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Giants Can Survive Without the Run Game

Ask any Giants fan what they want to see out of their offense and a majority will talk old football clichés about running the ball between the tackles. Giant’s fans firmly believe that in order to have an effective offense, their team needs to be able to run to the football. During the Tom Coughlin era, the Giants have been a dominant run team.  Anchored by a great offensive line, they have sliced through opponent’s defenses with valuable ball carriers such as Tiki Barber, Derrick Ward, Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. This year has been a different story. Through five games, the Giants rank 31st in the NFL in yards per rushing attempt, and 28th in yards per game. Ahmad Bradshaw’s frustration with the running game, which was detailed in Mike Garafolo’s column this week, seemed to boil over during last week’s home loss to Seattle:

“Late in the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Ahmad Bradshaw was tackled at the end of a 3-yard gain he clearly felt should have gone for more.

Fox cameras and microphones captured the Giants running back’s ire, which was directed at left tackle Will Beatty.

“What are you doing, Will?!” Bradshaw yells.

“Don’t yell at me!” Beatty replies. A few seconds later, as the Giants break the huddle, a frustrated Bradshaw grumbles, “Crazy! I’m tired of this (stuff)!”

Everyone involved with the Giants’ running game is tired of being stuck in the mud lately.”

Along with the Giants offensive line’s failure to keep Eli upright, they have also been unsuccessful in opening up holes for Bradshaw and Jacobs. With a little over a quarter of the season in the books, are the fans and media overreacting to the lack of punch in the run game? Is it necessary to have a powerful run game in order to win the National Football League?  

 To answer this question, we will examine the records of every team that finished in the top half of the NFL in yards per rushing attempt in the 2010 season. If running the ball effectively is crucial to success in the NFL, teams that ranked in the top half of the league should have records to support that claim. Looking at the numbers, the data suggests otherwise. The top sixteen teams in yards per rush finished with a collective record of 122-134 during the 2010 season. One stat that could be a key driver to a team’s success is yards per pass attempt. Last year, teams that finished in top half of the league in yards per attempt finished the season 153-119. Old school fans and long-time members of the NFL media like to hang on to the cliché that teams need to run the football to win games, but lately, with new rules shifting the NFL from a running league to a passing league, the ability to run the football is no longer a prerequisite to winning in the NFL.

 The biggest concern for the Giants offense should be focused on their pass protection. The Giants rank 24th in the NFL in offensive sack percentage, which could be one of the main reasons they are 29th in the NFL in 3rd down conversion rate. Luckily for the Giants, they face a Bills team that is last in the NFL in defensive sack percentage. This Sunday in East Rutherford, the Giants offensive line may face its easiest opponent all season.

NFL offenses are built on the big play. Teams that have the arsenal to attack defenses through the air are going to succeed in the NFL.  Thanks to the acrobatics of Victor Cruz, the Giants have been able to convert some big plays in their passing game. They are currently 3rd in the NFL in yards per pass attempt with an average of 9.1.  To win games in the NFL, a powerful running game should be viewed as a luxury, not a necessity.  

Twitter: MattB_NY_Sports

Unsettling Trends for the New York Giants

Through the first quarter of the season, the New York Giants find themselves tied for first in the NFC East with the Washington Redskins. They are on a three game winning streak, highlighted by two straight back-to-back come from behind wins. It is never wise to draw any concrete conclusions based on a small sample size, though despite their 3-1 start, there are some disturbing trends within the offensive numbers. The Giants struggling running game has captured the attention of the local media, and rightfully so considering they are 29th in the NFL with a 3.3 yds/attempt. However, the focus needs to shift to other troubling aspects of the offense.

                Entering the 2011 season, the Giants re-arranged the left side of the offensive line, moving Diehl back to his natural guard spot and William Beatty to left tackle. So far, Beatty has played well, though he has been getting help is pass protection from the running backs, he has held up on his own when asked to protect one-on-one. The main culprit along the offensive line has been David Diehl. The Giants inability to consistently run the ball could be a reflection on the overall offensive line, their poor pass protection and lack of success on third downs could be a direct reflection of Diehl’s poor play. ProFootballFocus, which reviews each NFL game, have been writing about Diehl’s regression as an offensive lineman over the past couples of years, and after another poor outing in Arizona, they wrote below:

“David Diehl was always out of his depth at left tackle, but since he was originally a guard by trade, we all just gave him the benefit of the doubt and assumed he was playing out of position. A move back to left guard this season has left us questioning that logic, and suggesting that there’s a very real possibility he just was never a particularly good player. His -4.7 PFF grade for this game is largely a reflection of the six pressures he gave up to add to the pressure and four sacks he had already been charged with on the year. He now sits firmly in the red in our rankings and you’ve got to wonder if the Giants need to continue their O-line overhaul.”

