Williams, Jennings Prove They Can Carry Giants Running Game Without David Wilson

Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistAugust 3, 2014

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The final score means nothing, most of the stats are useless and the reality is a lot will change between now and Sept. 8, but the major takeaway from the New York Giants' preseason-opening 17-13 victory over the Buffalo Bills is that Big Blue absolutely have the tools to succeed on the ground with or without 2012 first-round pick David Wilson.

That's because new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo emphasized the power-running game that once was such a staple in New York, allowing $10 million free-agent pickup Rashad Jennings and highly touted fourth-round rookie Andre Williams to put on a show.

Those two combined for 71 rushing yards on 14 carries, with both ripping off scampers of 12 yards or more. In his first career game, Williams had New York's only touchdown of the first half along with a 21-yard gain.

That alone is quite promising considering that the Giants had a league-low four rushes of 20-plus yards throughout the entire 2013 campaign.

Giants: Big Runs
2013 per-game average2014 preseason opener
12-plus yards1.84
20-plus yards0.251

All in all, they ran 38 run plays and only 23 pass plays, which is very un-Giant-like. This is, after all, a team that had the ninth-most lopsided run-pass ratio in the league last year, passing 61.44 percent of the time, according to TeamRankings.com.

Giants: Running-Play Percentage
2013 season38.6
Sunday vs. Bills62.3

As was expected, McAdoo also sprinkled in some unique looks. Tight end Larry Donnell motioned into the backfield on a few occasions early—something they'd been toying with in practice last week. They weren't wildly successful in those particular instances, but it's yet another sign that Big Blue are going out of their way to ensure that they're reemphasizing the running game.

That's huge, because Manning was on an island often last season, and it didn't help that the Giants averaged just 3.5 yards per carry while using a potpourri of underperforming and/or washed-up backs.

But on Sunday night, Manning was checking into runs often, confident that his backs could deliver. And that was especially the case when Jennings and Williams were consistently finding the edge on an 80-yard touchdown drive in the first quarter.

Giants on the Ground
2013Sunday night

In the end, Williams, Jennings and veteran Peyton Hillis averaged 5.1 yards per carry on 21 attempts. Pretty impressive when you consider that the offensive line had some problems. That unit remains a work in progress, but it should become much better as left tackle Will Beatty gets healthy and everyone else meshes.

That should be enough for the Giants to excel on the ground despite not having Wilson, whose career is very much in jeopardy following another neck injury. The 23-year-old might be the most talented back on this roster, but a source told ESPN.com's Dan Graziano last week that the team doesn't expect to get him back, while NJ.com's Jordan Raanan and Conor Orr reported that Wilson "needs a miracle."

That's why it was so encouraging to see Williams explode into the second level of Buffalo's defense while punishing defenders inside the red zone and around the goal line. The 21-year-old will still have to prove that he's a good enough blocker to avoid that classic Tom Coughlin redshirt rookie season, but so far so good.

The next goal should be for both Williams and Jennings to break off some strong runs earlier in preseason games. Against Buffalo's stellar first-team defense on the first two offensive possessions Sunday night, both of Jennings' carries lost yardage. Williams didn't get any reps against Buffalo's top unit, so we've only seen him stand out against backups.

Still, it looks like the Giants have an ideal duo on their hands. Jennings can block; Williams can drop the hammer. Jennings is a screen-game specialist who made three catches Sunday, while Williams has more gas in his tank and brings an element of surprise to the table.

"He did exactly what we thought," Jennings said of his new backfield-mate, per Graziano. "He's a physical guy, a downhill runner. He's a talented guy who wants to play, wants to learn and wants to be great."

The platoon is off to a strong start, which is definitely a reason for optimism coming out of the first semi-meaningful game of a somewhat new era for Giants football.