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Rookie RB Andre Williams needed to slow down pass rush in more ways than one

Andre Williams #44 of the New York Giants

Andre Williams #44 of the New York Giants runs the ball against the Indianapolis Colts during their game at MetLife Stadium on November 3, 2014 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Getty Images / Al Bello

Andre Williams is close to becoming the first rookie to lead the Giants in rushing since Joe Montgomery in 1999 (he had an unimpressive 348 yards that year) and is the third-leading rusher among NFL rookies.

With starter Rashad Jennings not playing Sunday because of an ankle sprain and his availability for next week's season finale in doubt, Williams should get plenty of touches to pass the stagnant Jennings (he needs 39 yards for that). With a little help from his defensive teammates against the Rams' Tre Mason Sunday, he could even make up the 93 yards by which he trails his fellow Heisman finalist from a year ago among rookie running backs.

But Williams' success in Sunday's game in St. Louis will not be measured in yards or carries or touches. It won't be defined by production after contact or long-distance runs. It will be judged by pick-ups, as in how many blitzes he can thwart and how often he has to reach out a hand to help Eli Manning get back on his feet.

Against the Rams' new Fearsome Foursome of pass rushers -- spurred by the mad scientist of defensive coordinators, the once-exiled Gregg Williams -- the running back position will be one of the biggest keys to pass protection. Odell Beckham Jr. may be the Giants' MVP, but on Sunday Andre Williams will be a VIP in determining the outcome.

"Andre has been good at picking up blitzers and knowing who he's got," Manning said. "He's been sharp all year long. It'll be a big day for him."

The running back has a key role in making the Giants' offense move, even when he is not carrying the ball well. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo said there are three decision-makers on the offense: the quarterback, the center and the running back. With a rookie in one of those important roles, especially against the Rams, it could pose a problem.

"They get complex. Especially third down, they're going to have a lot of different looks, 3-2-6 personnel, a lot of guys around the line of scrimmage," Manning said. "They have a complex scheme that will make it challenging at times. But we'll have a good feel for it."

Most of the task of protecting Manning will fall on the offensive line. They'll have first contact with All-Pro Robert Quinn (101/2 sacks, all in the last nine games, and 33 quarterback pressures this year) and the other defensive end, Chris Long. They'll also have to slow down Defensive Rookie of the Year front-runner Aaron Donald, a defensive tackle with eight sacks, and the blitzing linebackers, led by Alec Ogletree.

"Here's the thing about offensive linemen," left tackle Will Beatty said. "I know where Eli is going to be on every play. All I have to do is stay between the defender and him and my job is golden."

That's been easier said than done this year, at least on a consistent basis. Manning has been sacked 27 times, though almost half of those (13) came in three games against the Eagles, Colts and Jaguars. The 49ers sacked him only twice, but they confused the linemen with twists and stunts. Those are the kinds of tricks the Rams are known to play.

So it will be up to Williams to identify the blitzers, handle the strays and be the last line of defense for the offense.

There's also another way he can help.

Last week, against Washington, the Giants basically gave up trying to run the ball.

"We didn't even have enough success, to be honest with you, to continue to try to do it," coach Tom Coughlin said of the 22 carries for 49 yards. "If you rush the ball 35 times, you win over 90 percent of the time. To be less than 30 is really not what you're trying to do."

If the Giants can find better balance, they might be able to keep the Rams off theirs.

"If you lose the line of scrimmage, you basically lose the game," starting guard John Jerry said. "It's definitely one of those games where we don't want to sit back there and throw the ball all game, because we know rushing the passer is what they do the best. So we've got to try to take that away from them."

That task, in many ways, will fall to Williams.

New York Sports