FanPost

The Running Game: Who's to Blame and Will It Get Better?

The Giants have often been synonymous such descriptors such as toughness, ferocity, getting down and dirty, ground and pound.

...Then last year happened. Yeah. Seems like only yesterday where we'd settle down only to watch Ahmad Bradshaw get swarmed by pressure 3 yards in the backfield, or one of our offensive linemen falling on his ass, or my personal favorite, Brandon Jacobs turning into the villainous "Tip-Toe Burglar."

If we're to maintain our winning culture, something has definitely got to change.

Make the jump for the lowdown on just how bad the running game was, but why there's lots of reasons to have confidence going forward.

JUST HOW BAD WERE WE?

We rushed for 1427 yards (last in the league) for an average of 89.2 yards per game (last in the league) at a 3.5 yards/play clip (once again, last in the league). Pathetic.

There wasn't much of a difference between our two leading rushers, either.

Ahmad Bradshaw

659 yards, 3.9 YPC (54.9 YPG), 9 TDs and 3 rushes of 20+ yards.

Brandon Jacobs

571 yards, 3.8 YPC (40.8 YPG), 7 TDs and 1 rush of 20+ yards.

Just terrible. Who do you blame? The running backs or the offensive line? Let's take a look.

THE OFFENSIVE LINE

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As far as run blocking went, our running backs had a 3.3 YPC to the right side, a 3.9 YPC to the left side, and a 3.7 YPC up the gut, so there's not a huge difference across the line.

That shows that the line was equally bad across all fronts, and gives some credence that the running backs were also somewhat to blame. It's incredible to think that just two years ago, the right side of our offensive line was considered one of the best in the league.

According to ProFootballFocus, the offensive line was one of the worst three OLs in the league when it came to pass blocking, but fared slightly better when it came to run blocking. Kareem McKenzie was the worst in this aspect, and that sort of lines up with the low YPC on the right side of the line.

FootballOutsiders agrees with PFF. It ranks the run blocking unit as the 28th best in the league. FO gives us the metric of "Power Success" as well, and labels that as the % of successful rushes on a 3rd or 4th down with less than 2 yards to go. Of course this includes both RB and OL responsibility. It measured our beloved Giants' "Power Success" at 53% or just over half. That's terrible, and is ranked 27th in the league.

However, they have another metric called "Stuffed Percentage." It's fairly simple. How many rushing plays ended with negative yardage? Apart from the very rare "lets try and reverse field and get caught in the backfield" plays, this metric is usually a good indicator of offensive line run blocking. We got stuffed on approximately 19% of the time or about 1 in every 5 attempts. That sounds bad, but was good enough for a rank of 15th in the league.

I found it incredibly interesting that we'd be really bad in short yardage situations, yet be pretty decent in avoiding getting stuffed a lot. What that shows me, along with using my eyes when watching the games, obviously, is that:

A) The offensive line may be less to blame that what we originally thought; more should come on the RBs

and

B) The offensive line, though it doesn't really win at the point of attack very often, but doesn't get blown backwards either. It doesn't allow penetration during run blocking as much as I had previously thought, which indicates good technique, insufficient power to get that push off the LOS.

Now, lets take a look at the RBs.

THE RUNNING BACKS

Ahmad Bradshaw didn't really have great numbers as we can see from above. However, he didn't really have much of a chance last year. He had an extraordinarily high amount of touchdowns (9) compared to rushing yards. That would seem like he's got the make of a short yardage back if we just went by stats.

Obviously, that's not the case. So what DOES that tell us? Let's look deeper.

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Check this out. PFF Elusive Rating (3 yrs)

Ahmad Bradshaw turns out to be the 6th most "elusive" running back in the entire league over the past 3 years (12th best last year). He forces a ton of missed tackles on a regular basis.

FootballOutsiders agrees with PFF yet again, ranking Bradshaw just outside of the top 10 in percentage of missed tackle rate (number of missed tackles/touch in 2011). Bradshaw had a DVOA rank of 21st in the league. Considering there's about 64 viable running backs in the league, well, I'd say that's pretty good for a down year.

As for Brandon Jacobs, in the eyes of both FootballIOutsiders and ProFootballFocus, he was thoroughly mediocre. He had a DVOA rank of 36th or just below average. He had a success rate of less than 50%.

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On top of that, he failed the eye test. He was indecisive in his cuts, and didn't maintain a low center of gravity. So what does this all mean when it comes to who to blame?

Let's review. Bradshaw and Jacobs both had similar YPC, right? Surely didn't seem that way. I'd guarantee that every single Giant fan would say Bradshaw was the more "effective" runner last year. Both the statistics and the eye test would register that to be the case because as we inferred from the last section, the offensive line didn't bleed through penetration very much, but got very little push. Jacobs is a bigger back, so naturally he'd be a bit stronger and be able to scratch out a better YPC with no help from the line. He did not. Bradshaw was able to break many more tackles (Jacobs didn't register on either PFF's or FO's lists), and still get the same YPC.

