EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Of all the questions I had after the New York Giants' season-opening loss to the Redskins last week, the one that kept coming back to me was, "Why didn't they run more?" When I went to their practice Friday, I learned that many of the Giants themselves had the same question.
"We're definitely at our best when we're running," left guard David Diehl said.
Yet in Week 1, they ran the ball 20 times -- 13 carries for Ahmad Bradshaw, six for Brandon Jacobs and one for quarterback Eli Manning. And sure, they were behind in the second half, but they weren't behind the whole game. The key to running the ball in the NFL is to commit to running it, even when it doesn't seem to be working, and the Giants sometimes seem too willing to stray from that commitment.
"We ran the ball early and established it and then got away from it because the defense saw that we ran the ball early and they were more in tune to stopping the run rather than the pass," Bradshaw said. "We just have to get better running the ball and blocking stuff up and finishing our blocks as well. We have to get better at keeping the seventh or eighth man out of the box and passing a whole lot better."
Maybe, but I don't think it's as simple as teams stacking eight-man fronts to keep the Giants from running. The Giants have a quarterback who's thrown for more than 4,000 yards in each of the past two seasons. They have talented receivers in Hakeem Nicks and Mario Manningham who can get open quickly enough to burn defenses that are stacked against the run. Although their lack of a reliable slot receiver and tight end might enable teams to lock in on the run more, it's hard to believe the 2011 game plan for stopping the Giants' offense is really going to be "Let Eli Manning chuck it."
The problem the Giants have had on offense for the past couple of years, as Manning and the passing game have emerged, is an inability to establish an identity. They clearly want to run. Only six teams in the league had more rush attempts than the Giants did in 2010. But they don't seem to do it with confidence or consistency. They have two great and very different weapons in Bradshaw and Jacobs, yet they don't seem to have consistent, definite ideas about how to employ them. Running the smaller, speedier Bradshaw in third-and-one and fourth-and-one situations in the second half last Sunday rather than the bigger, more powerful Jacobs, raised eyebrows. And the coaching staff didn't have much of an explanation for it.
"The staff and head coach's philosophy is to find the run that gives you the best chance to be successful and attack them accordingly," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said. "That depends on what they are doing and what we are doing and what have you. That particular play, we thought they would load up inside and they did load up inside. We should have had that play easily, but we didn't block it as well as we should have and we didn’t get it."
The Giants obviously are having a lot of issues right now. Head coach Tom Coughlin pointed earlier in the week to Victor Cruz's third-down drop on the first drive of the game, and certainly if that had been a catch, it could have opened up more opportunities to run. They brought in veteran slot receiver Brandon Stokley later in the week to help shore things up in the passing game, and they hope he becomes the trustworthy option into which Cruz and Domenik Hixon have yet to transform.
Although that would help, the Giants would do better to trust the strengths they already had on offense. Bradshaw and Jacobs are a monster tandem the likes of which very few NFL teams can imitate or defend. The Giants are at their best when they run the ball, and they're equipped to run it a lot and run it effectively. They need to establish a plan for how to run it, and they need to stick to that plan even when it doesn't work right away. The injuries and free-agent losses they've had have thinned out the roster to the point where the Giants need to lock in and lean hard on the more reliable areas of their roster. Right now, Jacobs and Bradshaw represent one of those areas, and the Giants won't be the Giants unless they realize that and start taking advantage of it.