Tuesday, November 05, 2013

N.Y. Giants: Running In The Shadows Of Daylight

From the desk of:  DO IT FOR THE DUKE

NEW YORK FOOTBALL GIANTS - With Andre Brown Returning To Rush Behind A Reconfigured Offensive Line, Is There Yet Hope For The Running Game?  Or, Will This Wind Up Being A Late Sunday Afternoon Shadow In Autumn's Fading Quest For Daylight?

The Giants are ranked 30th in the NFL rushing the football.  They average 69.9 total yards per game, but the effort rates even worse when you peel back the layers.

In eight games, the backfield has rushed the ball 166 times, for an average of 20.7 attempts per game, but even that is misleading.  In the first five games, they averaged sixteen rushes per game.  Over the last three games, they've averaged twenty-eight rushes per game.  Here's the breakdown:

Week One - 41 pass attempts; 12 rushes for 41 yards.
Week Two - 49 pass attempts; 19 rushes for 23 yards.
Week Three - 25 pass attempts; 15 rushes for 46 yards.
Week Four - 37 pass attempts; 19 rushes for 86 yards - (Wilson, Scott; 18/81, 4.5 avg.)
Week Five - 52 pass attempts; 17 rushes for 53 yards.
Week Six - 26 pass attempts; 26 rushes for 123 yards!
Week Seven - 39 pass attempts; 29 rushes for 59 yards.
Week Eight - 39 pass attempts; 29 rushes for 89 yards.

The Giants have gained a total of 520 real yards, which excludes Eli Manning's attempts to scramble. In nine attempts this season, Eli has gained thirty-eight yards, for a 4.2 average.  In jest, Eli Manning could technically qualify as the Giants best rusher, as the backfield has only averaged 3.1 yards per carry this season.  Without Manning, the Giants rush average drops to only 65 yards per game.

Wait - it gets worse.  Take away Brandon Jacob's supreme Week Six effort against the Chicago Bears, and the Giants recalibrated totals read - 144 rushing attempts, 414 total yards, for an average of 2.8 yards per carry, and a likewise reduced 60 yards per game average.  Not unexpectedly, Brandon Jacobs suffered a strained hamstring during the Bears game, and has not factored since.

So what do we know?  Through eight weeks, the Giants featured a barren backfield, running behind a depleted offensive line incapable of run blocking.  The O-Line additionally allowed sacks, and drew penalties at an (un-Giant like) prolific rate.  And of course, over reliance on passing the ball has resulted in an absurd amount of interceptions.


Lost in all this, offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride has quietly been out of sight and out of mind - if not lost upon our collective self-pity over starting 2-6 this season.  So, as necessity is the mother of all invention, Coughlin unleashed Simon Bar Sinister to be as crazy, wiley and as irresponsible as he wanted to be without fear of recriminations from me, you and most fans, nor the media, the NSA, the Russians, global warming and endangered polar bears.  He may not escape Jerry Reese at season's end, but that remains to be seen.

Let's not forget, in the Eli/ Coach Coughlin era, the Giants have been a highly aggressive, pass-first team.  This is not all on Gilbride.  He is Coughlin's enabler.  And so, through the first five weeks, in trying to play catch-up football, Air Gilbride reduced the running game into a mere smudge on his  play calling chart.  Yes, the running game indeed was a futile venture, but there was a minimalist attempt on his part to keep opposing defenses honest.  Many screamed for more controlled roll-outs and 3-step drops by Eli, employing double tight ends and utilizing pulling linemen, trying more screen passes and draw plays, and more overall swing catches by the backfield to offset the run.

Instead, we're presently at the midway point of the season, and Eli Manning has as many INT's (15) as he had all of last year, and yes, he leads the NFL this season in that category.  Kevin Gilbride's idea of situational play calling and lack of better creativity, in addition to receivers running incorrect routes, no tight end to speak of, the crumbling offensive line, and yes, Eli Manning's inconsistency and occasionally reverting back to old habits (like throwing off his back foot) all share equal blame for fifteen interceptions.  But in truth, without an effective running game, all semblance of play-action was, and still remains null and void.

Under those conditions, it is hard to decipher any measure of success or even promise, culpability, negligence, or singular blame.  The Giants do not have much to hang their helmets on outside of A) - a decently competitive game to open the season against Dallas, B) - a good first half against the Broncos, C) - a decent day against the Chiefs running the ball despite yet another loss, D) -  a throw-back game by Brandon Jacobs against the Bears, and E & F) -  two yawn inspiring victories over the Vikings and Eagles.

Make no mistake - the defense and special teams have more problems than a math book as well.  But you know what they say - an effective running game gets first downs, keeps possession of the football, keeps the punter off the field, takes time off the clock, keeps the opposing offense off the field, and minimizes the defense's exposure and limits their fatigue.