                In previous years, the Giants offensive line had been one of the best at keeping Eli upright in the pocket. Through four games this year he’s been hitting the turf more frequently than in years past. Last season, Eli got sacked on only 2.88% of pass attempts, the second best rate in the league behind his brother. This year, he is getting sacked on 8.09% of pass attempts, 24th worst sack rate in the NFL. The Giants have also seen a drop in their 3rd down percentage, ranking in the bottom third of the league in converting 3rd downs this year. It would be unfair to blame David Diehl and his fellow linemates on the Giants inability to extend drives; there are a multitude of factors that contribute to a team’s success on crucial downs. However, considering a majority of 3rd downs are converted through the air, a good offensive line is needed in order to let the routes develop within the passing game.

                Due to the poor play of the offensive line, the Giants rank 21st in yards a game. The Giants have been able to stay afloat by scoring 25.5 points per game, good for 9th in the NFL. The reason they have been able to score so much with such few yards is due to their red zone efficiency. The Giants are currently scoring 80% of the time they enter their opponent’s twenty yard line, an unattainable clip that is certain to regress to the norm as the season progresses.

                The Giants are 3-1, and with a home game against Seattle their win total is nearly certain to move to four, but that should not give Giants fans any sense of security. If the Giants continue to falter on third downs and take sacks, their Sundays will quickly turn disappointing. As the season progresses, keep these offensive statistics in mind, for it will be a good barometer in predicting the future success of the New York Giants.


Giants Offense Needs to Hurry Up

Monday night, the Giants passing game got off to a similar start as it did in week one. Eli Manning was inaccurate, throwing an interception on the Giants first drive, missing Mario Manningham wide open along the sideline. Eli would start the game 2-11, unable to find any rhythm with his receivers. With 2:58 left in the first half and backed up on their own 14 yard line, the big blue offense embarked on a touchdown scoring drive that the time seemed as improbable as the Giants retiring Matt Dodge’s number. Eli hit Manningham for nine yards, found Bradshaw for four yards, hit Nicks on the right for four, Hixon over the middle for seven on third down, threw a strike to Manngingham down the sideline for thirty-one and finally finished the drive by locating Hixon in the endzone for a twenty-yard pass. With one drive, the Giants had wiped away nearly twenty-seven minutes of inconsistent play. Finally, Eli looked comfortable with his receivers, firing passes with confidence to his play makers. After watching the offense march down the field with ease, one has to wonder, why don’t the Giants run the hurry up offense more often?

            Throughout his career, Eli has established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the last two minutes of the half.  Eli became a Super Bowl legend and MVP by exhibiting command of the Giants offense and driving them to a game winning touchdown to defeat the undefeated Patriots. However, the two minute drill that often gets overlooked occurred three weeks earlier in Dallas. With less than forty seconds left in the half of the Divisional Round game in Dallas and trailing the Cowboys by a touchdown, Eli would hit Smith, Boss and eventually Toomer to tie the game going into the third quarter. Over the last three years, not including the postseason, Eli has completed nearly 59% of his passes, while throwing twelve touchdowns to only four interceptions in the last two minutes of the half.  While the Giants work to get Eli in his comfort zone, they need to realize that the hurry up offense is his comfort zone.

            The strength of the Eagles is in their three superb corner backs, Samuel, Asomugha and Rodgers-Cromartie. However, the Eagles are susceptible to give up big plays within their linebackers and safeties. In Bill Barnwell’s week two review for Grantland, he highlighted how teams need to attack the Eagles defense:

            When teams do choose to throw the ball against the Eagles, they can bypass those elite cornerbacks by targeting the tight end. Of the Big Three, only Asomugha has the size to man up against someone like Tony Gonzalez, and the Eagles have mostly kept Asomugha outside against wideouts so far. The Eagles don't have an effective cover linebacker, while starting safeties Jarrad Page and Kurt Coleman are still question marks in coverage. The future Hall of Fame tight end simply ate the Eagles up, as he caught seven of the nine passes thrown to him, producing five first downs and two touchdowns.

