When it comes to having success in the passing game, there’s no greater benefit to a quarterback and his receivers than to having a functioning running game.
Just ask former New York Giants wide receiver turned NFL analyst Amani Toomer, who believes that the lack of a balanced offensive attack is a primary contributor to the Giants being ranked 30th in the NFL with 17.6 points scored per game.
In an exclusive interview with Bleacher Report, Toomer, who this weekend will be helping to promote the Charmin Relief Project that will be held in the MetLife Stadium parking lot before the Giants-Raiders game, said that the lack of a running game has shown thus far that the Giants passing game isn't capable of carrying the team by itself.
|Giants 2013 Passing Offense: Where It Ranks After 9 Weeks|
|Avg. Yards per Completion||7.0||19 (tied with 3 others)|
|Passing Yards per Game||257.9||13|
|Passing Touchdowns||10||22 (tied with 3 others)|
“In (offensive coordinator) Kevin Gilbride’s offense, they like to have as close to a 50-50 balance in terms of run and pass, and the fact that they haven’t had that for the majority of the season has been a problem."
While teams such as the Denver Broncos have found success with having unbalanced attacks that favor the pass, Toomer opined that the Giants' current personnel configuration isn't set up to where the pass can be the focal point of the offense.
“The (Giants) offensive line isn't really built to drop back and strictly pass block,” he said. “They’re probably better off pass blocking on play-action situations as opposed to being a straight dropback team.”
Toomer noted that quarterback Eli Manning hasn't really looked comfortable in the passing game this season for numerous reasons, one of which being because of the lack of a running game and a lead, they've had to move away from the play action.
Now forced to throw more intermediate to deeper passes, Manning, who has looked as though he doesn't trust his receivers to be where they're supposed to be, has ended up missing a higher number of passes where the receiver went in one direction and the ball in another.
Toomer believes that Nicks and Cruz's decision did not do the team any favors because it deprived Manning of the chance to re-establish rapport with two very critical components of the passing game to whom he last threw in December 2012.
|Giants Receptions/Targets Percentage - Hakeem Nicks & Victor Cruz|
|Source: New York Giants Weekly Media Notes|
It should be noted that per data compiled from Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Cruz has been targeted 10 more times than Nicks in the first eight games of the season.
Also worth noting is that Cruz obviously was not slowed down by injury last season like Nicks was, thus making the Giants' No. 1 receiver's decision to stay away from the spring drills even more glaring in retrospect.
Toomer, who like Nicks was a No. 1 receiver in his playing days, believes that a receiver should take advantage of every opportunity to catch passes with and from his quarterback, regardless of how many years of experience the receiver has.
“When I was playing, every time there was an opportunity to get in the quarterback’s face and catch balls, I would always want to be there not because I felt like I needed to practice, but because I felt like I needed to gain his trust,” Toomer said.
“When it came down to crunch time, I wanted to be that player that the quarterback and the team could rely on, so I never really thought of it as a chore to go to the OTAs and do some of the extra things during the offseason.”
Toomer noted that the one receiver who did take advantage of all of the offseason opportunities to catch passes from Manning, Rueben Randle, is still very much a work in progress, in this, his second year.
In the first four games of the season, Manning targeted Randle 23 times to Nicks' 25, this no doubt a result of the quarterback having the strongest familiarity with Randle, who was present for all of the spring practices.
At the same time, Randle has also been on the other end of six of Manning’s 15 interceptions this season, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required) because, Toomer believes, of his inexperience in those first four games in which his 23 targets were just nine less than he had in his rookie season.
“Rueben Randle is a receiver that has a lot of talent, but I don’t know if he is ready for that big role that he has right now,” Toomer said.
“Ultimately, it’s (Manning’s) responsibility because he’s the person making the decisions where to throw the ball. I think there was a lot of indecision and unfamiliar situations resulting in him not trusting where the receivers were going to be at all times, and that was a tough thing to get over in the beginning.”
That’s why having a running game to take some of the pressure off the passing game is so important.
“When you don’t have a running game, your routes don’t define themselves early enough because the defense is dropping a lot of people back into coverage because they don’t respect your running game," Toomer said.
"So instead of optioning one guy, you’re optioning two or three that are dropping back because the defense isn't worried about the threat of the run.”
Part of the problem with the Giants running game struggling to get on track at the start of the season was injuries to both the backfield and the offensive line.
Toomer believes that the Giants now have a better personnel fit, especially at running back, to accomplish what Gilbride’s offense is designed to do.
“I think David Wilson is like a shiny sports car that looks very good, but is just not very functional,” he said when asked if the Giants initial lineup at running back had more of a finesse look to it.
“Sometimes you need the station wagon to get the job done, and those are the guys they have now in Peyton Hillis, Brandon Jacobs and Andre Brown, who is coming back, and (fullback) John Conner.”
Toomer, who recalled how opponents used to dread facing the Giants and their smash-mouth style of play back when he was an active player, believes that the more physical the offense, the easier it will be for the passing game.
“When you get away from that, it takes away the physicality of the offensive linemen,” he said. “So instead of going out and attacking the linebackers and defensive linemen, they’re sitting back and receiving the blow.
“When you receive the blow over and over again, it takes some of your sting away, which is what I thought happened early in this season.”
That’s why Toomer believes the resurgence of the running game must continue if the passing game is to find its groove in the second half of the season.
Based on the data shown above, Toomer's theory appears to be validated. In Week 6 against the Chicago Bears, a game in which Brandon Jacobs recorded the first 100-yard rushing performance for his team this season, the Giants offense began to run more of a balanced attack.
Although New York lost that game, they were never really out of the game, even in the final minutes.
As the running game began to gel as more of a smashmouth style, the balance on offense became a regular staple in the final statistics. More importantly, the wins started coming.
“As this running game goes, you’re going to start to see the team that we thought we were going to see when the season started,” Toomer said.
Toomer, who enjoys talking football with fans, said he's looking forward to meeting fans that drop by the Charmin Relief Project, a free interactive exhibit featuring games and upscale portable restroom facilities in the corner of Lot J, adjacent to Lots G and L.
The spacious restroom facilities, which are housed in a deluxe 64-square foot trailer, will be staffed by attendants and fully stocked with Charmin supplies. Each restroom also features sinks with running water, and is designed to provide tailgaters with all the comforts of home.
The Charmin Relief Project, which is on its third NFL city—its previous stops were in Denver on Opening Night and in Oakland last month—will end its 2013 NFL tour on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas.
“Sometimes the most stressful times are when you’re at a sporting event and you don’t have confidence that you have a clean place to go to relieve yourself," Toomer said.
"That’s what we’re trying to do with the Charmin Relief Project—provide NFL fans with a clean, comfortable place to go when nature calls.”