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Justin Pugh makes a big difference in Giants' lineup

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants offensive line went into Sunday's game against the Detroit knowing there was a lot riding on that opening series. The coaches informed them before the contest about the proposition -- they were going to come out running.

With starting left guard Justin Pugh back in the lineup, this was their opportunity to show that the running game could contribute to their success.

"Coach [Ben] McAdoo and [offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan] told us that is exactly what we were going to come out and do," starting right guard John Jerry said. "We just told ourselves not to make it a long game and pass the ball the whole game, and make these runs work early so coach would have confidence to call them."

The Giants ran on six of 10 plays on the opening drive for 30 yards. They finished with 32 rushing attempts for 114 yards.

"It says they’re putting the trust on us and our unit," center Weston Richburg said of the early run calls. "We have to come out and make that happen. I think we did a fairly good job of that."

The opening drive -- one of the Giants' most successful this season -- ended with a six-yard touchdown grab by receiver Sterling Shepard.

The return of Pugh was evident from the start. The Giants ran the first play between Pugh and left tackle Ereck Flowers. It went for six yards. They ran the second play over the left guard for another six yards when Pugh turned defensive tackle A'Shawn Robinson to the inside.

Pugh’s impact was noticeable.

"You get one of the best players back on your team, I think that lifts everybody, boosts everybody, but especially the offensive line," Jerry said. "He’s the leader on our line. That is what we expect from him to come out and set tempo. It was a lot of fun having him back out there."

It was fun for Pugh to be out on the field. He had missed the previous five games with a sprained MCL in his right knee. He was out longer than originally expected because of a setback at practice several weeks back.

"I feel really good. I mean, it’s just good to be back," Pugh said. "I was like a little kid. I couldn’t sleep last night. It was the first time I struggled to sleep before a game just because I was excited and I was like, 'Am I going to still be good? Am I going to be able to do ...' So it was fun for me to be out there."

The Giants' 114 rushing yards is a number they’ve topped only twice this season. And they did it against a Detroit defense that is allowing less than 100 yards on the ground this season.

So it’s something to build upon. The Giants' offense wasn’t perfect. They still only managed 300 total yards of offense and didn’t get in the end zone in the second or third quarters. They finished with a pedestrian 17 points.

But this might have been a step in the right direction with Pugh and Shane Vereen back in the lineup.

"I thought the big guys came off the ball, played physical upfront, played as a unit," McAdoo said. "We'll have to go back and take a look at the tape, but it was a good day for the big guys."

The Giants have averaged 335 yards per game in nine contests with Pugh on the field. They averaged 294 yards per game in the five contests he missed.

They’re going to need more of that moving forward. The remainder of the Giants' schedule this season will likely be on the road. They’re going to need to run the ball more consistently and score more points to beat quality opposition, especially in the playoffs.

Fifteen weeks into the season they’re looking for signs of encouragement for an offense that hasn’t topped 30 points in a game this season and is averaging 19.4 points, which is 24th in the NFL. Pugh's return and performance is their best bet.