Since the Giants have yet to pick up an actual victory yet this season, we as fans have to take solace in the small victories. Maybe these victories come from a particular position group or player developing as the season goes on. With a shot at a championship long gone in the rear view mirror, it is crucial that the rest of the season serve as an open evaluation of the personnel on the roster. As fans, we can do the same for our own personal benefit and enjoyment, as there are few other things to take away from watching an 0-__ team each week. The star of last week's lost to Chicago was the ground game, fresh off of a five week slumber to begin the season.
Following the season best effort in Week 6, the Giants have an opportunity to once again win the battle on the ground and rebuild a once proud unit. 7th round pick Michael Cox is set to receive his first NFL action at RB and adding a young and hungry back like Cox should give the unit another jolt of life.
Brandon Jacobs (who has now run for 100+ yards in each of his last two starts) was the star in Chicago. He ran through arm tackles all evening and for his efforts was rewarded with a 1.3 rush grade. The total was only the Giants second green (+1.0 or better) rush grade on the season. David Wilson picked up the other on just 13 carries in the Week 3 shutout against the Panthers. While Jacobs is certainly a far cry from the steamrolling back that came into the league in 2005, he still has the ability to run through arm tackles and showed this much on Thursday night. And if nothing else (as I have mentioned before) Jacobs is a passionate football player who takes pride in his game and in particular, wearing the Giants colors. I'd imagine other guys on the team would benefit from taking some notes.
Jacobs was aided by season-best run blocking performances from several of the Giants OL- Justin Pugh (2.6), William Beatty (1.1) and Jim Cordle (0.9) all stood out. It should come as a relief to Giants fans to see Pugh and Beatty succeed as they very well could be the only two returning offensive linemen in 2014 (more on this in a few weeks). Seeing these two right the ship and excel the rest of the way would be one of those "small victories" mentioned at the beginning of this article.
The addition of John Conner into the starting lineup was also HUGE for the Giants. Conner received a 0.5 run blocking grade (not bad for having played just 15 snaps) and brought a physicality to the FB position that has been missing since Hynoski was last healthy in 2012.
Most importantly though, Conner's presence at FB allowed the Giants to return Bear Pascoe to a more traditional TE role and in turn, not have to play both Brandon Myers AND Larry Donnell on the field at the same time. The results were promising. Pascoe turned in a career best 2.6 run blocking grade on 20 snaps. Even Myers (who not coincidentally was on the field for a season-low of 11 run plays) recorded a career best of 1.5 in run blocking. While it is certainly possible that all of this was pure coincidence, there is something to be said about the trickle down effect of inserting someone like Conner into the lineup. Of course it's not as simple as this, but they added an above average run blocker (Conner) and removed a below average one (Donnell). The early return showed a much better effort on the ground.
I would be remiss if I did not also explain that the Bears currently stand as the NFL's 31st rated run defense with a total of -27.4 with only the Jaguars preventing them from being the league's worst run defense. This should not take away from the performance of the unit
The lowly Vikings come to town next for MNF and will provide the Giants with a slightly tougher test (although not much–the unit ranks 2 spots ahead of the Bears at 29thth with a -21.4 run stop grade…baby steps) then Chicago did. Facing another struggling unit, the Giants run game has the opportunity to put together another "win" as a group. As they said in Major League– that's called a winning streak!! These are the type of victories, the type of progress, that we as Giants fans have to look for in this lost season.
Furthering that idea….
With Wilson shelved for the foreseeable future, and Jacobs coming off of a 20-carry game that he ended with a hamstring injury, look for the Giants to finally give an opportunity to Cox. The unheralded UMass grad (much like a certain WR on the Giants roster….hey we can dream) showed promise in the preseason and was a very impressive runner whenever he got the opportunity. The Giants rewarded his strong preseason with an opportunity to begin the season as the team's kick returner but have yet to give Cox a carry.
For every bit that Wilson is an "athlete," "track guy" and a "specimen," Cox seems to be the opposite—a guy who doesn't blow you away with his tools, but rather blows you away with his ability to play the game of football. He is a shifty runner and seems as though catching the football comes naturally to him (perhaps we see a completed screen this week?) and he should compliment Jacobs nicely. You just get a feeling with this guy and let's hope we get a chance to find out if he has "it."
It'd be frustrating to see the Giants give the bulk of the carries to recent FA signing Peyton Hillis over Cox. I can't see much of a reason for the Giants to give Hillis many carries at this point in the season and I'd imagine he was brought in as pass-blocking insurance. If Cox is able to hold his own in pass protection, then look for the Giants to increase his workload as the game progresses.
An improving run blocking unit, a banged up backfield and weak Vikings run defense make this the perfect moment for Cox to seize control of the Giants backfield and prove he is a capable NFL back and beyond. The opportunity at hand will not be lost on Cox, who has traveled a long road to get to where he is today. He has to understand that chances like this don't come around very often and in his case, may not come again in his career. I will be looking forward to honing in on Cox (if he gets the opportunity) and his effort this Monday night.
Once again a HUGE thanks to the guys at PFF for letting us borrow small amounts of their data. It's an invaluable tool to any football fan (not just bloggers) who want to know what really happened in the game. Here are some awesome, FREE, examples of what they do, taken from last week. They are great examples of how PFF tells you the WHY and the HOW. Your homework is to read these.