Pro Football Focus has wrapped up its in-depth review of Sunday's New York Giants victory over the Cleveland Browns, and the guys at PFF have concluded that Eli Manning wasn't the most effective offensive player on the field.
The most productive Giants on Sunday were, instead, running back Ahmad Bradshaw and left guard Kevin Boothe.
That marks the third straight week that Manning wasn't the top-producing Giant, and it's the second time in three weeks where the difference on offense came on the ground, not in the air.
A valid argument can be made that offensive balance is overrated, but we talked all offseason about how, in order to repeat, the Giants actually had to dramatically improve, not just maintain the status quo.
And by fixing the running game, they've improved greatly.
Ahmad Bradshaw is back to being his former self, finally living up to the monster contract the Giants gave him last offseason. The 26-year-old had easily his best game as a pro Sunday, accumulating 229 yards from scrimmage on 34 touches while battling back in impressive fashion after an early fumble.
Even Bradshaw's big mistake Sunday was somewhat fluky. The fumble he committed on the first play of the game was on him for sure, but Chris Snee and Sean Locklear had actually opened up a nice hole on the right side. You can see Bradshaw leaping through for what would be a solid gain, but you can also see the ball popping into the air after Snee's shoulder accidentally dislodged it from Bradshaw's grip.
He only would have had one man to beat for a first-down gain to start the game:
But he'd fight back and he'd continue to see the kinds of holes that just didn't exist when the line was in shambles in 2011.
Later in the first quarter, on a first-down run, the entire line dominated Cleveland's defensive front, clearing the defense out to the right. That gave Bradshaw a chance to display the cutting ability that's been limited due to injuries the last year and a half. Here, he cut impressively and emphatically back to the left and ran outside of Bear Pascoe, who continued to manhandle a defender in red.
Once Bradshaw had executed the cutback perfectly and the line had done its job, it was on Bradshaw to turn a solid gain into a big one in a one-on-one battle with safety T.J. Ward.
He cut hard right and made Ward miss, gaining an extra four yards.
This is where we saw a lot of the 2010 version of Bradshaw on Sunday. According to Football Outsiders, he was fourth in the league with 38 broken tackles that season, but his ability to make defenders miss dropped off in terms of totals and percentages in 2011, when he put up just 21 broken tackles.
We got another example of great run-blocking combined with shifty running on a 14-yard gain later in the first half. Look at the hole created for Snee, who pulled left to lead Bradshaw into the box:
First contact was made at the 20-yard line, but he broke from that.
Then he certainly looked to be wrapped up with defenders collapsing at the 17-yard line, but he wiggled away from that, too.
Somehow, some way, he'd make it all the way to the 11.
We'd see holes like that throughout the rest of the game, and Bradshaw continued to look fast and elusive.
The Giants now have 601 rushing yards through five games. Last season, they didn't hit that mark until Week 9. The league's lowest-ranked running game from 2011 is currently sixth-best in football with 4.8 yards per carry. That's a rise of 37 percent from 3.5 last year.
When you consider that rookie first-round pick David Wilson appears to be steadily improving—he had a 40-yard touchdown scamper against the Browns—and that Andre Brown's performance in Week 3 was good enough to create a running back controversy (at least in media circles), it becomes hard to see this productivity fading.
And so long as Bradshaw and/or Wilson and/or Brown are getting quality holes like the ones we've see of late, the Giants offense will continue to be significantly more dangerous than the unit that won the Lombardi Trophy a year ago.