Running on Empty

Will the lack of a running game and a porous rush defense come back to haunt the Giants?  Yes, Halloween is over.  It is November.  Especially in these two areas, the Giants are not scaring anybody.  On the other hand, the NFL is a passing league.  Giants quarterback Eli Manning is playing extremely well.  The Giants four headed monster pass rush, or as CBS analyst Dan Dierdorf coined it, the Kraken (a reference from Clash of the Titans)  without question, is the best in the league. The Giants lead the league with TWENTY SIX sacks.   Can the Giants ride Eli’s superb play and this dynamite pass rush to Indianapolis?  The next five games will give us more than a clue.  But is this ongoing problem with the rushing attack and rush defense something to be concerned about?  On the surface, it does not seem to be a problem.  The Giants have a 5-2 record and sit atop the NFC East.  So it cannot be too much of a problem. Right.  

Last season, the Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers were ranked 24th in the league in rushing.  And 18th in the league against the rush.  So we can deduce, this old axiom of running the ball and stopping the run is a fallacy.  Additionally, Tom Coughlin’s mantra of balance on offense must be a myth. 

Wait just a minute. 

According to an article written by Wayne Larrivee , voice of the Green Bay Packers,  the Pack made adjustments in their final seven games and in the playoffs.  In order to complement the Packers potent passing attack, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy made a commitment to run the football.  His strategy paid off.  In their final seven games, the Packers averaged 108 yards on the ground.  They continued to run the ball effectively in the playoffs. As for the defensive side of the ball,  in the playoffs, the Packers run defense was stingy.  The Eagles gained just 82 yards, the Falcons an anemic 45 yards, and the Bears 83 yards.  In conclusion, Larrivee believes in order to win a Super Bowl championship, a team must be able to run the ball and stop the run.

Can the Giants follow the Packers lead?  Sure. Certainly, they could figure things out. But in the meantime, the Giants are really struggling in both areas.  Currently, the Giants are ranked 30th in rushing.  They are averaging 85.6 yards on the ground.  This is confounding because the Giants identity has always been characterized by a power running attack.  Indeed, there have been changes made to their offensive line.  With a compressed offseason, this new line would need time to adjust to one another.  However, the Giants are at the half way point.  By this time, they should have worked out any kinks.  But this is far from the case.  Running back Ahmad Bradshaw has one 100 yard game.  On the defensive side of the ball, the Giants are not much better.  They are ranked 28th against the rush allowing an average of 130.1 yards per game.  So what gives?  Despite these putrid numbers, the Giants have a 5-2 record and sit atop the NFC East.  The rest of the pack in the division have 3-4 records.  What has been the difference?  Last year, the Giants were a turnover machine. The magnanimous Giants gave the ball away 42 times.  Oh by the way, this led the league. Conversely, this year has been a completely different story.  The Giants are 6th in the league in the important takeaway/giveaway ratio.  They are a PLUS 5.  In their last two wins (which were close games decided by three points), the Giants did not turn the ball over.  This interesting statistic from the New York Times tells the story about Coughlin’s Giants and turnovers. There is generally a correlation between winning the turnover margin and winning the game. Since 2004, when Coughlin became coach, the Giants are 13-30 in regular-season games in which they commit more turnovers than they force and 41-8 when they force more than they commit. They are 13-10 when the numbers are equal. 

If the Giants can sustain and or improve their turnover ratio, Eli can continue his outstanding play, the Kraken can continue to churn out sacks (/strip turnovers) and the Giants can contend for a playoff berth.  But beginning with this game against New England, the Giants must improve their rushing attack and rush defense.  Otherwise, the GOOD teams will be able to exploit the Giants.  Yes. Bill Belichick’s Patriots have an atrocious pass defense. However, what Belichick does better than any coach in this league is game plan. Look for him to run the ball against the Giants defense.  Recall a few weeks ago, Patriots running back  BenJarvus Green-Ellis had a huge game against the Jets gaining 136 yards on the ground.  Attack this Giants defense and be relentless.  Because Phil Simms pointed out, the Giants unravel when things are going south.  “The thing that bothers me about the Giants, they don’t handle adversity well.  As soon as something goes bad, it stays bad for a long time.  A lot of times that’s talent.  Talented guys can turn it around.  But it could be the mentality too.  Professional football, 80% of it is adversity.  Something is always going wrong in the game (of football).  The Giants have to correct that.  You do that a lot of ways.  Of course you do it with leadership, with players making plays, coaches designing things to get the football team out of that situation and get them rolling again.  When the Giants roll, that DL, the WRs,  Eli Manning, when they are hot, they are as good as there is in the NFL.”  

Let us hope the Giants stay hot and begin to gradually improve upon their weaknesses (run game and run defense).  Sunday’s game will be their first test.