The next time you hear New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin or general manager Jerry Reese say it’s a “good problem” to have when there is an excess of players at a specific position, and that they’re trying to play them all, take a drink.
Having an excess of talent is an awesome thing when you have injuries and need the reinforcement.
However, when members of that excess talent have similar skill sets, play a position that requires more than a handful of touches to get into a groove and must compete with a passing game that seems to be the bread and butter of the offense, less is truly more.
That’s a concept the Giants' coaches continue to stubbornly reject, particularly at running back. New York currently has four backs—Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, Shane Vereen and Orleans Darkwa—whom it is trying to shoehorn into the weekly game plan in hopes that one of the four becomes the hot hand for the game, the guy they stick with.
That hasn’t really happened yet, and, in fact, the insistence of trying to force-feed touches to a four-man committee, which deprives any of those members of getting into a rhythm, is hurting the offense.
The Offensive Line’s Role
Before exploring the ways in which the offense is being hurt, it’s important to acknowledge the role of the offensive line, the fullback and the tight ends in the running game’s struggles.
Per Football Outsiders, the Giants have the 16th-best run-blocking offensive line, which isn't horrible.
The question that needs to be asked is how Darkwa has made the most of his opportunities, averaging 4.7 yards per carry (109 yards on 23 rushes) and, per Pro Football Focus, a team-leading 2.7 yards after contact, while Jennings and Williams have averaged 3.8 and 2.8 yards per carry (2.5 and 1.9 average yards after contact, respectively) behind the same offensive line and its supporting tight ends and fullback?
The point is each running back has had to operate behind the same core offensive line. The results, though, haven’t been consistent, and that could be due to the committee approach that’s prohibited the backs from getting into any kind of rhythm.
Now let’s look at why the four-man-committee approach needs to be revamped moving forward.
Stop the Run, Stop Yourselves
How many times has head coach Tom Coughlin said, in reference to the defensive side of the ball, how important it is to stop the run?
He’s correct in theory because when he looks at his run defense when it can’t stop the run, he probably wishes his team’s rushing offense can yield similar results.
If a team stops the run, particularly on first down, that cuts down the number of options the team has on second and third down, making a team easier to defend.
So if that’s the case, wouldn’t it behoove an offense that, per NFL Game Statistics and Information Systems, has run the ball 134 times on 1st-and-10 this year only to average less than five yards per carry, to do things better?
Of course it would, and perhaps that’s why the Giants have turned to the pass 126 times on 1st-and-10, a tactic that has yielded 6.18 yards per attempt.
The problem, though, is if opposing defenses know an offense can’t run the ball, it becomes a lot easier to defend and force three-and-outs.
Curious to know how many three-and-outs the Giants have this year? A quick look at their 2015 possession and drive charts shows that through 10 games, the Giants have had 113 offensive possessions.
Of those, 27 were three-and-out, with them going just two games this season—Week 5 vs. the San Francisco 49ers and Week 9 vs. the Tampa Bay Bucs (both wins) in which they didn’t have a three-and-out situation.
Time of Possession
If you’re still steaming over the lack of clock management in the Giants’ final offensive drive against New England, you’re not alone.
As Coughlin explained to the media on Monday when questioned whether he let the Patriots dictate to the Giants whether to run or pass down by the goal line, “I don’t look at it as dictating. They’re saying to you, ‘You’re not going to run, so you’re going to be throwing the football.’
"But I look at it as your matchups are all singled. There is nobody else behind the line of scrimmage, it’s one-on-one. So go beat somebody and score.”
Regardless of how Coughlin views it, because the Patriots knew the Giants’ running game hasn’t been as potent as the passing game, they did indeed dictate to the Giants, daring them to run the ball by lining up six defenders on the goal line.
Manning himself confirmed after the Patriots game he checked out of the run given the personnel the Patriots put on the field.
