For all the talk of the New York Giants having to rely heavily on their backfield as their main source of offense, it was the young corps of wide receivers that paved the way to a victory over the rival Redskins on Sunday.
Although Big Blue’s running game was solid enough to pass the century mark and help move the chains, it was not the driving force fans expected after growing accustom to last year’s effort.
While it’s only the first week, it was also the first glimpse of how Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw would perform without Derrick Ward, whose numbers from earlier in the day (62 yds, 1 TD) they were each hoping to match or better.
The season got off on a sour note, as Danny Ware—a developing talent the club was hoping would help make up for the loss of “Wind”—was injured on the very first play of the game. After being tackled 17 yards into his kick return, Ware fell awkwardly, dislocating his left elbow.
Realizing that the backfield had suddenly been reduced to a two-headed monster, the Giants resorted to passing more than rushing early on, though the duo were among the targets of those passes.
Having only caught six balls last season, Jacobs said he was determined to become more of a threat through the air. By the end of the night, he was already one third of the way to 2008’s total, with a respectable 17 yards.
For the most part, however, the two stuck to what they do best and rushed down the field with the help of their offensive line. Late in the first quarter, some solid outside blocking helped Bradshaw gain 22 yards, while his partner followed with his own dash down the sideline on the next play.
Heading into the second frame, Jacobs managed to get into the red zone, but fell just inches short on 4th-and-1 only a few yards from the end line. Bradshaw also started to have difficulty finding space, leading to another string of passes over runs.
After one of Manning’s throws once again found the hands of Jacobs, the offense returned to him and Bradshaw, who had a nice fake to the outside before the half.
In the third quarter, Jacobs continued to gain ground on the outside, while 6’6” ‘Skin Albert Haynesworth began giving the 5’9” Bradshaw some trouble.
Luckily, the air game continued to get the job done and the defense absolutely dominated the middle portion of the match.
In the final fifteen minutes, New York continuously deployed Bradshaw in order to eat up the clock. At that point, “Fire” was warmed up and made a few notable plays, like following FB Madison Hedgecock to a nine-yard gain before eventually earning a new set of downs.
Without Ware to help distribute the workload, Jacobs spent most of the last quarter on the sidelines to avoid adding to the bumps and bruises his charging style inevitably leads to.
While Osi Umenyiora actually outscored his rushing teammates, the fact that the G-men were still able to win by more than a field goal can be viewed as a good sign.
The 23-17 triumph over Washington proved that even when the ground game isn’t at its collective best, it doesn’t always need to be for the team to have success.
In fact, the main concern going forward isn’t the sub-par play of the backfield in Week One (the top two have proven that they’re capable of much more), but rather the durability of the group through a 16-game season.
With Ware joining rookie Andre Brown on the injury list for an indefinite amount of time and Jacobs’ penchant for injuries, another bad break could easily turn one of the team’s biggest strengths into of its biggest weaknesses.
Next Sunday, when the Giants visit another long-time rival in the brand new Cowboys Stadium, the game plan in regards to moving the ball on the ground should remain largely the same.
The offensive line has done a good job of creating space on the outside, but they need to create more holes up the middle, especially when Jacobs is on the field.
The actual number of times they’ll be looked upon for such run-blocking depends on the status of Ware.
If he’s in the lineup, the Giants should run more in Week Two; if not, they should maintain their current pass-rush ratio in order to keep Jacobs and Bradshaw as fresh as possible for the last portion of the season.