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How good can the Giants running game be?

The Giants have made improving their running game a priority the past couple of offseasons. Have they succeeded?

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The story of how the New York Giants were the worst rushing team in the league in 2011 when they won the Super Bowl is well known because it sparked a lot of debate about the importance of the running game in the modern NFL. Despite winning the Super Bowl the Giants have shown through their actions that they were not satisfied with being a marginal running team -- actions like drafting David Wilson in the first round in the 2012 NFL draft and then Justin Pugh in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

And after bottoming out in 2011 (see chart below), I'm feeling the Giants could have one of the top running games in the league in 2013. One of the unheralded factors in why I think the Giants running game could be a strength of the team this year was recently highlighted by Pro Football Focus.

For those wondering how we determine a “success rate”, I’ll define it the same way a number of the teams we work with do: collecting 40 percent of required yardage on first down, 60 percent of required yardage on second down, and 100 percent on either third or fourth down.

The results are interesting.

Fullback Success No Success Total Plays Success Rate
Henry Hynoski 103 114 217 47.47%
Will Tukuafu 28 32 60 46.67%
Jed Collins 69 91 160 43.13%
Charles Clay 28 37 65 43.08%
Jerome Felton 108 144 252 42.86%
Vonta Leach 103 143 246 41.87%
Darrel Young 82 115 197 41.62%
James Casey 103 145 248 41.53%
Lex Hilliard 70 99 169 41.42%
Jorvorskie Lane 77 109 186 41.40%

The Giants’ “Hynocerous” leads the way in an indication of the Giants’ rushing attack being far more potent when he is on the field (he was also lined up at fullback for 15 of their touchdown runs). Behind him you get Will Tukuafu whose 46.67 percent puts the 39.27 percent of Bruce Miller (who finished 13th) to shame.

The Giants are one of the few teams who consistently use a fullback -- and according to Pro Football Focus are the team that benefits most from the play of their fullback. The continued importance of the run game to Tom Coughlin should not be understated and this year we I expect the Giants to have more rushing opportunities (last year they were 22nd in the league in attempts). Hynoski's continued development as well as the second year for the exciting Wilson and the addition of Pugh in the lineup sets up the Giants with perhaps their best running game weapons since 2008.

The Raw Data

Season Yards Per Game Yards Per Rush Rushing TDs Rushing Leader
2007 134.2 (4th) 4.6 (Tied 3rd) 15 (tied 7th Jacobs (1009 yards)
2008 157.4 (1st) 5.0 (1st) 19 (tied 8th) Jacobs (1089 yards)
2009 114.8 (17th) 4.1 (tied 19th) 14 (15th) Jacobs (835 yards)
2010 137.5 (6th) 4.6 (tied 6th) 17 (tied 6th) Bradshaw (1235 yards)
2011 89.2 (32nd) 3.5 (32nd) 17 (tied 6th) Bradshaw (659 yards)
2012 116.4 (14th) 4.6 (7th) 18 (5th) Bradshaw (1015 yards)

Just a few interesting thoughts on the data. Whether or not the Giants rushing game was the best in the league, or the worst -- they apparently like to run the ball in the red-zone more than most teams. And you can feel comfortable betting that the Giants get no less than 14 touchdowns rushing and no more than 19 rushing touchdowns.

The single highest rushing yardage in one season since 2007 was Bradshaw's 1,235 -- a number that Tiki Barber eclipsed in four of his final five season (the other year he had 1,216 yards).

A 3.5 yards per rush by any single running back is considered pretty awful, for a team it's just absolutely pitiful.

Before I started looking at the data I hadn't remembered that the Giants were a middling rushing team in 2009 -- a year after they were the best the league.