broncos to seven points, the fewest since Peyton Manning took over at quarterback. The intangible part of it is the defense has finally gotten comfortable with Gregg Williams as coordinator and vice versa. Williams now knows the best way to deploy his players and they now know what is expected of them. That's manifested into a defense that's doing a bit of everything well. The Rams had a disappointing performance last week in stopping Arizona's run game, but their better efforts start with stopping the run. When the Rams stop the run consistently and force opponents into second- and third-and-long, their vaunted pass rush can be as good as advertised. It doesn't hurt that end Robert Quinn and tackle Aaron Donald form one of the most dynamic inside out duos in the league, either. But really, they're getting better performances across the board with the defense.

While we're on defense, I noticed that since Week 7, the Rams and Giants rank first and third in the league in sacks, respectively. What's been the cause of the uprising from New York's pass rush?

Graziano: The Giants had 19 sacks in their first 11 games of the season and have picked up 22 in their past three games. A lot of that has to do with their opponents -- Jacksonville, Tennessee and Washington. But in terms of what they're doing to take advantage of the matchups, they're getting contributions from all over. Jason Pierre-Paul has six sacks in those three games, but rookie defensive end Kerry Wynn is making a contribution. Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard, who was NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 14, has been a factor in the pass rush. Second-year defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is up to seven sacks for the season. The Giants are getting a variety of help in the pass rush, which is especially important with defensive ends Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers among the 22 Giants currently on injured reserve. They'll blitz a linebacker or a safety or a cornerback in key times. Basically, since the schedule turned around for them, they've been taking advantage of their matchups at a high level and in a variety of ways.

I know the quarterback situation has been a muddle, but why do the Rams still have so many unanswered questions at the other offensive skill positions? Receiver and running back?

Wagoner: Well, I think they've at least finally settled on Tre Mason as their primary ball carrier for the future, though I suppose we thought the same thing last year at this time with Zac Stacy. Mason's not getting the vast majority of the snaps right now because he's still not up to speed in pass protection, but if and when that happens, his snap count will only increase. In the meantime, he's the first option running the ball and Benny Cunningham is next in line to handle the dirty work. I think Mason will be the main guy going forward, but judging the Rams' recent knack for drafting running backs earlier than expected, maybe that should be considered a year-to-year proposition until they go with the same guy for two consecutive seasons. At receiver, they seem to have finally settled into using Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. If Brian Quick comes back from a devastating shoulder injury and they re-sign Britt, they should be pretty solid. I'd argue they could still use a true No. 1 guy like the Giants have with Beckham, but it's not the pressing need it was coming into the season. They just need to find someone who can more consistently get them the ball.

Sticking to quarterbacks, what do you make of Eli Manning at this point in his career? He's obviously had great success but also some clunkers. With so few decent quarterbacks around, there's no way the Giants would look elsewhere at that position, is there?

Graziano: No way. Other than the horrible five-interception game against the 49ers in Week 11, Manning has operated the new offense smoothly and efficiently in the first year under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. He's protecting the ball well, making good decisions, relying on shorter, higher-percentage stuff than he did earlier in his career. Considering they have four wide receivers and three running backs on injured reserve, and that the offensive line has struggled all year to protect him, I think Manning's doing fine and is among the very least of their problems.

As for quarterback, what do you expect them to do this offseason? Bring back Bradford? Move up in the draft? What?

Wagoner: At this point, the expectation remains that the Rams will try to bring Sam Bradford back at a reduced rate with incentives built in, and spend a high draft pick (first three rounds) on a quarterback. I've been writing that for the past month or so and I stand by the assertion until I hear something different. Of course, that still depends on how big the pay cut would be and whether Bradford's representation wants to explore the market. Even with his injury issues, he could become a hot commodity in such a quarterback-needy market. Moving up sounds good on paper, but I'm not sure they have the ammunition or the desire to make such a move. They could also look to bring Shaun Hill back as a backup option for Bradford and/or the new draft pick. Either way, it's the one thing holding this team back from being a legitimate playoff contender. The only problem is that it's also the most difficult problem to fix.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Odell Beckham Jr. is so good, he might need only three-quarters of a season to win the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Beckham is now the favorite to win the award at 1-2, according to odds released by Bovada on Wednesday. Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans is the second choice at 2-1, followed by Panthers wideout Kelvin Benjamin (7-1) and Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (25-1).

The Giants' young phenom was not available in the locker room after practice Wednesday, but veteran teammate Antrel Rolle was asked whether Beckham should win the award.

"There's no doubt about it," Rolle said. "There's been some rookies out there obviously making some splash -- Mike Evans, a couple other names. But what Odell has done in a short period of time -- obviously he battled some injuries at the beginning of the year, but the sky's the limit for this guy. I think what he's done for this team and just for the league itself has been phenomenal, and I'm not just saying that because he's my teammate."

"Rookie of the Year, Pro Bowl, you name it -- I definitely put him up there right now with the elite receivers in this league," Rolle added.

Despite missing the entire preseason and the first four games of the regular season with a hamstring injury, Beckham has 71 catches for 972 yards and nine touchdowns in 10 games.

Evans, in three more games, has fewer catches (59) and yards (948), and just two more touchdowns (11).

Beckham's per-game averages of 7.1 receptions, 97.2 receiving yards and 0.9 touchdowns are the highest among rookies in a season dating to 2001, per ESPN Stats & Information.

"He's been playing at a high level these last few weeks," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Hopefully he can continue to make plays for us."

Manning was a little more diplomatic when asked about Beckham's Rookie of the Year candidacy.

"I haven’t seen all the other performances, so I’m probably not qualified to give that answer," Manning said. "[Beckham's] played very strong and played well for us, and so definitely should be in contention, I would think."

Beckham already owns the Giants' record for receiving yards by a rookie, breaking Jeremy Shockey's record of 894 yards. Barring injury, he almost certainly will surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the season this Sunday in St. Louis, but the Rams' defense should pose a challenge -- they haven't given up a touchdown the past three weeks and are ranked 10th in the NFL against the pass (232.4 yards allowed per game).

"I think there’s a physical challenge every week for the number of roles that [Beckham] plays," coach Tom Coughlin said. "But this certainly will be one, and each week he grows and develops and he sees new things, and that may very well be the case this week."

The best news of all might be that, despite all the attention Beckham is getting, he hasn't developed a swelled head, according to his quarterback.

"No, I think he’s done a good job," Manning said. "He practices hard. He does a lot of things correctly. ... He’s done everything the right way."

Antrel Rolle: Giants 'a great fit'

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- In the spring of 2010, safety Antrel Rolle signed a five-year, $37.1 million free-agent contract with the New York Giants. This is the NFL, where contracts are by definition not guaranteed and very few players see the end of theirs.

Rolle is an exception. With two games left in his fifth Giants season, he has played every single game of the contract and made every single dollar it promised. He has not taken a pay cut, nor has that been asked of him. This is a significant point of pride for Rolle. The rarity of a player in the modern NFL completing a multiyear free-agent contract without alteration is not lost on the 32-year-old safety.

"You've got to work your ass off to do that," Rolle said Wednesday.

Rolle was in an introspective mood following Wednesday's practice and he held forth on his own situation. He said he'd like to play three more years, no more and no less, and that his strong preference is to return to the Giants.

"This is a great fit," said Rolle, who's won a Super Bowl title and been elected a team captain during his time with the Giants. "I would love to finish my career here. I want to be with JPP [Jason Pierre-Paul] and [Odell] Beckham, and I can't wait to see [Victor] Cruz come back. These are my brothers. This is where I want to be."

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