The NFL is holding the second of three London-based games this season on Sunday morning at Twickenham Stadium, usually home of the English rugby team. This weekend, however, it will be the New York Giants and Los Angeles Rams playing on the field, or pitch if you prefer.
The Giants put an end to their three-game losing streak with a 27-23 home win over the Ravens last week. Eli Manning threw for more than 400 yards and Odell Beckham Jr. finished with a career-high 222 receiving yards (and two touchdowns) in the victory, which evened New York’s record at 3-3.
The Rams enter with the same record, yet come into the matchup on a two-game skid after losing a close game to the Lions a week ago. Both teams will look to climb above .500 and stay close to their respective division leaders with a win across the pond.
New York vs. Los Angeles (London)
Kickoff: Sunday, Oct. 22 at 9:30 a.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Spread: New York -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. New York’s Passing Attack
It’s been nearly impossible to avoid the talk of Odell Beckham Jr.’s sideline antics the past few weeks. Many have questioned whether it is a distraction to the team and if he should be benched. After last week it is apparent that he certainly isn’t distracting himself, as he caught eight passes for a career-high 222 yards and two touchdowns. The Giants’ star receiver is back in action and Eli Manning has joined him, completing a season-high 69.6 percent of his passes and throwing for 403 yards and three touchdowns. Eli did have two interceptions, although one was a throwaway play at the end of the first half.
If the Giants’ passing game is truly back on track it could spell trouble for the Rams. Jeff Fisher’s squad has been average against the pass, ranking 16th in yards per game allowed through the air. The larger issue, however, is that the Rams’ passing game can’t quite keep up. Case Keenum has been mediocre at best this season, averaging 236 yards per game with a 7:6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. If Manning and Beckham can maintain their chemistry, it will be very difficult for Los Angeles to stay in this game.
2. Todd Gurley vs the Giants’ Defensive Line
Gurley put the league on notice last season en route to being named the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. This season, however, his supporting cast has been so subpar that he has been unable to find any running room. Opposing defenses are stacking the box and as a result Gurley has only cracked four yards per carry once – last week against the Lions.
While that recent improvement is an encouraging sign, what isn’t encouraging is that he now has to do it against a Big Blue defense which is sixth in the NFL in yards per carry (3.5) allowed. The New York front four is a menace to running backs, with Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins clogging up the middle while Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon seal the edge as well as any DEs in football. If Gurley can get past that front line, the linebackers are not nearly as imposing, but getting there will be a tall task for the 2015 Pro Bowler.
3. Unfamiliar Surroundings
Despite this game being labeled as a Rams’ home game, Twickenham Stadium will feel like anything but home to both teams. From potential foreign chants in the stands to the rugby traditions and legends honored inside the building, it will certainly be a new experience for all parties involved.
All NFL International games in the past have been played at Wembley Stadium, home of the English national soccer team. There have been instances in those games of the turf, generally prepared for soccer matches, being ripped up by the larger bodies and more sudden movements of American football players. At Twickenham, however, the hope is that the field, which is made for the rough-and-tumble style of rugby, will hold up well.
The final twist for these teams is the early start time. While the two squads will have a few days to acclimate to the time change, the fact remains that the game will be taking place early on Sunday morning. For the Rams in particular, this game will begin 10 hours earlier than their typical kickoff time. Look to see if both teams are physically ready to play from the first snap.
While the pageantry and spectacle will be exciting, the focus will quickly turn to the game between the sidelines. Los Angeles is currently sitting in second in the NFC West and has pulled out some impressive victories, but the Rams’ offense has been a mess. If Eli Manning and New York’s offense can click like it did last week, it will be difficult for the Rams to keep up. Odell Beckham Jr.’s first encounter with a feisty secondary came against this very same team two seasons ago, so look for a typical chippy brand of football from Los Angeles head coach Jeff Fisher and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams as the Rams attempt to get under the star receiver’s skin.