It is not exactly a news flash to say that the New York Giants have not been good at running the football this season. They are 28th in the league getting just 83.8 yards per game running the ball. The Giants' average of 3.17 yards per carry is 31st in the league.
Those numbers are stunningly bad for a Giants team that, for most of the last three decades, has prided itself on its ability to win at the line of scrimmage and dominate with its rushing attack. It is especially shocking for a Giants team coached by Tom Coughlin.
Here are some numbers that illustrate just how bad the running game has been:
- The Giants have not finished a season averaging 83.8 or fewer rushing yards a game since 1945, when the figure was 76.9.
- They have not been ranked 28th in rushing since 2003 (pre-Coughlin), when their per-game average was 97.4 yards.
- The last time the Giants averaged so few yards per carry over a full season was 1954 (2.64).
- The Giants have an NFL-low one run longer than 15 yards (Ahmad Bradshaw's 37-yarder at Philadelphia).
- This is Coughlin's 16th season as an NFL head coach (eighth with the Giants after eight with Jacksonville). Under Coughlin, the Giants have rushed for at least 100 yards in 77 of 117 regular season games. They are 53-24 (.688) when they do and 15-25 (.375) when they don't.
- Coughlin's first 15 NFL teams averaged 126.2 rushing yards a game. In Coughlin's first seven seasons here, the Giants averaged 133.7 yards per game on the ground. The fewest rushing yards a Coughlin-coached team has averaged over a full season is exactly 100.0 (the 2001 Jaguars). The highest is 157.4, the Giants' league-leading average in 2008. Last year, the Giants averaged 137.5 rushing yards a game.
- In the 25 seasons from 1986-2010, the Giants averaged less than 100 rushing yards per game only three times - in 1987 (when they played three strike-replacement games), 1999 and 2003.
So, all of this begs the question -- what the heck has happened to the Giants' running game? Let's look more closely at the situation.
There has been a great deal of talk about communication issues, some of which could have been expected. The Giants do have a new center in David Baas (replaced at least last week due to injury by Kevin Boothe), a revamped left side, a rookie fullback and a rookie tight end.
"There's no consistency. Let's put it that way," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin. "One play's pretty good, the next play's not. Let's give credit to theguy across the ball too. They're trying to block some pretty good football players. But you have some breakdowns.
"We're just going to keep hammering away at it because that is philosophically what I hold to and believe in."
Yes, the lockout had an impact in the beginning. By now, though, you would like to believe that experienced, quality professional players could figure out their communication issues. Too often, though, it seems like there are unblocked defenders in the backfield or jamming up the line of scrimmage.
I am not an expert in line play, so I can't break down exactly what is happening on each play and assign blame. What I think we can do though, in general terms, is talk about the individual players. Let's start with the linemen themselves.
Will Beatty has been good for the most part at left tackle. Good, not great. He is an improvement over David Diehl at that spot, and in his first season as a starter that is really pretty much what the Giants were hoping for. I don't think anyone thought he would play at a Pro Bowl level right away.
Chris Snee has been good at right guard. Again, not great. And not nearly the player he was a couple of seasons ago. Snee was +30.6 in 2008 and + 26.2 in 2009, according to Pro Football Focus. Last season he was +2.8 for the entire season and this year he is +2.9 through five games. So, not the dominant road grader he used to be. It has been surprising this season to occasionally watch guys run by, or through, Snee.
Baas has been OK at center, but the ongoing communication issues are a concern. Since the center makes those calls he has to take a hit until those are resolved.
In terms of personnel on the line, though, the real issues have been with Diehl and right tackle Kareem McKenzie.
Early in his career, Diehl was a quality guard. There was plenty of reason to believe that Diehl, a nine-year veteran, would thrive with the move back inside. That is not happening, however. PFF ranks Diehl 64th out of 70 guards graded this season. His run blocking is adequate, so perhaps for the purposes of this discussion criticism of his play is mis-placed. He is, though, -8.7 in pass protection. The four sacks and 13 pressures he has allowed are more than any guard in the league.
McKenzie was the Giants' best lineman a season ago, and of all the players on the line his sub-par play thus far in 2011 is -- to me -- the biggest mystery. In his 11th season, McKenzie has always been a dominant run blocker. Sunday against Seattle, though, it seemed every time the Giants tried to run behind him the 32-year-old ended up pushed into the backfield. A year ago, PFF graded McKenzie at +23.6 (+11.5 in run blocking). This season he is -1.8 overall and -0.6 in run blocking. Has he just gotten old all of a sudden? I don't know the answer to that one.
Is there anything the Giants can do personnel-wise? They may have to make some changes this week with Baas (neck) and Snee (concussion) possibly out of action. I want to discuss longer-term, though, not one week stop-gaps.
At guard, second-year player Mitch Petrus has been inactive for most, of not all, of the games this season. I don't think Coughlin, loyal to a fault, will do this but I would not mind seeing Petrus -- or maybe even Jim Cordle -- given an opportunity to see if they can play better than Diehl has in the first five games.
At right tackle, I think the Giants will leave McKenzie alone for the time being. Fourth-round draft pick James Brewer might be a solution down the road, but not this season. The Giants could move veteran Stacy Andrews into that slot. If they do anything, though, the more likely move would seem to be Petrus or Cordle to guard and Diehl out to right tackle.
Would that be better? I don't know. The Giants can't beat beating their heads against the wall here, though.
At tight end, Jake Ballard has been a surprise as a pass-catcher and largely a disappointment as a blocker. With time, hopefully, that will get better. It has to because, at least for this year, there really is no other answer.
At fullback, Henry Hynoski has not exactly been the dominant road-grader the Giants hoped for, but he hasn't been bad, either. One player can't block two or three, and when guys run free through the line Hank the Tank can only pick one to hit.
Your thoughts, Giants fans?