Breaking Down the New York Giants' Struggles in the Running Game

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Breaking Down the New York Giants' Struggles in the Running Game
The Star-Ledger-USA TODAY Sports

After just two games, the New York Giants rushing attack is neck-deep in a slump that has seen them run 33 times for 73 yards (2.2 yards per carry average) and one touchdown. Those figures qualify the Giants for dead last in the NFL.

Against Denver, there were some interesting trends to emerge from the game.

Seven of the Giants' 19 rushing attempts went for zero or negative yards. New York lost 12 yards with all but one of those failed runs occurring on either first or second down.

The Giants ran eight running plays from the shotgun formation. Of those eight, they had just three plays for zero or negative yardage, and they ended up accumulating 15 of their 23 rushing yards.

Of the rushing attempts that went for zero or negative yardage, the majority (four) took place on the right side of the formation.

This article looks at some of the Giants’ failed rushing attempts in an effort to see if there are any emerging trends. 

 

Failure No. 1: First quarter, NYG at 4:40, 1st-and-10 on NYG on 16-yard line

David Wilson right tackle, to NYG 13 for a three-yard loss. 

The Giants line up in 21 personnel. Denver, who appears to be in its base 4-3-4 defense, seems to time the snap count perfectly, as defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson gets a jump against Giants center David Baas. 

In the picture on the left, you can see that Baas is the only Giant whose jersey number is clearly visible to the screen. This means Baas has been turned sideways by the defender, who has beaten him off the snap. You can also see Baas’ left arm reaching to grab onto Vickerson, who is well past him at this point in the play.

In the photo on the right, Vickerson is already into the backfield before Eli Manning has handed the ball to Wilson.

Baas, meanwhile, simply stands there watching instead of running after Vickerson to attempt a final push to move him away from the running lane Wilson was to take.

The result? Wilson is dropped for a three-yard loss.

Conclusion: Baas, who returned to the starting lineup after several weeks away nursing a knee injury, might have thought he was ready to play, but upon further review, he might not have been quite right.

He was slow to react to Vickerson’s charge, which is something that might have been related to his knee and not being able to straighten up quickly enough to get into his block.

Rust might have been part of the problem as during the week, Baas, who was listed as “limited” in practice, took approximately half of the snaps he normally would take.

 

Failure No. 2: First quarter, NYG at 1:13, 2nd-and-10 on NYG eight-yard line

Brandon Jacobs right guard, to NYG eight-yard line for a three-yard loss.

The Giants are in 21 personnel. This time, it's defensive end Robert Ayers, who takes an inside move against rookie right tackle Justin Pugh, as seen in the picture on the left.

In the picture on the right, Ayers is well into the backfield just as Brandon Jacobs takes the handoff while Pugh is on the ground.

If Jacobs saw this breakdown in blocking, why he didn't glance to his left where there was some running room developing behind the blocks of tight end Brandon Myers, Will Beatty and left guard Kevin Boothe, as shown in the picture on the right?

Historically, Jacobs has not been known for having the quick feet to change direction on a dime the way that former teammate Ahmad Bradshaw used to do. This is because Jacobs is more of a downhill type of runner.

Conclusion: There is no question that Pugh (No. 72) was beaten on this play—notice how in the image on the right, he’s down on his knees while his man is in the backfield. However, Jacobs appears to be just as guilty for this play’s failure. 

Note that Myers (No. 83, on the end of the formation) had his man under control and that Beatty, who had rubbed off his double team block with Boothe (No. 77), was about to get to the next level to pick up the stray Broncos defender that can be seen standing just beyond where Boothe was engaged. 

Had Jacobs seen this and adjusted, perhaps he might have made something out of nothing.

 

Failure No. 3: Third quarter, NYG at 7:34, 1st-and-10 on DEN 31-yard line

David Wilson left tackle for no gain.

Working form the shotgun, Wilson lined up one yard behind. He takes the handoff, but Baas is on the ground after failing to block defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, who now has a clear shot at Wilson.

Knighton grabs the sleeve of Wilson’s jersey, which stops the running back’s forward momentum just long enough until cornerback Chris Harris, who shed receiver Hakeem Nicks’ block, gets there to finish the tackle on Wilson.

Notice, by the way, that Wilson kept two hands on the ball, something he wasn't doing in the regular season opener.

Conclusion: There were two breakdowns on this play. The first was Baas, whose performance in this game was one to forget.

The second was Nicks’ failure to hold his block long enough against Harris.

Now let's look at two consecutive running plays in which the Giants had first-and-goal on the Broncos’ one-yard line. 

 

Failure No. 4: Third quarter, NYG at 3:35, 1st-and-1 on DEN one-yard line

Jacobs right guard to DEN one-yard line for no gain.

The Giants are in their jumbo package, which uses three tight ends. Knighton (No. 94) shoots in untouched to stop Jacobs at the line of scrimmage.

What happened here is that Boothe (circled) tried to cut Knighton low and the defender simply stepped over Boothe, who can be seen on the ground in the seconds after the ball is snapped.

Knighton, meanwhile, slides over to the right guard hole that Jacobs is trying to hit and makes the stop.

Knighton, by the way, was called for taunting after this play was whistled dead, which gave the Giants a 1st-and-goal instead of a 2nd-and-goal.

  

Success: Third Quarter, NYG at 3:18, 1st-and-1 on DEN one-yard line

Jacobs up the middle for one-yard touchdown

On the next play, the Giants, who again are in their jumbo package, finally get it into the end zone despite a breakdown in blocking that occurs when tight end Bear Pascoe appears to block no one as defensive end Malik Jackson (No. 97) comes in untouched.

Fortunately for the Giants, Jacobs spots a crease created by right guard Chris Snee and Pugh. Jacobs squares his shoulders and plows straight ahead for the score. 

 

Conclusion

There's no question that the Giants' run-blocking up front has been less than perfect. The majority of the issues seem to be technique related, e.g., not getting proper leverage or going too low on a cut block.

At this point in the season—remember the Giants, like every other NFL team, had a full training camp and preseason to work on technique—these breakdowns should not be happening as frequently as they are, certainly not with a veteran group out there. 

At the same time, the running backs aren't blameless. Sometimes they simply don't follow their blocks, while other times it might be a case of not adjusting quickly enough to exploit a hole open elsewhere.  

Perhaps as time goes on, some of these problems will start to go away, as it should be remembered that the offensive line didn't really play together as a whole the entire preseason and that Jacobs participated in his first game in almost a year.

There is nowhere to go but up for the Giants’ running game, which has to find a way to get things going if the Giants are to be successful. 

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