EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It wasn’t just the bloated number of runs that was different for the New York Giants on Sunday. It also was the type of runs that were being called. They weren’t the same that we’ve seen from this team the first five games of this season and most of the past three years.
The Giants’ run game looked different in Sunday’s 23-10 win over the Denver Broncos. There was more variety than the usual “power” running plays they seem to favor. There were traps (see Orleans Darkwa’s 47-yard run early in the second quarter), quick dives and an increased diet of outside zone.
The placement of the running back also was more varied. The backs were more often lined up 5 yards behind the line of scrimmage instead of seven.
It’s not that these plays and options weren’t in the Giants’ playbook prior to Sunday, or that coach Ben McAdoo didn’t want to use them when he was calling plays instead of offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. It was the combination of the game plan and the revamped personnel that prompted the sudden and successful change.
“I guess we really don’t have a choice but to run the ball,” guard D.J. Fluker said.
The Giants ran 32 times for 148 yards. Darkwa had a career-high 21 carries for 117 yards.
Some of the offensive alterations were out of necessity. The Giants were down four of their top five wide receivers in Denver, so they ran two-tight-end sets on 72 percent of their offensive plays.
“Certainly when you have different first-down groupings, body types, whether there are more tight ends or wide receivers, I think in any offense throughout the league and even at the collegiate level, there are going to be certain runs that are going to be more effective and you’re going to hang your hat on more so based upon that,” Sullivan said.
The tight-end-heavy approach was a drastic change for a team that had run 11 personnel (one tight end with three wide receivers) more than 70 percent of the time this year and 90 percent last season.
The Giants ran only 28 percent of the offensive snaps on Sunday with three wide receivers.
“We are in a lot of the same formations sometimes. We’re starting to be more multiple with that,” offensive lineman Justin Pugh said. “You can do more things.”
The new looks and formations have opened the door for the Giants’ run game to be more varied. They seemed to run the trap more than in the past. They tried it at least three times, with the most successful coming when Fluker crunched a defender coming across the formation early in the second quarter. Combined with quality blocks by center Brett Jones and left guard John Jerry, and left tackle Ereck Flowers reaching his man at the second level, it opened a hole that sprung Darkwa for his 47-yard gain, the Giants’ longest run since the 2014 season.
They also ran more outside zone with Darkwa in the second half. That was in part because of the running back in the backfield and the defenses Denver was presenting.
The running backs are all for the changes.
“For me, I’m accepting it fully,” said rookie Wayne Gallman, who rushed nine times for 27 yards Sunday night. “I’m not going to argue with that. We knew what the plan was going in.”
The Giants admitted they had no intention of throwing the ball 40 times in Denver. They were going to rely on their running game to move the chains and slow the Broncos’ pass rush. They were going to lean on their defense.
It’s likely they will employ a similar plan Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. Even if wide receiver Sterling Shepard (ankle) returns to the lineup, the Giants aren’t exactly brimming with proven options on the outside. Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall are sidelined for the season.
Seattle also boasts one of the most accomplished and talented secondaries in the NFL. Its weakness on defense appears to be the inability to stop the run. The Seahawks are 27th in rushing defense, allowing 127.2 yards per game.
It’s a good bet the Giants will test their revamped running game on Sunday afternoon against that Seahawks’ rushing defense. And with more opportunities should come more variety from the running game. The looks of it may only continue to change.