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What to watch for Sunday: Giants vs. Rams in London

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LONDON -- The Rams and Giants arrived in London this week looking for direction, like so many other wandering American tourists. At 3-3, both teams are stuck square in the fat middle of the NFL among other squads trying to reclaim the identities they expected to inhabit before the season.

The Rams expected to be carried by their defense, yet injuries and a thin secondary have conspired to shake their foundation to the core -- they've given up more than 30 points in back-to-back games.

"That's not us. That's not a Gregg Williams defense," Rams cornerback E.J. Gaines said this week.

The Giants' spending spree on defense has mostly paid off, but Eli Manning and the team's up-tempo offense has been stuck in neutral for much of the season. They are hopeful last week's late explosion against the Ravens kickstarts their season. The Giants arrived in London on Friday, four days after the Rams. Odell Beckham admitted he was "exhausted" and the team didn't receive the jolly welcome typically reserved for International Series teams.

Coach Ben McAdoo spent nearly every second of his news conference dealing with the fallout from leaving kicker Josh Brown home after new information surfaced about his domestic violence arrest.

The game provides a chance for both teams to reset. They were each two games above .500 early this season, but the losing team in this first NFL game at Twickenham Stadium will have a losing record entering the bye week.

Here's what to watch for:

1. Robert Quinn's return: Aaron Donald has done his best to destroy double and triple teams over the last three weeks, but it has clearly impacted a Rams defense that has also been without defensive tackle Michael Brockers.

"The attention goes to Aaron," coach Jeff Fisher said this week about the impact of Quinn's absence. "I guess that's most obviously stated. It goes right to Aaron. They feel like they can win the one-on-ones outside. ... But basically, when he is on the edge, the fire power on the edge is going to require help, so that takes one more person offensively out of the routes of distribution."

Quinn's return is especially noteworthy because the Giants' tackles, Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart, are liabilities. That has led to Eli Manning often expecting hits before they arrive and giving up on plays. He could be feeling pressure from a few directions in this game.

2. Aaron Donald vs. Justin Pugh: Donald expressed confidence to NFL.com about his matchup with Pugh, the Giants' right guard. Pugh is a familiar foe from their days together facing off in the Big East. Donald noted Pugh's short arms and remembered hearing a lot of trash talk during their college days. Donald might finally get single blocked in this game, which could lead to a big performance.

"I've just been getting a lot of attention," Donald said. "Lot of double teams, a lot of slide protection. It's going to come. I haven't had that big game yet this year with three or four sacks but it's going to come."

The Rams will need pressure up front because the matchups in the back end are not favorable.

3. Odell Beckham and friends vs. the Rams' secondary: Cornerback Trumaine Johnson's high ankle sprain has directly led to the team's defensive implosion. The front seven mostly played well, but cornerbacks Troy Hill and E.J. Gaines have had trouble containing opposing wideouts.

Eli Manning noted that Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams tries to confuse opposing quarterbacks, and he expects to see a variety of defensive looks Sunday.

The Rams, however, miss safety Rodney McLeod, who signed a big contract with Philadelphia. The Rams have too many players that just want to deliver a big hit and not enough who know how to prevent big plays.

Fisher made it clear he intends to focus plenty of attention to Beckham, which should give rookie Sterling Shepard and Victor Cruz favorable matchups. It's rare to hear an opposing coach openly admit his team is at a matchup disadvantage, but that's what we heard from Fisher this week. Perhaps the Rams will try other ways to get Beckham off his game.

4. Beckham sideline brawl, take 2?

The last time these two teams played, Beckham was at the center of a fracas on the Giants' sideline that was inspired by some late hits by the Rams. Beckham said that the Rams play a "chippy" style, but he loves the way they play. He also said he'll be prepared for potential late hits.

"You gotta protect yourself," Beckham said. "Stay ready so you don't have to get ready."

While the Rams tried to stay away from touching the issue this week, two of their most emotional players -- safety T.J. McDonald and linebacker Alec Ogletree -- were at the center of the conflict last time around. It's safe to say they haven't forgotten what happened.

5. Case Keenum fighting for his job?

NFL Network Steve Wyche's reported that No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff will soon get more reps at practice after making significant strides in practice since Week 1. That puts a shorter leash on Case Keenum, even though he's coming off a career best game. With the bye week coming up, we wouldn't be totally stunned if the Rams made a change at quarterback if Keenum faceplanted Sunday. That possibility is in play because of the talent on the Giants' defense.

Ultimately, these are two teams squarely in the soft middle of the NFL. No result would surprise, but the Giants have more overall firepower on each side of the ball. Barring a truly dominant performance by Donald and Quinn, we give New York the edge.

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