That's what I'd infer using the stats, at least. As well as my eyes. In terms of casting blame, given all the analysis we've gone through, I'd probably put the percentages as:

50% Offensive Line

35% Brandon Jacobs

8% Ahmad Bradshaw

7% Other (Eli audibling to a run mistakenly, weather, a WR, FB or TE missing a block, etc)

Love to hear what you guys think.

IS THERE HOPE FOR 2012?

In a few words: Hell yes. Do you believe me? Yeah? Great. We're done here.

Aw, fine. We'll go and take a look at some reasons why.

I want to first take a look at how we block, and show that its a team effort. Here are three examples of good, great, and perfect blocking. They all came late in the season, with the first example being from the 1st Cowboy regular season thriller, the second coming from the Jets game, and the 3rd coming from the regular season finale against the Cowboys. Note how all these examples come from games late in the season, when we decided we were going to whoop the rest of the league.

*Please mind the pictures. I had a terrible time figuring out how big the sizes should be and they may have become different sizes. Also, I suck at Microsoft Paint.

Good Blocking

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This is the example of "good" not "great" blocking. This is a very simple play. Classic I-formation "power push" to the right. The Cowboys probably knew it was coming, we weren't exactly trying to hide it. Each offensive lineman is manning up versus the opposing defensive lineman, except for the LG (who in this case is Mitch Petrus). Petrus will be the pulling guard that sweeps around to take out any unguarded DL on the right side. Hynoski is the FB and he's the lead blocker trying to pave the way for Brandon Jacobs, who essentially has to just follow Hynoski into the hole created by McKenzie and Jake Ballard (the TE that's furthest to the top of the picture). Let's see what happens.

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Here's the frame right after the snap. Eli is headed backwards to hand the ball off. The yellow circles are the players that are either currently engaging their blocks or are in good position to engage in their blocks. The red circle is Mitch Petrus who has made the turn and is starting to pull to the strong side.

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In this next frame, I made a mistake. I wanted the red circle to represent Petrus. Instead I circled Diehl, who was doing a fine job of blocking off his man. The green circle is Petrus, and he made a mistake. He's double-teaming McKenzie's engaged man. I don't think he got to his spot on time, and was forced to re-direct. The other green circle is Ballard, who found himself without a man, and is about to engage as a 2nd lead blocker for Jacobs, who is following the Hynoceros into the hole.

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Here we see the end result of the play. Hynoski gets a great chip on McKenzie's man, and Ballard (the other green circle) gets a nice block on the edge rusher. I can't find Petrus in the muck, but I think his man was supposed to be #58 (Anthony Spencer) who is in the middle of the picture. What ends up happening is that Jacobs is hit by Spencer but maintains balance and is able to get the touchdown.

Great Blocking

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This is the Jets game, and is an example of "great blocking" by our line. I think everybody remembers this play. The blocking scheme is very simple. Beat the sh!t out of the guy in front of you. That includes the WRs, as they lined up body on body. The "tight ends" on the end of the line go out a bit further and engage the linebackers. Ideally, there's an open seam in the "B" gap (between the guard and tackle) or in the "C" gap (off tackle). The yellow circle is the free safety and the only player not accounted for in the blocking scheme.

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Apologies for this picture, it's quite hard to make much out, but what I was trying to show with the yellow circles is everybody engaged on their targets. If you squint, you can see it. There's a body accounting for EVERY single defender within five yards at the LOS. Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz have not yet gotten to their assignments just yet in this picture. The green arrows represent the "alley" that is created. You'll see it better in the next picture.

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We see here with the blue checkmarks all of the successfully blocked defenders. Bradshaw has already made it through the crease that is actually quite large. It looks like #95 for the Jets is in it, but that's just depth perception, he's actually lateral to the crease. Bradshaw is circled in the green and he's accountable for just one guy, Brodney Pool, the FS, in the red circle.

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Here we see the end result of the play. Apparently Ahmad Bradshaw is on "All Madden" mode while Brodney Pool is still on "Rookie" as he sends an absolutely devastating truck stick to knock him to the turf. That gives Bradshaw one of his "missed tackles" as well as 6 points.

Perfect Blocking

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Here's the example of absolute perfect blocking. It takes place against the Dallas Cowboys in the regular season finale. It's somewhat similar to the last play we looked at. Everybody blocks their man except the tight end goes out for a down field block in the middle zone. Bradshaw is the running back.

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This is right after the ball is snapped. Everybody is engaged and a crease opens up almost immediately. There's no need for hesitation on Bradshaw's part. The green lines represent the huge hole he has to burst through weakside off tackle. The left tackle is blowing the defender back (bottom check) and the left guard has got a great engagement on his man (2nd to bottom check).

