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Run, Giants run! Or, why can't the Giants run anymore?

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What is wrong with the New York Giants' running game? Everyone seems to have an opinion, so here is mine.

I think the answer is two-fold.

  1. The offensive line is not playing as well as it has the past couple of seasons.
  2. Philosophically, the Giants are now a pass-first team and not a 'punish the defense with a physical ground game' first team.

First, let's lay out the numbers.

The Giants are averaging 126.8 yards rushing per game, ninth in the league. That is waaaay down from the league-leading 157.4 per game they averaged in 2008. It is also their worst rushing performance since they averaged just 119 yards per game in 2004. Not coincidentally, that is also the last time the Giants missed the playoffs.

On a per-carry basis, they average 4.3 yards. Respectable, but hardly the dominant 5.0 per carry they ripped off last season.

They have a paltry six rushing plays for 20 or more yards, none for 40 or more. In 2008, they had 24 runs of 20+ and three runs of 40+.

The Offensive Line

We have talked about the offensive line's troubles before. We need to do it again, though, because the disappointing work by the guys up front is a big part of why the Giants have been unable to run consistently. I turned to my newfound favorite stat site, Pro Football Focus, for data on the play of the Giants offensive linemen. As of Saturday, these numbers are still through only 10 games. Yet, good enough to give you an idea what is going on.

The chart below gives you PFF's run-blocking scores for each lineman for 2008 and 2009. I put Madison Hedgecock and Kevin Boss in there because they are key components of the run-blocking schemes.

Player 2008 2009
David Diehl -4.5 -0.2
Rich Seubert +18.3 -4.9
Shaun O'Hara +7.5 +13.5
Chris Snee +21.2 +14.0
Kareem McKenzie +7.7 +9.7
Kevin Boss +5.1 +12.9
Madison Hedgecock +0.3 -0.9

Anyone else see what I see? Look at Rich Seubert's numbers. Using PFF's method of a zero for doing what is expected, gaining points for doing more than expected and losing points for doing less than expected, Seubert has dropped more than 23 points from last season. Is he hurt? I don't know. I do know Seubert has not been good.

David Diehl is slightly better in 2009 than 2008, but still in negative numbers. So, basically, that means the Giants cannot run to the left. Watch the clip below, and you will notice that Brandon Jacobs likes running left. If the Giants can't block that side, that is a huge problem.

Look a little deeper. I have had the impression that Hedgecock, the blocking fullback, has not been having a great year. PFF's numbers confirm it. When you have a blocking fullback whose numbers as a blocker are below average, that is another huge problem. Even Chris Snee, acknowledged as the best lineman, has good numbers. But, not as good as 2008.

So, the left side of the Giants line is below par in run blocking. And they are not getting good work from the blocking back. A pretty ugly combination.

The philosophy

After Thursday night's blowout loss to the Broncos coach Tom Coughlin had this to say.

"Football to me is that you have to run the ball and stop the run. Those are the first things you do have to do to put yourself in a position to be able to take advantage of the various aspects of your plans and your talent."

I think, overall, Coughlin is a terrific head coach. He has a Super Bowl ring, and I hope he coaches the Giants as long as he wants to. To be brutally honest, though, you have wonder sometimes if those are just words to the veteran head coach. At least in terms of how the Giants approach offense, that is.

I really hate to do this, but I can't help it. Because I can't stop thinking about it. Turn the clock all the way back to 2006, back to the days when Tiki Barber was openly challenging Coughlin and openly questioning the strategy being employed. What was Barber's chief complaint in those days, when John Hufnagel was calling the plays?

His chief complaint was that the Giants abandoned the run too quickly, failing to take full advantage of their best player. Which happened to be Barber.

Fast forward to 2009. What was O'Hara saying to reporters the other day? That he feels the Giants are abandoning the run too quickly.

"I think really as a unit we are probably frustrated with the run game. It has come so easy for us the last few years. Running the football has really been an afterthought. Yeah, we will get six, seven yards, no big deal. We’ll get 150 yards rushing without even blinking an eye. Things are a little bit tougher; it’s tougher sledding.

"The only way, in my eyes, to get back on track is to keep doing it and do it more. I think, as offensive linemen, we are always going to complain that we aren’t running the football enough. That is kind of our M.O. We want to run the ball more. Quarterbacks and receivers, we are going to have discussions with them every single day, they want to throw it, we want to run it. That is a constant battle. I am not going to be happy until we have 35-40 carries in a game."

I will bet you a nickel Tiki enjoyed reading that.

The overall stats leave little doubt that the Giants have gone from balanced to pass happy. They show that the Giants have run the ball an average of 29.8 times per game this season vs. 31.4 last season, a slight difference. Pass attempts, though, are up from 30.7 attempts per game last season to 34.4 per game in 2009. So, in 2009 the Giants are passing the ball 54 percent of the time. In 2008, they passed 49 percent of the time.

It doesn't seem like a big difference, but in truth it is.

Here are the numbers during the last six games, in which we know the Giants have won just once.

Opponent Passes Runs
New Orleans 36 19
Arizona 37 26
Philadelphia 39 32
San Diego 33 28
Atlanta 39 26
Denver 40 16

Total them, and that is 224 pass plays, and just 147 running plays, or 60.3 percent passing plays. A far cry from the balance the Giants have always said they strive for in their offense.

Now, a small percentage of that can be explained by the Giants trailing big late in a couple of those games. Yet, that isn't the whole explanation.

During their five-game win streak at the beginning of the season, the Giants ran the ball 180 times and passed it 154, or 54% of the time. Yes, slightly skewed by the blowouts against Tampa Bay and Oakland in which the Giants were running out the clock at the end of the games. Yet, to me, clearly an indication that the Giants are better served when they remember to run the football.

It's plain to see that the Giants have become a team that uses the run to protect the lead, but not to go and get it. Coughlin and Kevin Gilbride quite obviously want to put the ball in the air when the game is in doubt.

What is the big problem with that? The NFL is clearly now a passing league, and analyst after analyst will tell you that you have to throw to score touchdowns.

Sure, except the one offensive player the Giants have who is feared by opposing defenses is the 6-foot-4, 270-pound Jacobs. The guy no one in the league likes to tackle.

During the past six games, Jacobs has averaged just 12.3 carries per game. Sorry, but whether he is running as well as last year or not, offensive line struggles or not, Jacobs cannot do what he is paid to do with that puny workload.

Jacobs' job is to wear out defenses. To set a physical tone and tire out defenders, making it easier for Ahmad Bradshaw or D.J. Ware to find holes late in the game. And for Eli Manning to throw without pass rushers draped all over him.

The Giants are not allowing him to do that. And failing to give Jacobs 18-20 carries per game means they are not playing to their strength, as much as I love Eli and the receiving corps. Remember, too, that Jacobs alone is doling out that physical punishment this season. Derrick Ward was 230 pounds and could also punish defenders. Bradshaw can make them miss, but he can't make them hurt.

TC has been talking a lot lately about winning the physical battle. Well, to do that TC and KG have got to remember to take full advantage of the Giants most physical player.