The struggles for the Giants' rushing attack so far this season are well documented. Through two games the offense has taken another step back in this area, something that seemed impossible at the end of last season. The offseason brought upon some changes to the offensive line and some early season injuries depleted an already average unit. If you tuned in to Ultimate-22 last year, you know that one of our biggest pet peeves with the team as a whole was the group's failure to produce any sort of push up front. Whether or not you think it was technique, skill, scheme or what have you, the results were poor. The situation seems to only have gotten worse this year and it has already been mentioned by Coach Coughlin on at least one occasion.
Snee was given a pass last season due to his hip injury. While it seems that he has somewhat recovered (his cumulative run blocking grade for the season from PFF is 0.7), he can no longer be relied on as an all-pro caliber run blocker.
As for the rest of the group? Not too pretty: William Beatty -0.9, David Baas -1.2, Justin Pugh -1.4, Kevin Boothe -2.7, James Brewer -0.4, Brandon Myers -1.3.
So this is the part where we echo the sentiment of many Giants fans who want nothing more than to see the Giants pass the ball on every play, right?
Wrong. For several reasons.
First and most obvious is that the Giants have a potentially special runner in David Wilson. He is far too crucial to the team's success to be pushed aside so quickly. The Giants must find a way to get him right and allow him to become a factor in this offense. All it takes is one good game, series or even play for him to gain the confidence that he needs to become an effective back. His success will make them that much more dangerous if they find a way to hang around until late December.
Another reason why the Giants need to get back to running the ball, even if it isn't gaining much in the way of yards, is for the effect that it has on the passing attack.. Without the run game, the Giants' down field throws (which is what can give this team an edge over their opponent) is deemed essentially useless. It becomes much easier for teams to defend against the explosive plays when they are not forced to respect the Giants' rushing attack.
Without any semblance of a run game, the Giants are not only going to be ineffective running play action, they will also not see much to gain from calling play action plays. On the other hand, if the Giants are able to find a way to run it 20+ times a game, defenses will be forced to be honest no matter how successful they are on the ground.
Eli Manning addressed this issue in his post game quotes on Sunday:
The few times we had play action, they were just playing cover two and so we weren’t getting the safeties down much. We didn’t quite get the coverage’s we were hoping. We weren’t getting those safeties down, but if you’re not running the ball well, they can play two-high. They can keep the two safeties really deep and say ‘don’t let them get the big plays.’ We’ve got to help out our offensive linemen. When you run the ball, it slows down the pass rush and you just get better in down and distance. Our third down wasn’t really good. I think we had four third downs where it was third and 13 plus. You might get one of those a game, but those are hard to convert.
Let's drive this idea home even further by looking at some examples from last week's game against the Broncos.
The play featured below comes from the Giants' opening drive, one in which they drove down the field with relative ease. Keep in mind that on the previous play, the Giants went to Brandon Jacobs for five yards to pick up the first down and set the scene for the screen shots below. One would think that having just gone to Jacobs for a successful five yard gain, a play action fake on 1st and 10 to the bruising back would draw the safeties in, even if only for a step or two. This window would of course allow Eli to look down the field for one of his favorite targets. However, notice in the top photo (pre snap) the circled safety begins the play on the five yard line. The bottom photo shows that the safety does not respect the play fake and is already into his "drop" before Manning can even complete his ball fake. Consider this a wasted play action attempt.
Our next example comes in the second quarter with the Giants trailing 7-3 and driving the ball towards midfield. The top screen shot is taken just before the ball is snapped, with the safeties positioned in a two-deep look, lined up at the 39 yard line and 42 yard line respectively. Now, take a peek at the photo to below it and see that the play fake did nothing in the way of keeping the safeties honest.
Before Manning can even make his ball fake, both safeties have dropped about three yards each. So not only did the play fake not "keep them honest" it gave them the opportunity to get positioned even deeper down the field.
Our third example comes just short of the midway point of the second quarter with the Giants driving and facing a 2nd and 3 situation trailing 7-3. A score here would be a huge boost for a team who, for one reason or another, lacks the ability to score from inside their own 20. The play (if you can tell from the screen grabs or have the game DVR'ed) is a familiar one for this group, as Manning fakes a hand off and quickly looks for Cruz on a slant/post type route. This is the route that Cruz scored on in Super Bowl XLVI, as well as several other times in the last two seasons. It is also similar to the play Tyree scored on in XLII.
Anyway, notice the position of the circled safety in the photo to the left, just as the ball is about to be snapped. He should be in no spot to make a play on a pass thrown to Cruz, who is lined up in the right side. The photo below shows that the safety does not bite on the play fake. Instead he is able to cut across the defensive backfield and force Manning to alter his throw, with the result being an incomplete pass.
Now this post isn't intended to be a declaration that the key to the Giants' offense finding some consistent and sustained success is to merely run the ball 20 times per game. I understand that it isn't as easy as calling a few more runs and, BOOM, all your offensive problems are fixed.
But we need to remember that this is never going to be an offense similar to that of New England, Green Bay or Denver. In order to even have an opportunity to do what they do best (GET THE BALL DOWN THE FIELD) they must be able to find a way to incorporate the ground game back into their offense. Without doing that we are asking too much of our quarterback and we have seen what happens when that is the case.
Who knows, along the way they may even turn the rushing attack into a dangerous weapon for an offense that has already shown the ability to be very dangerous at times.
(Once again a big thanks to the guys at PFF for letting us use some of their stats as we dig deeper into Big Blue)