If you're going to make a case that the Giants' most valuable player is Eli Manning without question, well then, we saw last Sunday why Ahmad Bradshaw might be a close second in that conversation. How can a running back who splits time really be of that much value? Well, it's not completely obvious, but I'll get back to that.
I'd like to establish first, that this is not simply a "we couldn't run the ball against Philly, Brandon Jacobs sucks" kind of thing. I've been adamant about the value of Bradshaw to this team all year long, and his worth is emphasized by a terrible offensive line.
Ahmad Bradshaw: 111 for 440 (3.96)
Brandon Jacobs: 90 for 274 (3.04)
DJ Ware: 33 for 99 (3.00)
These numbers are indicative of terrible offensive line play. Well, can't really fix that at this point so we can thank Jerry Reese for our personnel. Brandon Jacobs, on the other hand, is not running all that poorly. When he gets space, he runs hard. That's how he's always been, the difference being that in the midst of his prime (2007-2008), the Giants were getting quality run-blocking from their lineman.
The problem now is not Jacobs (well, it is, but it's not his fault), but rather, his running style. If you hit Jacobs in the backfield, or force him to change direction at the line of scrimmage, he gets dropped like a ton of bricks before he can get going again. This is a product of being 6'4" and 260-270 pounds, and apparently, his inability to run with a low center of gravity. Maintaining height is good for counter-punching, but unfortunately, this isn't boxing.
DJ Ware has not really impressed me, but again, he's not going to break very many tackles, and he doesn't have the stop-and-go ability that's needed for playing with such a bad offensive line.
Given another team with a quality line, Brandon Jacobs would run for 4.5-5 yards per carry. DJ Ware would likely be hitting 4 yards per carry as well.
What difference does this make?
In 2010, Ahmad Bradshaw averaged 3.0 yards after contact per attempt according to Pro Football Focus.
He forced 42 missed tackles in the running game. To put that in perspective, Chris Johnson forced 44, on an additional 40 attempts.
Bradshaw is making up for a Giants' line that has afforded its running backs very little in the area of yards per carry. You see it when he gets stopped in the backfield, only to use a combination of power and quickness to muscle out a two yard gain from a two yard loss. Our other backs cannot do that. Jacobs isn't washed up, but he has lost a little of his quickness.
What else can we look at?
In 2011, despite terrible offensive line play, Bradshaw is still converting a good percentage of his rushing attempts into first downs.
Ahmad Bradshaw: 29 FD on 111 carries (26.1%)
Fred Jackson: 40 FD on 163 carries (24.5%)
Matt Forte: 35 FD on 166 carries (21.1%)
Adrian Peterson: 44 FD on 180 carries (24.4%)
This shows me that Bradshaw is still fighting for the tough yards, which he always has. But, the problem is, without him to grind out those minimal gains, we find ourselves consistently in 3rd and long, instead of 3rd and manageable. When you start numerous drives going backward, your passing game suffers, and the defense can bring in the blitz package on third down and have at your quarterback.
Brandon Jacobs: 13 FD on 78 carries (16.7%)
The big guy just isn't doing it, and it's because he hasn't had the chance to get going. Brandon Jacobs needs to accelerate before he can be effective in the running game, and our line hasn't gotten him that step. Bradshaw is probably the best running back in the league if we're talking about going from a dead stop to full speed. He's never been the fastest, but this ability is worth far more.
Actually, if you look at 2008, Brandon Jacobs was 9th in the league with 3.3 yards after contact per attempt. He can still be a physical runner. The problem is that our line doesn't give him the step or two he needs, and that's why Bradshaw's ability to stop and start so quickly is so incredibly valuable.
So yes, having Bradshaw back even behind our terrible line will be of immense benefit to our team. Tom Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride are adamant about running the ball, even if we're running it backward. We need Bradshaw so that the 3rd and 12-14 that our coaches coordinate us into become 3rd and 6 or 7. It's that simple. We refuse to abandon the running game, so we need our guy who turns something out of the nothing that he's offered, much like what Eli does time and time again in the passing game.