Without Reliable Backfield, Is Eli Manning Being Asked to Do Too Much?

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Without Reliable Backfield, Is Eli Manning Being Asked to Do Too Much?
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The New York Giants' season-opening loss to the Dallas Cowboys was an ugly affair marred by six turnovers.

However, giveaways weren't the only issue the Giants had against Dallas.

Quarterback Eli Manning threw for an eye-popping 450 yards (mostly out of necessity) and three Giants receivers topped 100 yards, but Big Blue managed only 50 yards on the ground.

It would be nice to say this was an aberration, a mistake-filled fluke. It may, however, be the beginning of a disconcerting trend for the Giants, one that's going to put a staggering amount of pressure on Manning to put up gaudy numbers week after week.

The Giants chose to part ways with Ahmad Bradshaw, who led the team in rushing a year ago, in the offseason.

New York Giants 2012 Running Backs
Player Yards TD 2013 Status
Ahmad Bradshaw 1015 6 Plays for Colts
Andre Brown 385 8 Broken Leg
David Wilson 358 4 Benched in Week 1

Stats Courtesy of Giants.com

It's a decision the team may live to regret.

The plan heading into training camp was that veteran Andre Brown and second-year pro David Wilson would form a committee in the backfield. Wilson would handle the early-down work, while Brown would function as the third-down and short-yardage option.

That plan took a big hit when Brown fractured his leg in the preseason, forcing the Giants to place Brown on injured reserve/designated for return. Brown won't be eligible to return until Week 10, which thrust Wilson into a featured role.

That didn't work out so well either.

The same ball-control issues that plagued Wilson last year in the season opener surfaced Sunday night. The electrifying youngster was benched in favor of Da'Rel Scott after losing his second fumble of the game, which was returned by safety Barry Church for a Dallas touchdown.

Wilson also struggled badly in pass protection, whiffing on a blitz pickup that resulted in a drive-killing sack in the first quarter.

The Giants took steps to address the latter problem on Tuesday, according to ESPN.

Granted, at this point in his career Jacobs is a plodder and then some as a runner, but he remains a very capable pass-blocker.

Head coach Tom Coughlin believes that Wilson's fumbling problems are correctable, according to NFL.com's Chris Wesseling.

David Wilson's a very talented young man that we need on our football team to be productive. We've been down this road before. We think we can have an impact on him being a better ball carrier.

The Giants had better hope so, or their chances of getting back to the playoffs are going to dry up quickly.

Yes, the Giants have a talented stable of pass-catchers in Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and Brandon Myers. And Manning is a two-time Super Bowl MVP.

Moving the ball through the air should not be a problem for the Giants.

In fact, the last time the Giants were world champions (two years ago), they ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing during the regular season at 89 yards a game.

However, the Giants running game got a lot better in the playoffs, averaging over 116 yards a game on the ground during that postseason. If they don't get some balance on offense quickly, they're probably not going to have the opportunity for a similarly magical playoff run.

You see, the Giants' schedule isn't doing them any favors right now. Fresh off the loss to Dallas, the Giants host the Denver Broncos this week in the latest installment of the "Manning Bowl."

Generally speaking, trying to out-do Peyton Manning in a shootout isn't advisable. Eli has yet to beat his older brother in the NFL.

If the Giants lose that game, they could easily find themselves staring at an early two-game deficit to Dallas or Philadelphia in the NFC East.

New York Giants Schedule
Week Opponent
2 vs. Denver Broncos
3 at Carolina Panthers
4 at Kansas City Chiefs
5 vs. Philadelphia Eagles
6 at Chicago Bears
7 vs. Minnesota Vikings
8 at Philadelphia Eagles

Week 9 bye

After that comes what would appear to be a pair of winnable games against the Panthers and Chiefs, followed by a four-game stretch that includes two matchups with Philly and a trip to Chicago.

In other words, if the Giants aren't careful, they could find themselves out of the race by the time their bye week arrives and Brown is eligible to return.

In addition, while Eli Manning is more than capable of throwing for 5,000 yards, he also hasn't thrown fewer than 15 interceptions since 2009. He threw three against the Cowboys in Week 1.

If Manning attempts 40-plus passes every week, there are going to be turnovers. Turnovers that the Giants can't afford.

To be blunt, the New York defense is not especially good. The New York defensive line, while still a solid group, isn't the fearsome unit it once was. The Giants linebackers are among the worst in the NFL. The cornerbacks are an average group. The loss of Stevie Brown to a torn ACL was a crushing blow to the back of the secondary.

A running game would take time off the clock and pressure off that defense. More time spent defending short fields most definitely will not.

How big a problem is the Giants' backfield?

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Finally, it's worth pointing out that the 2011 Giants won the division at 9-7. Not only is nine wins not winning the NFC East this year, but in a deep conference, that may not even be enough for a wild-card spot.

All this isn't meant to imply that the Giants are doomed after one ugly game. I picked the Giants to win the division before the season, and I'm not about to abandon ship just yet.

A strong game from Wilson this week (that restores some balance to the offense) would go a long way towards alleviating these perceived problems.

However, if the run game falters and Eli puts up big numbers again in a New York loss, then it becomes more probable that Manning is simply going to be asked to do too much in 2013 for the Giants to be legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

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