The New York Giants have been the strangest professional team over the past three years.
A 10-6 campaign in 2007, including back-to-back blowout losses to begin the season, ended with a Super Bowl victory over the only team to ever go 16-0 in the regular season.
For most of the following season, New York was being penciled in the NFC slot for Tampa, Florida, the site of Super Bowl XLIII. But wait, with five games left in the regular season the player who caught the game winning catch in the previous Super Bowl, Plaxico Burress, shot himself in the leg. No receiver could fill the void and the Giants' NFL-best running attack suffered down the stretch. The number one seeded team was eliminated in their first playoff game.
In 2009, their running game proved to be no exception
Heading into 2009, expectations for New York Giants running backs were high. By the end of the season, those expectations proved to be too high.
This was fair on both counts, however.
In the previous season, the Giants led the league in rushing yards per game with 157.8 ypg and, therefore, rushing yards with 2,518. The team was also the first ever to have two 1,000-yard rushers, making the expectations justified.
Then again they had two 1,000-yard rushers. It's a bit much to think a team can live up to whatever expectation after such a season.
In the team's defense, Big Blue lost one of those running backs (Derrick Ward) to free agency and Brandon Jacobs battled injuries all season. But the Giants missed all expectations by a large margin, having no running back finish with at least 1,000 yards and finishing 17th in the league in rushing.
Heading into this season, the expectations are still high despite New York's poor showing last season and the same group of backs plus second-year man Andre Brown, who missed the entire 2009 campaign with a ruptured Achilles. Here are the men who are being asked to perform and take some of the added pressure off of Eli Manning and his proven receivers.
Ever since Tiki Barber retired after the 2006 season, Jacobs has been the go-to guy in New York's running game.
He initially won over fans and critics alike with his physical style of play. Saying being run over by Jacobs is like being run over by a truck is an understatement—it's almost insulting. While other punishing backs like Marion Barber may fairly be compared to a standard pickup truck, while still painful, Jacobs is more like a semi-truck carrying a hundred of the more compact models.
The best thing to compare Jacobs to, however, would be a bowling ball. When you get the two going straight or even put a little hook on them (running between the tackles) then they do their job and they bowl over the pins/defenders. But when you start going to the outside (the tackles) is when you start running into trouble.
It's not that Jacobs can't run to the outside—he's done it plenty of times in his career with many successful attempts. The problem is more times than not, he continues to move outside until he has no more room and ends up with minimal, if any, positive yardage (in the gutter). The main difference is it's easier for a professional bowler to move the ball back in the right direction than it is for this professional to move his 6'4'' 264-frame moving back down field.
And being that Jacobs has such a physical style, the bruising back also dishes out punishment to himself. He has battled through injuries almost regularly throughout his career, and he's reaching the dreaded 30-year-old running back mark heading into the 2010 season at 28.
Jacobs has also failed to impress so far this preseason rushing four times for two yards and one touchdown in his one appearance—the one touchdown taking three attempts from the one-yard line. Oh yeah, and Jacobs is already dealing with a neck injury.
Although Jacobs has had a well-documented history of getting hurt, he still appears to be the starter going into week one, but that job will be a loose title this season with this next guy fighting for carries.
While Jacobs has gotten the majority of carries since Bradshaw has joined the team in 2007 as the Giants' seventh-round pick, this fourth-year back has shown flashes of unmatched elusiveness in each of his first three seasons, including his breakout 2009 campaign while battling through two injured ankles and an injured knee.
In his rookie year, Bradshaw first emerged on the scene with an 88-yard dash to the end-zone in a week 16 match-up against the Buffalo Bills. Then in Super Bowl XLII, on a short run to the right, he carried New England Patriots defensive end Ty Warren on his back for a few extra yards.
He was at it again the following year with the team's week 11 game against the Ravens. Bradshaw ran the ball left only to find a group of defenders waiting for him. Instead of trying to fight through it, the back cut back right to the middle of the field breaking off a would-be loss into a 77-yard near touchdown.
Bradshaw then led the 2009 Giants with seven rushing touchdowns and only trailed Jacobs by 57 yards (778 compared to 835).
The 5'9'' 198-pound back has also proved to be better at receiving than Jacobs partially thanks to his more agile style. While he did struggle running the ball in the team's first preseason game (three carries for -1 yard), he showcased his talents on an impromptu shovel pass, extending the play for 51 yards.
And one more important asset Bradshaw possesses is the ability to break a run to the outside as he has showed numerous times, most recently against the Pittsburgh Steelers on a nine-yard touchdown run.
When both Jacobs and Bradshaw have played this preseason (game one) Bradshaw was the first back to go out onto the field. While this doesn't mean he will be the starter week one of the season, it certainly doesn't hurt his chances.
Andre Brown & D.J. Ware
While it is certain that Jacobs and Bradshaw are the top two backs to begin the season that may not be the case at the end of the season.
While Jacobs missed time this past week, former N.C. State running back Andre Brown continued to impress in his audition. In the two preseason games, Brown leads all Giants running backs with a combined 18 carries for 87 yards and one touchdown.
For anyone who has seen Brown play they know what he is capable of, at least at the college level. For anyone who hasn't, visit YouTube.
As a member of the Wolfpack, he showed that he is both powerful and elusive. When he's not sending defenders eight-yards down the field with his shoulder charges or carrying half the defense on his back, Brown is making quick cuts behind his blockers before going back to that power and stiff-arming defenders to the ground.
As for Ware, he hasn't really shown much to be given any playing time. In his three seasons in the league, Ware has rushed for 88 yards on 15 attempts with one touchdown. His longest rush has been for 14 yards.
At most, Ware will be used on kick returns and possibly punt returns.
As previously mentioned, Bradshaw has started the one preseason game he and Jacobs have been a part of. The starting job, while most likely being a dual-back workload, isn't favoring either back at this point, though.
It it almost guaranteed, however, that Jacobs will keep his role as the goal-line back that he has held since joining the Giants in 2005 assuming that he'll be healthy by opening day.
But with Jacobs' infamous injury problems, don't be surprised to see Brown exceed 100 carries this season. Even if things go right for Big Blue this season, expect to see Brown get his share of carries a la Bradshaw of 2008.