The New York Giants will not win a game any time soon using the offensive game plan featured in Week 1.
Against the Detroit Lions, New York called upon quarterback Eli Manning to throw the ball 33 times. Standing alone, that figure is not an outrageous one. However, when you factor in a completion rate of 54.5 percent and a yards-per-attempt average of 4.9, the struggles of the Giants passing attack—and the offense as a whole—are brought to light.
You can read article after article about Manning's nosedive into an apparent bottomless abyss. It's true that the Giants' passing offense, in its current form, will not survive. Jerrel Jernigan is not a respectable outside target; Rueben Randle is underwhelming for a pass-catcher of his size. Victor Cruz is not enough of a force from the slot position to propel the offense.
Manning certainly isn't at the apex of his quarterbacking craft, but a simple tweak of Ben McAdoo's scheme could yield the winning formula. In Manning's early years, the young passer leaned on running back Tiki Barber and tight end Jeremy Shockey. During his Super Bowl-winning years, Manning was surrounded by reliable playmakers at the skill positions, like wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Hakeem Nicks and running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.
If there's one thing Manning needs, it's a best friend in his new offense.
Here's why running back Rashad Jennings can be that guy.
Jennings Can Handle the Workload
The Giants will not win games if Jennings only carries the ball only 16 times.
Now, the Giants didn't lose the game because Jennings only carried the ball 16 times. The two first-quarter touchdowns given up by the defense stunted Jennings' workload before McAdoo ever had a chance to cultivate it. Playing from behind for almost the entire game, Manning was throwing too often for the Giants to have developed a useful presence on the ground.
|Rashad Jennings, Rushing & Receiving|
In the future, McAdoo must aim to hand the ball off to Jennings upwards of 25 times.
New York's receiver corps has been further hampered without rookie Odell Beckham Jr., on whom the team was counting for some production in his first year. So the offense must turn to a power running game, and the spearhead of this attack, Jennings, will be a battering ram for Big Blue victory.
Jennings can sustain this beating because he presents a unique blend of veteran reliability and rookie vigor. He is 29 years old and, in his six years as a pro, has shared backfields with Maurice Jones-Drew and Darren McFadden. Through reliable running and trustworthy ball security, he became a reputable reserve. Now, in 2014, with just over 400 career carries to his name, Jennings is getting his first full-season opportunity to star as a team's featured running back.
The recently acquired running back has kept his body prepared for this moment. In addition to his light workloads in Jacksonville and Oakland, Jennings is also on a holistic diet and sleeps in a hyperbaric chamber to stay fresh, per Paul Schwartz of the New York Post.
More balls tucked safely into Jennings belly equal fewer balls in the dirt—or worse, intercepted.
Jennings Can Hurt Opponents as a Receiver
It would be an overreaction to abandon the passing game completely. The Giants must still nurse along the passing attack, even while Jennings carries the offensive workload.
There is a way New York can kill two birds with one stone here.
Manning can get the passing game off the ground by targeting the running back on short passes out of the backfield. Jennings added four receptions to his 16 carries against the Lions. Only tight end Larry Donnell eclipsed his reception and yardage totals.
It's as a receiver where Jennings presents the greatest value among New York's backs.
The Giants could just as easily throw in Andre Williams or Peyton Hillis if they wanted to feature a bull-headed, power running game. Both of those backs can fall forward for three or four yards on almost any down.
|Rashad Jennings vs. Lions|
Jennings separates himself from the rest of the pack with his fine-tuned receiving skills and adept understanding of pass-protection responsibilities. The Giants won't find those characteristics in Williams, a rookie; they may find them in Hillis, but to a markedly lesser degree than they do in Jennings.
It doesn't always make for the most exciting football, but the Giants can win games by getting the ball into Jennings' hands in multiple ways and as many times as possible.
Jennings Can Get the Tough Yards
This change in offensive approach won't come easy. It would have been unnatural to take such a game plan into Detroit, where the secondary looked so vulnerable and the defensive front so vaunted. Against players like Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie roaming the Arizona Cardinals secondary, however, Manning's margin for error will be much slimmer in Week 2 than it was in Week 1.
That means New York will want to rely more heavily on its running game to take the pressure off Manning. The veteran QB's struggles are no secret, so Arizona likely will be prepared for a heavy dose of Jennings.
That's OK, though. Jennings can plow forward for the tough yards. Although he averaged a meager 2.9 yards per carry against the Lions, Jennings displayed the necessary determination to get the single yard needed for a one-yard score in the fourth quarter. That is the type of grit New York needs from its featured running back on an every-down basis.
Yes, the Giants offensive line is weak and hurting. While I don't expect the unit to steamroll Arizona's defensive front, I do expect 300-pound men to open an occasional running lane by simply leaning forward into their opponent. The Giants should employ a fullback more often and have Henry Hynoski create holes for Jennings when the line cannot.
I believe Jennings' touch total and team morale will be directly proportional in 2014. Moving forward, the key to victory is putting the pigskin in the running back's palms early and often.
Kevin Boilard covers the New York Giants for Bleacher Report.