New York Giants 2008 Positional Analysis: The Backfield
The New York Giants are poised to defend their Super Bowl title, starting with the load of talent that they have in their backfield. Quarterback Eli Manning, the three-headed running back monster, and reliable fullback Madison Hedgecock form the core of what could potentially be the 2009 Super Bowl champions.
Entering his fifth season as an NFL quarterback, Eli Manning, for the first time in his career, will have not only the support of his team, but that of the media as well. Coming off his Super Bowl MVP performance, as well as a remarkably positive and consistent playoff run, Eli Manning is poised to become one of the top passers in the league.
His first three seasons, and the first 15 games of the 2007 season were marred with inconsistency and frustration. Once Week 16 rolled around, along with the then 15-0 New England Patriots, something clicked, and for the remained of the season and the playoff run, Eli was a calm and collected, consistent passer who made all the throws and did not turn the ball over.
That begs the question: which Eli are we going to get this year?
What We Know
Eli has shown that he has the ability to be consistent, and he has shown the ability to bring his team back in the fourth quarter, time and time again. He has an outstanding No. 1 receiver in Plaxico Burress, a steady No. 2 man in Amani Toomer, and a plethora of young and talented receivers to fill in the third, fourth, and fifth hole.
Eli also has one of the best offensive lines in the league. Anchored by left tackle Dave Diehl and center Shaun O’Hara, Eli will have the time needed to involve his talented skill players in the offense.
The TE position is unsettled. Kevin Boss proved he has what it takes to be worthy of the No. 1 role, and Darcy Johnson had a stellar minicamp in early June. The big question mark still is, and probably will always be, whether or not Jeremy Shockey wants to get with the program.
If he makes amends with GM Jerry Reese and coach Tom Coughlin, Shockey would prove to be the X-factor that will make the Giants' offense one of the most explosive in the league. Eli has all the tools around him he needs; now it is on him to make it all work
What We Don’t Know
Is this the year Eli stands tall in the pocket, hits his open receivers, and makes all the plays he is capable of making? Or is this the year Eli continues to miss open receivers, take sacks when he should throw it away, make the rookie mistake, and throw unnecessary INTs and pick sixes?
Will being the Super Bowl MVP drive Eli to be consistent, if not great? Or will the Super Bowl MVP give him a sense of accomplishment and lead to complacency and further inconsistency? Does Eli have the ability to take over as not only the face, but the voice of the team, now that Strahan is retired?
Call me a homer, but I think this is the year that Eli breaks out in the regular season and carries it straight though to the playoffs. Eli will complete over 60 percent of his passes, pass for 4,000 yards, and will lead the NFC in touchdown passes. Eli will be the starting quarterback for the NFC Pro-Bowl team.
All signs point to this being a great year for the fifth-year star out of Mississippi. I believe the Super Bowl title and all the trappings that come along with it will give Eli the confidence and respect he has not had for his first four years.
As for being the face and voice of the team, I have always held the belief that since the moment he was drafted, Eli was made the face and voice of the team. The magnitude of the draft-day trade thrust Eli into the largest media spotlight an NFL player has ever seen. Since the moment he donned that draft-day cap, in one way or another, Eli has been the leader of the team.
Brandon spent his first two seasons being the “Thunder” to Tiki Barber's “Lightning”, before being thrust into the starter's role upon Tiki Barber's premature retirement.
He showed his ability to be a short-yardage back in his first two years, picking up a handful of touchdowns in each season while rarely ever getting stuffed at the line (unlike former “power back” Ron Dayne). This past season, Jacobs missed multiple games with a series of leg injuries that puts into question his ability to remain healthy for a full 16-game season.
What We Know
When healthy, Brandon Jacobs is a force to reckon with. He has a mixture of speed and power that very few in the league exhibit. He has been highlighted bulldozing linebackers and safeties, as well as being able to find a hole and break away from the pursuing defenders.
We also know of some of his faults as well. He has what I like to call Stone-Hand Syndrome, which means he can’t catch the football. I lost count of how many times he was wide open in the flat or in the middle of the field, and then proceeded to allow the ball to clank off of his chest plate of bounce off his fingertips.
His upright running style also leaves him susceptible to injuries and ball-security issues. While his fumbling problems are nowhere near as bad as Tiki Barber’s were, on more than one occasion this past season the ball came squirting out when it shouldn’t have.
Once he returned from his injuries, I saw him “tap dancing” rather than hitting the hole. Coming off a knee and hamstring injury would make anyone cautious; however, his normally reckless running style is severely impeded when he dances around rather than hitting holes.
What We Don’t Know
First and foremost, can he stay healthy for a full season? Can he improve as an all-around back? Will he be able to fix his pass-dropping tendencies and improve his blitz pickups so that he can be in on any down?