“They had goal-line personnel in and they just weren’t going to let us run the ball in that situation,” he explained. “So the one to Odell on first down was actually a run call, but (I) threw the pass on the outside. And (that’s) just kind of the way it was going to be. They weren’t going to let us run the ball right there.”
If football is about winning your one-on-one matchups, then would it be too far-fetched to wonder if Manning maybe had more confidence in Beckham than he did in his running backs in that critical spot?
If that was his thinking, his concerns were valid.
According to the weekly Giants stats, New York has converted on 7-of-9 “goal to go” situations this year; however, only three of those seven conversions have been via the running game.
Mike Eisen of Giants.com noted the Giants’ three rushing touchdowns this season is their lowest total through 10 games since 1996, when they had two.
What does this have to do with time of possession?
The Giants are currently No. 27 in the NFL in average time of possession (28:31), yet have somehow managed to score 27.3 points per game, which is the fourth-best mark in the NFL.
Now go back to all of those close losses. If the Giants had a running game, maybe the time of possession would be different, and maybe it wouldn’t have been up to the defense to get it done.
The Red Zone
When Manning spoke to the media, one of the areas he mentioned that needed to improve was the production inside of the red zone.
Through 10 games, the Giants are 16-of-36 inside of the red zone (44.4 percent), which is below the NFL average of 55.09 percent, according to NFL GSIS, and their worst conversion rate since 2003 when they finished that season having converted 38.3 percent of their red-zone attempts.
The Giants have converted all of their red-zone attempts just once this season, that coming in Week 8 against the Saints when they went 4-of-4. Since then, they have converted 3-of-9 red-zone conversion attempts.
When the run game can’t move the chains, an offense becomes one-dimensional, hence easier to defend, especially in the red zone where there is less ground for a defense to cover.
When an offense becomes one-dimensional, as the Giants have, defenses don’t have to worry so much about bringing extra men in the box and can now devote resources elsewhere, such as blanketing Odell Beckham Jr. in the passing game.
This ties in with the final point: individual performance.
As noted yesterday, the Giants’ No. 26-ranked rushing offense has yet to have a single running back exceed 65 yards, and it has only rushed for 100 yards collectively twice in these first 10 games (against Dallas and at Tampa Bay).
In addition, in 26 games dating back to last year, the Giants have had just two 100-yard rushing performances by an individual, both by Andre Williams, who carried the rock a minimum of 20 times on each performance.
Reaching back a little further, the Giants have had six 100-yard performances since 2013, one more than the five they had in 2012 alone.
The difference? A combination of the offensive line not being effective (mostly due to injuries in that season) plus the emergence of the committee, the latter which came about due to the injuries the Giants were having at the running back position.
“I think it’s still a work in progress,” running backs coach Craig Johnson told reporters during the annual in-season meeting with the position coaches.
“Until we get 4.0 (yards per carry) or more, that’s the standard point I’m going to look for, I’m never going to be happy, and they understand that...We’re going to continue to do everything we can to make that happen and I hope that will continue to bring a balance to our offense.”
If they want to make that happen, they must, repeat, must consider ways of getting guys into a rhythm, and the only way to do that is to identify if they're better off attacking between the tackles or on the edges and look to feature the running back whose skill set matches that strength.
Get Ready for More of the Same
Despite the negatives of having such a large committee, the Giants don’t seem to be too concerned with paring things down any time soon as far as establishing clear-cut roles.
Rather, they’re going to continue to throw darts blindfolded and hope that by some dumb stroke of luck, one of the committee members gets hot enough to where his performance removes any temptation of inserting any of the other running backs into the game.
“I think all of them have deserved to play,” Johnson said. “What I’m trying to do is give them all some opportunities and then the guys that really seem to be in a rhythm within each game, you try and give them a little bit more reps.”
Maybe he's right, and someone will emerge as a hot hand down the stretch.
Then again, "May Bees" don't fly in November.
Patricia Traina covers the Giants for Inside Football, the Journal Inquirer and Sports Xchange. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise sourced.
Follow me on Twitter, @Patricia_Traina.