In 2008, the Giants were a devastating running team. Both Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward ran for over 1,000 yards. Even the loss of Ward to free agency did not appear to be a problem since Ward's backup, Ahmad Bradshaw led the team in rushing during the playoffs in the 2007 Super Bowl run.
For 2009, the Giants boasted the return of all five starters from that 2008 team. That line had two Pro Bowlers and could have had all five. The line was relatively young and had two straight years of playing together.
So what happened?!?!?
The departure of Plaxico Burress happened, but not in the way that most people think.
The young corps of wide receivers has been better than anyone could have expected this year. Steve Smith is having a Pro Bowl-type year, while Hakeem Nicks is showing everyone why he was a first-round pick.
Mario Manningham proved to be a deep threat who teams need to pay attention to and had an excellent second year. Plaxico was not missed at all as a WR.
Eli Manning did not miss Plaxico as a target. Smith caught more passes than any WR in Giants history. Kevin Boss ably filled the role of a big target in the red zone that was filled by Plaxico. In fact, statistically, Eli is having the best year of his career.
So, why is the loss of Plaxico so bad for the power running attack? There are two basic reasons.
First, Plaxico was a very good blocker on the edges. None of the current group of WRs has his size or blocking ability. So, the sweeps which went for big gains are no longer there.
The second reason is less obvious. A power running attack takes a lot of precision blocking and technique. It needs to be practiced. It also needs a lot of patience.
However, the development of Smith, Manningham, and Nicks also took a lot of time and effort. If Plaxico were still around, there would have been more practice time for the running attack.
Eli put in a lot of offseason time with Smith and Manningham to develop a comfort level with their routes and how they catch the ball. Much of the preseason was focused on developing the passing attack so that teams would not just stack the line.
That was just too much practice time missed early. As such, the holes were frequently not there.
Jacobs, in particular, needs to have the defensive linemen blocked so that he can take on the smaller defensive backs and linebackers. When the big guys can hit him, he gets slowed up, and the smaller guys can finish him off.
When he can move fast through the line, he is a bear to tackle. Those holes were never there this year.
To get back to Giants football, the Giants need to dedicate enough practice time to develop a power running game again.