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My God. Just look at that. A thing of beauty. We're this far into the play, and the alley STILL hasn't collapsed. Vince Wilfork could've gotten a 10 yard run on this play. David Diehl (bottom checkmark) is still shoving his guy around. Kevin Boothe (2nd arrow from the bottom)....jeez. The dude absolutely pancaked his guy, who's now laying on the turf. Baas and what I assume to be McKenzie and Snee are still engaged even as Ahmad whizzes by. Extra special is the effort by Hakeem Nicks who engages #20 (Alan Ball) to spring Bradshaw even more. The end result of the play? A massive 35 yard gain before somebody in the secondary manages to drag him down.

....these plays are all well and good, but just where are you going with this?

Just hold your horses, there, mates. I'm getting to it. Right now we're gathering evidence, like pieces of a puzzle. Now that we've looked at some plays, I want to look at (very briefly) David Wilson, who's obviously going to be another key piece of the puzzle. I just want to talk about the type of skillset that he brings to this Giants team.

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Pros

-> Very, very underrated power.

-> Great long speed.

-> Insane explosion and acceleration.

-> Phenomenal balance.

-> Great "wiggle" and elusivity. Slippery.

Cons

-> Fumbling issues.

-> Indecisive when coming out of the LOS.

-> Pass protection.

THE FINAL THEORY

Alright, so check it. We talked at length about who was at fault for our poor season rushing. We came to somewhat of an inference that the offensive line was definitely at least 50% liable for our difficulties, but it wasn't that they were giving up a ton of penetration, they just weren't getting a ton of push. I'd credit a big reason for that as injuries. If you aren't healthy, you can't block as well. Makes sense, no?

David Baas - Lingering back and neck issues. Was out at least 2 games.

Will Beatty - Detached retina and had to go on IR.

David Diehl - Broken hand all season.

Chris Snee - Lingering concussion issues.

If these guys remain healthy, its an upgrade right there as it is. They'll be able to get more push on the line. By studying those 3 plays on top, we again reiterate that they were all from late in the season. It was at the time when we were healthiest along the offensive line. Sure enough, in the playoffs, our YPC and YPG definitely increased.

When we look at those plays above, from rewatching the playoff games, I saw A LOT of those "good blocking" types of plays. Plays where we'd have one or two missed assignments, where the alley closes quickly, but at least its there. We didn't have a solid amount of "great blocking" plays, and I saw maybe one or two plays where everybody just executed everything perfectly. However, those "good blocking" types of plays are enough to get us back on track.

That's why we got rid of Brandon Jacobs. With these fast closing holes, having a big, lumbering back that doesn't have much explosiveness is kind of useless. He'd hit the hole without a ton of speed and have somebody lunge at his feet and trip him up. The prototype player needed for our type of OL as presently constructed is someone like Ahmad Bradshaw. He's got the requisite power and balance to stay on his feet when he gets knocked around in the small creases. He's got that "wiggle" to make those small cuts and adjustments to make his way through the muck.

It's why we drafted David Wilson. We need someone with the explosiveness to get into the hole before it closes. We need someone with the shiftiness that Bradshaw has, someone that can maintain balance to get that extra yardage and take full advantage of those "good blocking" plays to make up for a missed assignment or so. And finally, we needed just that little bit of power to break those tackles like Ahmad can. David Wilson and Ahmad Bradshaw are the next generation of small-but-well-built, shifty guys that can break tackles.

A final few more points as to why we'll be better.

-> We are getting rid of Kareem McKenzie. He was the weak link in the running game and the biggest reason why we could not run to the right. I don't know if James Brewer is an upgrade, but David Diehl most certainly is at RT (note: at run blocking, not pass blocking).

-> We are substituting Jake Ballard with Martellus Bennett. Bennett is an incredible blocker and he'll be able to seal off edge rushers like Ballard did in the 1st running play diagrams much quicker and easier. That can only help. Want proof? Check out this incredible fanpost on BloggingTheBoys right here:

Dissecting Big Plays in the Running Game

-> Henry Hynoski is a year wiser and will have a full training camp to flourish as the lead blocker.

-> The most important point that is severely under reported when discussing running game woes. Ahmad Bradshaw was injured. By my count he either had to take breaks or sit out completely in 10 regular season games this past year. That's a ludicrous amount. Because of that, he never got consistent snaps and that hurt his productivity. Apparently he's quite healthy from his chronic foot injury, so if he can maintain that, its a massive boost.

So, while we have to pray for relatively better health, I have no doubt that there's plenty of reasons why we can return to becoming a force in the ground game and take some of the heat off of #10.

What do you think?

FanPosts are written by community members. This is simply a way for community members to express opinions too long to be contained in a comment.

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