EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants had two downs to score after the ball was placed on the opposition's "half-inch yard line" Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Their first choice was to get in the shotgun and throw the football.
That speaks volumes about the current state of the Giants' running game. They don't seem to want to run it often and don't do it particularly well when they do. After Sterling Shepard failed to hold onto the shotgun pass long enough for a touchdown, the Giants were stuffed behind the line of scrimmage the following play when they did run it from the "half-inch yard line" on fourth down. Four defenders converged on running back Orleans Darkwa in the backfield, and he had no chance.
This is the story of the Giants' running game, and it has been the same song now for several years. The Giants are 30th in the NFL in rushing yards -- only the two teams that have played two games instead of three are behind them. They have not scored a rushing touchdown and average 3.1 yards per carry while starting running back Paul Perkins averages 2.1 yards per carry.
The warning signs are there for this to once again be one of the league's worst rushing attacks. The Giants haven't run the ball well for several years, including last season when they were 29th in the NFL. It's a combination of lack of holes, poor blocking, subpar running and, maybe most of all, a lack of commitment. Call it the smorgasbord of ineffectiveness.
Can they turn it around?
It begins with commitment. Coach Ben McAdoo said last week the Giants "need more attempts." They had 17 called runs on 64 offensive plays. That's 73 percent passes, 27 percent runs. Not good enough, even if they were trailing for most of the first three quarters. How can they realistically keep defenses honest at that rate?
The problem is that it's right in line with their 73-27 run:pass ratio for the season. Some of that has to do with the Giants playing from behind for most of the first three weeks, but it also has to do with their unwillingness to stick with the run even though the short-term success is nonexistent.
The Giants' 3.1 yards per carry is tied for 28th in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers. But the Steelers have 19 more rushing attempts. The Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts have lower yards per carry averages this season, but both have significantly more attempts than the Giants.
At least they're trying. The Giants need to try more, to run more, and run more effectively.
"With our talent, the number of plays we have -- it's not enough," McAdoo said last week when asked if the Giants run the ball enough for his liking.
It might be difficult to accomplish. The Giants solution to jumpstart their offense Sunday was to up the tempo. They went to more three-wide-receiver than previous weeks. That completely eliminated the role of the fullback.
Fullback Shane Smith didn't play a snap against the Eagles.
"You could tell by the game plan," Smith said. "So I knew I wasn't going to have many snaps. It's not up to me. It's up to the coaches."
Even from the "half-inch yard line" the Giants' coaching staff didn't use their heavy personnel on third and fourth down. They went with three wide receivers on third down and two tight ends and two wide receivers on fourth down.
"Again, they were all hunkered down in there, whether you had a fullback on the field or not," said McAdoo, who had regrets about his play-calling in that situation. "It was going to be tough sledding. Like I said, I would like to have that call back. We did have some opportunities for one-on-ones on the outside. I take responsibility for that call."
That line of thinking speaks for itself. The Giants always seem to be thinking pass.
That is a problem. If the Giants can't run it for less than a yard it seems reasonable to wonder if they can ever run it consistently and successfully over the course of this season.
Their line isn't built to run in the first place. Neither of their starting guards (John Jerry or Justin Pugh) are traditional road-graders, and tackles Ereck Flowers and Bobby Hart aren't plus-run blockers.
Flowers and Hart have Pro Football Focus run blocking grades of below 50 this season. Center Weston Richburg might be the best run blocker of the bunch, even though he has a 64.5 run-blocking grade this season.
The line shouldn't shoulder all of the blame. The Giants don't have a running back that strikes fear into defenses either. Perkins' longest run on 23 carries this season is seven yards, Darkwa is a steady one-cut runner and Shane Vereen a versatile back better known for his pass-catching ability.
While Darkwa (4.1 ypc) and Vereen (4.7 ypc) have enjoyed some success on limited carries, the Giants haven't had a consistent or reliable running game through three weeks.
"Well, obviously, we have left some room for improvement right there," running backs coach Craig Johnson said last week. "It's not where we need it to be. To have a good offense, the kind of offense that we want to have, we have to have a well-rounded one and all phases have to work. Running game is certainly a part of that."
Despite the lack of success early this season, they remain confident it's a capable group and capable running game.
"Feel like we're making good strides, tremendous strides actually, in the right direction so I think we need to keep building off last week," Perkins said. "There are glimpses. Every series there is glimpses of somebody doing something right. So we're just looking to improve on those.
Maybe it's grasping for straws. Maybe it's not. Bottom line is they need to be better if the Giants have any chance of consistently moving the ball on offense this season.