            Luckily for the Giants, Travis Beckum was able to practice all week and should get some playing time this Sunday in Philadelphia. While the Giants would prefer to use him in the slot than with his hands on the line, they may be able to exploit some mis-matches within the Eagles linebackers if they can keep Beckum on the field. By running the hurry up, the Giants would force the Eagles to stay in their base 4-3 defense, not allowing them to switch out a linebacker Moise Fokou for the more talented Rodgers-Cromartie.

            The Giants need to attack the Eagles over the middle of the field. Samuel and Asomugha may neutralize Nicks and Cruz, the Giants should be able to attack the Eagles linebackers and safeties. The defense will have its hands full trying to contain all the weapons the Eagles have to offer, the offense can do their part by establishing long drives and converting third downs. Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field, the Giants best defense may have to be their hurry up offense.

Follow me on Twitter: @MattB_NY_Sports


The Giants Offensive Line Must Get Offensive

During the Eli Manning era, the backbone of the Giants offensive dominance has been the play of the offensive line. The big men up front gave the Giants the ability to control both the passing and running game, making their offense a dual threat each snap. The strength of the offensive line was not only the talent among the five guys on the line, but the continuity which allowed the Giants linemen to develop chemistry over the years. This season, father time and injuries shook up the offensive line, specifically on the left side, where Seubert and O’Hara were replaced by David Diehl and David Bass, with third year tackle William Beatty now charged with the responsibility of protecting Eli’s blindside.

During the pre-season, the enigma surrounding who would be the third weapon in the passing game drew more attention than the rebuilt offensive line. Victor Cruz and Travis Beckum, who were both anointed to step up as viable third options for Manning, struggled this summer. While the pundits and analysts dissected how the Giants could endure without the emergence of a slot receiver, the questionable performance of the untested new players on the offensive line flew under the radar. The Giants imported new center David Baas carved a nice career in San Francisco, yet he still has to develop a rapport with his quarterback under center and his line mates in order to be effective. To understand the meaning of the relationship between a quarterback and his snapper, here is what David Bass told the New York Times Sam Borden:

“Baas likened the connection between a quarterback and his center to that of a pitcher and catcher in baseball. In many ways, the comparison is apt: beyond the mechanics of the snap, the center, like a catcher, is also responsible for helping to call the game. When the quarterback changes a play or blocking assignment at the line of scrimmage, the center must communicate the appropriate adjustment to the other linemen. “The center basically has to be the backup quarterback out there on the field,” Baas said.

A condensed off-season hindered Baas’s ability to build that relationship with Eli, and it is yet to be seen if those two can match the chemistry Eli had with O’Hara. William Beatty was given the opportunity to grab the left tackle spot from David Diehl last year, and couldn’t. Diehl, who slid back to his natural spot at guard, was the main culprit among an offensive line that yielded four sacks and countless pressures against the Redskins in week one. Two plays that stood out occurred in the 3rd quarter. Right after the Giants gave up the defensive touchdown to the Redskins, they had a 2nd and 9 from their own 21, when Diehl got beat up the middle for a sack. Two drives later on first down, Diehl got beat again for another sack. Both drives ended in punts from Weatherford. Quarterbacks can handle pressure off the edge as long as they are able to step up in the pocket. When they get pressured up the middle, the passing game never has a chance to get in rhythm. Given time, Eli can make this offense work with the receivers he has at his disposal.

Last year, the NFL saw multiple teams survive without their top play makers. The San Diego Chargers were without their best receiver and deep threat, Vincent Jackson, yet were first in yards per game and second in points. The Patriots traded Moss in the first quarter of the season, yet finished first in points. The Colts offense was ravaged with injuries to key players such as Dallas Clark and Austin Collie, finished fourth in yards and points per game. Even the Giants, who lost Smith and Nicks for key stretches last season, finished fifth in yards and tied for seventh in points. As long as teams have a good offensive system, quarterback and offensive line, the offenses will keep producing even if other pieces are missing. That is how the Giants survived last year, and if their offensive line can come together and perform like it has in the past, the Giants will survive this year.

After starting 2-8 for 86 yards in the first quarter, Eli Manning seemed to find a rhythm within the offense, and finished the last three quarters 16-24 for 182 yards. Perhaps he got comfortable working with his offensive line, only time will tell, but it is crucial that Eli feels safe in the pocket. This Monday night, the Giants will face a talented defensive line and a team that specializes in getting after the quarterback. The Giants can win despite inconsistent play from Cruz, Hixon, Ballard and Stokely. They will not get a win with unpredictable play from their offensive line.

Follow me on Twitter: Twitter.com/nysportsmix


NY Giants Mix blog featured writers Nick Alfonse, Kevin Casey
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