Thanks to the return of running back Andre Brown from the temporary injured reserve list last week, the New York Giants offense seems to have finally found that missing piece just in time for a critical second-half stretch of games.
Just how effective was Brown in his first regular-season game since Nov. 25, 2012?
He finished with 30 carries, 115 yards and one rushing touchdown, prompting Pro Football Focus (subscription required), in its weekly “ReFo” feature done on every game, to note:
For a player to have come back from the kind of injury list as he has had and perform like this is something remarkable, and this was one of the better pure running performances you will see all year.
Of Brown’s 115 yards, Pro Football Focus reports that 55 of them came after contact, meaning that Brown often made something out of nothing.
With just 40 more rushing yards, which, barring any unforeseen occurrences should come in Week 11’s game against Green Bay, Brown should easily overtake Brandon Jacobs as the Giants' team rushing yardage leader this season.
Based on the career numbers of both players, the 26-year-old Brown probably is the more polished player at this point in their respective careers.
|Avg. Yards per Carry||4.4||4.8|
Source: Pro Football Focus (subscription required)
Before getting into the breakdown, it needs to be said that Brown hasn't been perfect on every play and that Wilson hasn't been imperfect on every play.
Both players obviously have unique skill sets and strengths, so in preparing this analysis, I attempted to look at trends and to pick examples to illustrate accordingly.
That’s not to say that any shortcomings are not correctable—good coaching and a willingness to adapt one’s technique are key to a player improving.
Based on the body of work put forth by each player in 2012 and 2013, I've come away with several initial conclusions regarding why Brown has the edge over Wilson as far as being a more complete NFL running back.
One of the things Brown does extremely well is that he’s constantly scanning what’s ahead of him, looking for that one little crease to exploit for maximum yardage.
When he finds it, Brown hits the hole hard, sometimes dragging behind him a defender or two, as was the case in the first quarter of the Giants-Raiders game.
In this frame, Brown has taken the handoff on a play that was designed to go up the middle. However, there isn't any room for him to exploit.
You can see that he’s already looking to the right, perhaps in hopes that tight end Brandon Myers is going to seal off his man, which would allow Brown to get to the outside for a nice gain.
Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Myers, marked with the red X, can be seen lunging at the Raiders defender, who has beaten him and who is trying to hone in on stopping Brown for a loss.
Credit Brown for knowing when to turn upfield at the right moment. In doing so, he takes away the great angle the Raiders defender had to make a stop for a minimal gain.
Brown then turns upfield, and all the defender can do at this point is lunge and try to grab a piece of Brown’s body, which he does.
Brown, meanwhile, keeps his legs moving and powers through for an additional two yards on the play, turning what probably should have been a one- or two-yard gain at best into a seven-yard pickup.
Now let’s look at Wilson. Because he is so quick out of his stance, sometimes the blocking in front of him isn't fully developed, likely because of the aging and banged-up offensive line.
Where Wilson needs to be able to compensate is with his vision. If a block isn't fully developed, he needs to use his change-of-direction ability to make something out of nothing.
In the frame on the left, Wilson (blue circle) takes the handoff and starts to follow the lead block of fullback Henry Hynoski, who has his man on the ground.
Instead of moving a few steps to the outside, Wilson tries to jump over the pile in front of him (right frame), only to end up jumping into the arms of a Dallas defender.
Had Wilson moved to the outside, with his quickness, he likely could have turned a one-yard gain into a lot more given the amount of space on the edge.
Making Defenders Miss
Admittedly, both Brown and Wilson have the ability to make the first man miss.
The difference is that Brown doesn't let a would-be tackler deter him from picking up yardage.
In this frame, a first-quarter, seven-yard gain, Brown takes the handoff and starts to run to the right side of the formation (blue arrow), where the Giants have inserted James Brewer as their jumbo tackle.
The problem is that the left side of the offensive line didn't create enough push for Brown to exploit.
He then cuts back inside (yellow arrow) in an attempt to make something out of nothing, even though directly in front of him, center Jim Cordle has been beaten by a Raiders defender.
Because Brown is so quick on his cutback to the inside, he has no trouble creating separation from the penetrating defensive lineman who has beaten Cordle.
That defender then tried to grab onto Brown to make an arm tackle, a tactic that failed.
Now let’s look at an example of Wilson failing to break a tackle.
In the Dallas game in Week 1, Wilson runs to the left end, where he comes up against Dallas defensive tackle Nick Hayden, who came in untouched (left frame).
For some reason Wilson doesn't cut back inside, where he had some room to exploit.
Instead, as shown in the frame on the right, he makes contact with Hayden, who now has enough of a piece of Wilson to bring him down for no gain.
Who is the more complete NFL running back?
In 2012, his breakout season, Brown didn't put the ball on the ground once, a factor that by itself warms the hearts of the Giants coaches.
Brown has 105 carries for 499 yards and no fumbles in his NFL career.
By contrast, David Wilson, last year’s first-round pick, already has three fumbles in his 115 career carries, all of them lost. That comes out to one fumble every 38.3 carries.
The good news is that before his 2013 season ended in Week 5 against Philadelphia, Wilson appeared to fix his early-season fumbling problems.
However, in his rookie season, he also appeared to have fixed his fumbling issues after mishandling the ball in the season opener, only to start 2013 showing the same careless ball-handling habits that had supposedly been fixed.
Assuming that Wilson resumes his career, it will be interesting to see if he reverts to his prior bad habits, as he did going from 2012 to 2013.
Unlike the 5’9”, 205-pound Wilson, who for whatever the reason tends to cut guys rather than establishing a base and meeting them head-on when asked to pass block, the 6’0”, 227-pound Brown rarely takes this approach.
Brown's pass protection technique is that he squares up against his man, sets a base, and then gets his hands underneath the defender’s shoulder pads.
In the frame on the left, Brown has stepped up and is ready to meet a blitzing defender head-on.
In the frame on the right, Brown, denoted by the blue arrow, has narrowed his base by bringing his right leg in under his hip.
He is leaning into his man, and he gets his hands underneath the defender’s shoulder pads to gain the best possible leverage in stunting the defender’s forward progress.
Wilson, as previously noted, tries to cut a defender’s legs out from under him to disrupt the timing.
This approach rarely works in today’s NFL. Defenders, much like running backs, are trained to leap over hurdles on the ground.
In addition, when a running back tries to cut and the defender suddenly shifts and takes a wider angle around him because he has the speed to do so, the running back can be made to look foolish.
In this frame, Wilson, who has pass protection duties in a goal-line play against Dallas in Week 1, dives at and misses defensive end George Selvie, who now has an unblocked path to Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
Selvie records the 10-yard sack and the Giants go from having 2nd-and-goal on the Cowboys’ 1-yard line to 3rd-and 11.
As a result, the Giants end up settling for a field goal instead of coming away with what should have been an easy touchdown.
Wilson might have the first-round pedigree, but Brown, originally a fourth-round draft pick who had bounced around the league and who has had three major leg injuries in his career, thus far is the better overall value.
If he continues at this pace, there should be no question as to whether the Giants re-sign the soon-to-be unrestricted free agent to a multi-year deal.
There should also be no debate as to who the featured back in the Giants’ offense should be moving forward.
Patricia Traina is the senior editor for Inside Football. All quotes and information obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Follow Patricia on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.