The demise of Brandon Jacobs, then Ahmad Bradshaw ushered in the era of Andre Brown and David Wilson?  That's the way Jerry Reese designed it, and the Giants paid a steep price. 

Andre Brown went down before opening day, and David Wilson is still battling a neck condition.  Brandon Jacob's contribution this season has been chronicled and appreciated, while Da'rel Scott and Peyton Hillis did all they could.  None of this falls on them.

What now?

The season ending injuries to offensive linemen Chris Snee, but more specifically to David Baas, are perhaps addition by subtraction.  Jim Cordle has filled in at center, and will continue seeing steady playing time.  The center position is now bigger and healthier because of it.  David Diehl's return is not only timely, his ability to play multiple positions has allowed him to slide into Snee's spot.  Corresponding to the changes, the O-Line has demonstrated marked improvement over their first five weeks of the season.  The backfield in turn has benefited as well.  Will Beatty, Kevin Boothe, Jim Cordle, David Diehl and Justin Pugh, who has played quite well as a rookie, are now the starting front five, and should finish out the season together barring any further injury.

Coach Coughlin also put the brakes on Air Gilbride.  After failing to run the ball at least twenty times during the first five games, and averaging two passes for every one rush, Coach advised his long-time friend and coordinator to restrike a balance between passing and running the ball.  In Week Six, Kevin Gilbride struck total balance for his friend, and elected to pass and rush an equal twenty-six times each.  In both Weeks Seven and Eight, the Giants ran a season high twenty-nine times, and had finally rushed the ball in excess of twenty-five times in three straight games.

David Wilson recently went for a second MRI for a herniated disk in his neck, and will not be reevaluated for another few weeks.  But, finally some good news - Andre Brown appears back after sustaining a fractured leg in pre-season, and may finally play for the first time this Sunday against the Oakland Raiders.  How effective he'll be in his first few games back is obviously a highly questionable proposition.  Not to mention, regardless of the opposition, he'll be playing against defenses that are very literally in mid-season form.

With Andre Brown rushing again behind a reconfigured offensive line, perhaps there's hope for this running game yet.  I'm afraid however, the affect will be too little, too late, and wind up a mere late afternoon shadow in Autumn's fading quest for daylight.

Despite the pass-happiness of the Eli/Coughlin/Gilbride era, for nearly a full decade, the Giants featured one of the most fearsome running games in football, rushing behind a record setting offensive line.  Back then, Coach Gilbride took it upon himself to strike offensive balance, and had the resources to get it done.  Those days are officially long gone.  After Chris Snee went down, David Diehl became the lone surviving lineman from the previous era, and even his days are short.

There are no football miracles on the horizon for Big Blue.  Not this year.  Time and Football stand still for no one.  The Giants will not win out and finish with a 10-6 record.  They need to go 5-3 just to finish with a 7-9 mark.  Let's just get through the Raiders first.

I've never hesitated to criticize Kevin Gilbride.  I'm old school, remember - raised on Bill Parcells, smash mouth, and stuff like that.  So Gilbride has been a real assault on my sensibilities.  But I never wanted him fired.  Defensive coordinators?  Yes.  Him?  No.  This year, Gilbride is only guilty of doing what he's been told, and it feels weird defending him, but there you go.  I'm resigned to the fact that in this modern era of...whatever... Coughlin, Gilbride, and Eli Manning will go down as the most prolific offensive trio in Giants history, yet go down as perhaps the most criticized.  Ponderous, but true.

Too may of Jerry Reese's problems stem from the salary cap.  Above all else, he needs to get that in order.  The Giants entered the season with the most free agents on their roster and least amount of drafted players in the Jerry Reese era.  That is the inherent and inevitable peril when tasked with putting a previous era to bed, and trying to establish a new one on the fly in the parity stricken NFL.  So, money is a definite factor in future decision making.  Free agent acquisition David Baas woefully under-performed for the cash he was earning.  That mistake can not be repeated.  Will Beatty is making too much as well, but at least deserves further consideration.

Of the current members of the offensive line and backfield, I am only otherwise predisposed to move forward with Justin Pugh, David Wilson, Jim Cordle and Kevin Boothe.  The Giants need to reevaluate quickly this off-season and choose which direction they want to go.  Then move forward by making very hard, unpopular decisions and affect the necessary changes.

Next, Jerry Reese needs to reprioritize next year's draft.  Reese did not compromise himself by sending the Panthers a late pick for Jon Beason. 

We've know for a few years now, the offensive line needed a complete overhaul.  When Jerry Reese finally rebuilds the offensive line, only then will things fall into place again.  A grassroots effort is in order.  Assemble another young core of linemen, and let them grow together.  Selecting RT Justin Pugh last year was a needed step in the right direction.  Jerry Reese will need to expend another pick on an O-lineman, and hope he gets as good a player, if not better than Justin Pugh.  A trade and a smart free agent signing later, and perhaps one more rush for glorious daylight may resume in earnest again before Eli retires.


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