The New York Giants have been unpredictable since their Week 11 bye, flashing Super Bowl potential in their two wins while justifying a “pretender” label in their two losses. However, even when the team has performed its worst, the Giants running game has been a model of consistency.
New York’s success on the ground should be encouraging, as last season’s squad owned the league’s worst rushing attack. Although the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys have completely closed the gap in the 2012 NFC East race, Eli Manning and the Giants know they can lean on a revived running game in the season’s final weeks.
In the four games since the bye, New York has run the ball 108 times for 496 yards—a solid average of 4.6 yards per carry. That average is only slightly better than the Giants’ season-long average of 4.5 YPC, which ranks ninth in the league, but the improvement is impressive, considering the adversity that New York’s offensive backfield has been faced with in recent weeks.
Andre Brown, the Giants’ surprisingly emergent running back of 2012, broke his fibula during the team’s 38-10 win over the Green Bay Packers. The unlikely star had amassed 385 yards on 73 carries up to that point. Brown’s 5.3 YPC average is still a team-high, but the Week 12 injury landed him on the injured reserve/designated to return list.
Despite the loss of Brown, New York made do with veteran running back Ahmad Bradshaw the following week against the Redskins, turning him loose for 103 yards on 24 carries. In Week 14 versus the New Orleans Saints, largely unproven rookie running back David Wilson stole the show, adding 100 yards on the ground (13 carries) to his remarkable 227-yard kick return performance.
Even during last Sunday’s 34-0 drubbing at the hands of the Atlanta Falcons, the New York backs found room to run, as both Wilson and midseason acquisition Kregg Lumpkin were able to average upwards of 4.5 YPC. Although it hasn’t rectified recent losses, the Giants’ dedication to the ground game is admirable, as it allows the team to avoid one-dimensionality.
It is the popular opinion among Giants fans to knock offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride’s affinity for the draw play and somewhat predictable play calling, but his creative rushing schemes allow the Giants to run the ball effectively from multiple formations.
After combing through the play-by-plays for each of the last four games, I calculated that the Giants average 4.3 YPC on plays from under center (not including scrambles, QB kneels by Manning). On plays from the shotgun, which includes draws and direct snaps, that average improves to 6.4 YPC.
Gaining yardage is only half the battle, though. For Tom Coughlin, ball security comes before all, and the New York backs have clearly heeded his mantra. In fact, Lumpkin’s meaningless fumble on a bizarre toss-back play late in the fourth quarter of the Atlanta game was the first by a Giants running back since the bye week.
In the 10 games leading up to the bye, the Giants running backs lost four fumbles, including a Week 1 cough-up by Wilson. The rookie mistake cost Wilson a ton of playing time, but he has since gained the coaching staff’s trust, racking up double-digit carries in back-to-back weeks.
However, regardless of the team’s success on the ground, the Giants’ offense will only return to dominance if Manning and the passing game get back on track. While each Giant running back has brought something to the table, none have shown the ability to completely take over the game on a consistent basis like the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson.
Then again, there’s only one Adrian Peterson.
The New York coaching staff should be content with the production it has gotten out of its backs in 2012. If the Giants turn things around in Weeks 16 and 17 and land themselves a playoff spot, the consistent running backs will deserve a lot of the credit.