Will he work on his ball security and running style? Can he be productive enough to take the majority of the carries from away from Bradshaw and Ward? Will he be healthy enough to stop “tap dancing” around and start hitting the holes?
Much like Tiki Barber, Derrick Ward hung around the roster for his first few seasons as a special-teams player before getting his shot when the No. 1 RB went down. In this case, Ward took over for the injured Brandon Jacobs after his Week One injury, and he proved that he has what it takes to carry the load.
A promising breakout season was cut short by injury, an all too common theme among Giants' running backs. While having an above-average build, Ward has proved that he has the vision and burst to fill the role as a Tiki-Barber-like “slash” running back.
What We Know
Although this will be his fifth year with the team, very little is known about Derrick Ward. He had a promising stretch of games in the 2007 season before going down with injury. Promising enough to earn him a contract extension with the team. His versatility as a blocker and a pass catcher make him an ideal third-down back, yet his running prowess could also earn him a good amount of touches during the game.
What We Don’t Know
Will Ward be able to come off his injury and be back to the level he proved he could play at last season? Will there be enough room for him in the crowded backfield? Can he produce in the same manner he did last season with limited touches?
The fiery, seventh-round, PlayStation-stealing running back drew the ire of Giants fans when he was taken in the 2007 draft. Many said that he was not a character guy, and that he was not what the New York Giants were all about.
We did not get to see much of Bradshaw early on in the year, due to being in the dreaded Coughlin doghouse after fumbling a kickoff return early in the season.
Multiple injuries and the inability of Reuben Droughns to carry the load gave Bradshaw the time he needed to prove that he was more than a seventh-round hanger on. In my opinion, Bradshaw single-handedly ran the Giants into the playoffs with his 88-yard scamper through the rain and snow in Buffalo.
After this breakout moment, Bradshaw proved to be the most productive back during the playoff run. He even earned the role as the closer when running out the clock in the Wild Card game vs. Tampa Bay, an unheard of move by a Tom-Coughlin-coached team. Having the faith of Coughlin as a rookie to run out the clock is a testament to Bradshaw’s ability and his upside.
What We Know
He has gamebreaking speed, the faith of the coach, and the moxie to tell his teammates that he is taking the ball 88-yards to the end zone (and then actually doing it). Bradshaw has a tremendous upside and is a fan favorite.
Every time Jacobs, Ward, or Droughns got stuffed on a run, it was a common for Giants fans to say, “What is Coughlin doing, put Bradshaw in the game”. We also know that Bradshaw has a troubled past, which has only recently become an issue.
Bradshaw is currently serving a 30-day jail sentence for an undisclosed reason (although Newsdays Tom Rock believes that this is an agreed upon sentence for a past probation violation). His ability to overcome this will be something to watch for later down the line.
What We Don’t Know
Will the league pursue suspending Bradshaw for this current jail sentence? Will this in any way change his perception in the eyes of coach Tom Coughlin? Will he suffer a sophomore slump? Can he produce on the level he did for the last few games of the season for a whole 16-game stretch?
With these three, stellar running backs splitting time in the backfield, one of them going over 1,000 yards is not a guarantee. I would not be surprised however, if both Jacobs and Bradshaw approached and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark.
Jacobs and Ward’s history of injury lead me to believe that Ahmad Bradshaw is going to get a lot of touches and a lot of yards this year (assuming there are no penalties leveled against him).
With the emergence of Ward and Bradshaw, there had been some speculation that Jacobs could be expendable when his rookie contract expires after this season. Jacobs is said to have a new contract in the works however, so the likelihood of him being phased out of the offense is highly unlikely.
I will venture to say that Jacobs will enter the season as the No. 1 back and get around 50 percent of the touches. Ward will be the third-down back and Bradshaw will spell Jacobs for full series, and perhaps even serve as a short-yardage back.
The Giants have a very talented three-headed monster in the backfield, and I believe that it will prove to be one of the most troubling rushing attacks for opposing defenses to deal with.
Well, there really is not much to say about Madison, other than thank God the Rams were dumb enough to release him last season. Hedgecock has proved to be the ideal fullback for the New York Giants, with his ability to level crushing-blocks, as well as having soft-enough hands to serve as a receiving threat.
What can you say about a guy that was brought in off of waivers and seems to do everything right. He was rewarded in season with a well-deserved long-term contract extension. I think he will be the fullback blocking for one of the best rushing attacks this coming season and for many years to come.
He will continue to be good.
**This article is the first part of a series that will analyze the position-by-position state of the 2008 New York Giants, as they attempt to defend their Super Bowl title.
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