The New York Giants have lacked big, game-changing—or even drive-changing—plays from the running game recently. But everything changed in that regard Thursday night in Carolina, with Andre Brown exploding in his first career start.
He rushed for 113 yards in total, but 80 of those came on half a dozen carries. Those are the impact runs the Giants missed in 2011.
Here's a closer look at the six runs Brown had Thursday night that went for seven yards or more:
Seven-Yard First-Down Run on New York's First Series
On Brown's first run of the game, he picks up seven yards and a first down, but it was really a play in which you or I could have picked up a first down. That's because Martellus Bennett and Will Beatty (circled in red) do a fantastic job dealing with Carolina's right end, as well as circled linebackers Jon Beason and Like Kuechly.
Bennett switches inside and Beatty gets out to clog the opening that Beason and Kuechly would have used to take Brown down (red). In blue, Bear Pascoe is making easy work of James Anderson. Kuechly doesn't approach aggressively enough, and he and a few of his teammates don't collide with Brown until he's all the way out to the 47-yard line.
31-yard Run Later on the Same Drive
His second run, which comes two players later, is the longest of the day. And to gain 31 yards, he has to do a lot more work. As soon as he takes the delayed handoff he knows he has to cut right (whether that's by design or not).
The pressure comes to the left and the safeties (in red) are deep, which means that Brown probably only has to make one quick move in order to bust it to the outside for a big gain. This is what separates a good back from an average one.
The penetration up front means there's no one to block Beason, who comes in to make what should be a simple tackle for a short gain. I honestly don't know if Bradshaw would have broken this.
But Brown breaks Beason's tackle and has good blocks from Bennett (red) and Victor Cruz (blue). Momentum would spring him off of Beason to the right, which gives him a chance to find the corner and bust loose for 31 yards.
While the first positive gain was all on Brown's blockers, this was a team effort.
16-Yard Run to Kick off New York's Second Possession
This is the kind of play the Giants haven't gotten enough of from their backs the last couple of years. It's almost all on Brown and maybe the Panthers defense a little bit, too.
It's not as though the run-blocking was bad. David Baas (red), Chris Snee (blue), Sean Locklear (orange) and Henry Hynoski (purple) did a perfect job sealing off their men and opening that lane.
But ordinarily, a play like this ends the moment the back attempts to cut and dive between Baas and Locklear. The defense begins to collapse, but Brown cuts fiercely and explodes into the next level.
Then he puts a move on Haruki Nakamura, destroying the safety in the process...
I truly believe that Brandon Jacobs circa 2011 would have picked up four or fives yards there. Brown gained another first down and 16 yards.
19-yard Run on Second-and-Long Late in the First Quarter
This is my favorite run from Brown Thursday night because he displays such maturity for a back making his first start. In this case, nothing's really there out of the gate, but no defender is penetrating either. So essentially, the line has failed to open up a hole, but they've also stood their ground.
Sean Locklear (red) is getting beat by Charles Johnson, forcing Brown to cut quick and get behind the wall that's been (unintentionally) created by David Baas and Chris Snee. Snee blocked hard left, indicating the gap was supposed to be right where Johnson was sweeping in.
In this case, Brown's line has failed him a little. But he bides his time behind Baas, keeping his legs churning but at a slower rate than usual, until something opens up. He does this rather than panicking and crashing forward into his own teammates or Carolina defenders.
Less than a full second after that, and there it is...
Great job by both Baas and Kevin Boothe, who also improvised upfield. But the key was Brown exhibiting great field vision, great patience and the ability to think fast.
Seven-Yard Run in the Red Zone Early in the Second Quarter
This is another example of a play that was made possible by great run-blocking but Brown was the cherry on top. Here's the hole he had off a draw...
He has seemingly lost momentum and is no longer running north-south as Josh Norman comes up to make the tackle at around the eight-yard line.
But a solid stiff arm and a sudden burst sends Brown by Norman, who ends up having to take Brown down inside the five-yard line with what some would call an illegal tackle.
He'd actually be marked out of bounds at the two, and they'd score from there. Things might have gone a whole lot differently had Brown settled for what he looked like he'd be given and gone down at around the six.
Seven-Yard Pickup in Garbage Time
Great team effort again on this one, as Beatty locks up his man while Boothe pulls over and takes care of Antwan Applewhite. Brown follows Hynoski between those two and has daylight.
He's met initially by a defender at the 47-yard line, one yard ahead of the line of scrimmage.
But he'd carry Kuechly and several of his peers all the way to the 41.
Brown might not be Brandon Jacobs-big, but he brings more size and strength than Bradshaw, who might not have moved the pile that far along.
There were times when some pulls weren't effective and the line failed to open up big holes, but it was an above-average performance from a group of blockers which has been highly criticized of late. And there were some times when Brown wasn't perfect—a missed assignment on a sack, for example—but for the most part he seemed to breathe new life into an offense that was in flux due to injury.
Every time Brown was given even a small window, he took full advantage. That's something that the Giants haven't seen enough of from Bradshaw and definitely didn't see enough of from Jacobs.
Plays like the six shown above haven't come often lately in the land of Big Blue. It's not only great for Giants fans to see more balance from their team, but it's simply a lot of fun as a viewer. Running backs get called a dime a dozen all the time, but there's no denying that watching a back in a groove is one of the most entertaining things in sports.
I have a feeling we'll be seeing more of that this year from the Giants.