EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Jets are a tough defense against the run. They allow a league-low average of 84.4 rushing yards per game. Earlier this season, the Patriots played them and basically didn't even try to run the ball -- nine rushing attempts against 54 Tom Brady passes. It's a radical thought, but given the way the New York Giants have struggled to run the ball against anyone this year, it's worth wondering if they'd consider it Sunday when they play the Jets.
"I'd consider anything, but I would rather play like they play, to be honest with you," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "I'd rather have 29 runs a game. I think we'd be a much better team if we were balanced that way."
They are not. The Giants rank 28th in the 32-team NFL at 89.4 yards per game. They rank 24th in rush attempts per game, 27th in yards per rush attempt, 28th in first downs per rush attempt, 29th in rushing touchdowns (only three all year!), 25th in average rush yards before contact and 20th in rush yards after contact. By any statistical measure, the 2015 Giants are a team that cannot run the ball.
Part of the issue is the maddening running back committee to which they seem dedicated. Rashad Jennings gets the first offensive series, Andre Williams the second, Orleans Darkwa the third, with Shane Vereen taking over on third downs and in the two-minute drill. This is a pattern that has been in place for more than a month, and the coaches say they like it. They believe it offers each back an opportunity to show what he has that day, and they say they assess at halftime and give the bulk of the second-half work to whichever one has earned it.
That sounds reasonable, but the problem is that it's not working. None of the backs has stepped forward as a consistent performer. The Giants have blown fourth-quarter leads in four of their six losses. They can't run the ball in the second half when they need to run it to put the game away. They can't run it to any extent that helps them control the game. Their average per-game time of possession of 28 minutes, 6 seconds is the fourth-worst in the NFL.
So... why not change the philosophy, pick one running back and give him the bulk of the carries if he gets hot?
"But what's 'hot'?" Coughlin asked. "And when has it happened?"
This is a chicken-and-egg question. Should a running back need to establish a "hot hand" in order to earn more work, or does the insistence on the committee approach prevent that from happening? There's a sense among the players that they'd like to see one back get a shot at 20 carries one of these weeks, and my feeling is that they'd be happy to see that opportunity go to either Jennings or Darkwa. But with all the backs also playing special teams, the coaching staff seems reluctant to hand bell-cow duties on offense to any one of them. And the fact that no running back has played well enough to make the decision obvious isn't helping matters.
Regardless, what the Giants are doing isn't working, and they'd probably do well to let one of these guys roll with the first-down and second-down work for an entire first half and see if he can get into a rhythm. This week against the Jets, though, might not be the week to try it.