Improvement Needed

The New York Giants defense looked fine in the Super Bowl champions' first game of the season. This week, Eli Manning will try to get the offense running more smoothly when New York visits the St. Louis Rams.

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The Giants look to improve to 2-0 and extend their winning streak away from their home field to 12 games when they take on the Rams on Sunday.

Oddsmakers from Sportsbook.com have made New York -8 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 74% of bets for this game have been placed on New York -8 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

Many observers thought New York would take a step back defensively this season after the retirement of Michael Strahan and a season-ending injury to fellow defensive end Osi Umenyiora, along with several other key departures. For one game at least, the Giants appeared prepared to overcome those losses.

Limiting Washington to 11 first downs and 209 total yards in a 16-7 home win to open the NFL season Sept. 4, New York performed like the tough defensive team that unexpectedly surged to the championship in 2007.

"We played well and it's no surprise to us," defensive tackle Barry Cofield said. "We feel like we got capable guys and we held them for very few yards other than the two-minute situations where they got most of their yardage. We are confident in our defense and feel like if we stick with the scheme we'll have success all year."

The Giants, who led the league in sacks last year, managed only one against the Redskins. However, they limited Washington to 84 yards rushing and held Jason Campbell to 133 passing yards.

"It was a great opening to the season," Manning said. "There was a lot of emotion, a lot of excitement. You could feel it in the crowd. It was great to see Michael (Strahan) holding the (Lombardi) trophy."

Manning completed 19 of 35 passes for 216 yards and an interception, and scored the Giants' only touchdown on a 1-yard run in the first quarter. New York scored on its first four possessions, outgained Washington 354-209 overall and held a 21-11 advantage in first downs. The Giants also dominated the time of possession by holding the ball for almost 36 minutes, and Plaxico Burress had 10 catches for 133 yards.

New York, though, left some room for improvement offensively after a big first half was followed by a scoreless and somewhat ineffective one. The Giants gained 241 yards before the break - 100 on the ground - but just 113 after halftime as they failed to deliver a knockout blow to Washington.

However, with the defense playing well, New York will try to extend its lengthy road winning streak this week. The Giants haven't lost away from the Meadowlands since last Sept. 9 at Dallas in their 2007 season opener. They went on to win their final seven regular season road games and four more away from their home field in the playoffs, including the Super Bowl against New England in Glendale, Ariz.

"We are hoping to be able to continue to talk about road warriors and playing well on the road and being able to show the mental toughness and the perseverance and the ability to do whatever is necessary, the idea of not letting the other guys down, the idea of going on the road and being the only group supporting our team so regardless of what happens we are going to be there for each other," coach Tom Coughlin told the team's official Web site Wednesday. "Those things are still very strong and we will again go into great detail talking about that."

That road prowess could be put to the test on the turf of the Edward Jones Dome, where the Giants haven't had much success against the Rams. New York won its last game at St. Louis 26-21 on Sept. 15, 2002, but lost its previous three there. It's 4-13 all-time in road games against the Rams franchise.

St. Louis, though, will have to improve dramatically this week if it wants a win in its home opener. The Rams were pounded 38-3 last week by Philadelphia and Donovan McNabb, who threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns.

Looking very much like the team that went 3-13 last season, the Rams allowed the Eagles to gain 522 yards of offense and managed just 166 themselves.

"It was not very good," said St. Louis' Marc Bulger, who was sacked four times. "They played great, we didn't. Give them credit, but that's about as bad as you can get beat in the NFL."

Running back Steven Jackson, who held out of training camp for 27 days before signing a lucrative new contract, looked rusty with only 40 yards on 14 carries.

The Giants have won three straight over the Rams overall, although the teams haven't met since Oct. 2, 2005 - a 44-24 New York home victory.

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