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Philosoraptor's Corner: Running In The Dust

Are the Giants running the ball too much?

No, the title isn't a reference to Vince Lombardi and/or the New York Giants' rushing average.

At least not entirely.

I also figured that since this is a trip into my brain, we'd have a soundtrack of my choosing.

There have been a lot of hot-button issues among Giants fans this year ... Odell Beckham's hamstring, snaps given to Marcus Kuhn and Mathias Kiwanuka, and the use of the running game have all lead to much gnashing of teeth and abused keyboards.

It's that last one that I've been thinking about the most.

It's also the one with the strongest arguments on either side. Beckham's hamstring was frustrating, but it was always going to heal in its own time, and the Giants managed his recovery correctly.

But with the running game, I think I both completely understand why people are frustrated with the Giants' insistence on balance, and I completely understand why the coaches still insist on running the ball even when it doesn't appear to be working.

Why Run The Ball?

I mean, why should they bother running the ball?

This season the Giants are fielding a patchwork offensive line. Will Beatty has been excellent at left tackle, both in pass blocking and run blocking. However the other four lineman can't really say the same. Justin Pugh has been dealing with a leg injury for weeks now, Geoff Schwartz, the Giants' best run blocking lineman has been placed on the injured reserve twice this season. John Jerry, while a capable pass blocker, simply isn't a run blocker -- even at 340 pounds. Weston Richburg is athletic, but very undersized for a guard and it shows. J.D. Walton has been a good center from the neck up, but he is often overwhelmed at the point of attack.

What's more, the Giants' best running back, Rashad Jennings, has been dealing with various injuries for months now. Andre Williams, though he is surprisingly quick for a 230-pound power back, seems unable to see cutback lanes Although, I'm starting to believe that his vision isn't all that bad, he just looks for linebackers and defensive backs to hit instead of holes to hit.

Right now the Giants' offense has precisely two legitimate weapons: Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. The best way to win a football game is to get the ball in the hands of your play makers and let them make plays for you.

For the Giants that means throwing the ball, preferably to No. 13, though Larry Donnell, Rueben Randle, and Preston Parker are all capable of exploiting match-ups and making plays. Giving the ball to Eli lets them push the tempo, push the ball down-field, and exploit changes in the rules designed to protect passers, receivers, and generally favor the passing game.

In short, play to your strengths!

Why You Should Run The Ball

Even if you don't do it well, there are some good arguments for running the ball.

First and foremost, a commitment to running the ball helps the passing game. Even if you aren't picking up many yards, the defense has to make an effort to stop the run. Unless there is such a disparity between a team's offensive front and the defense's front that they can effectively stop a run with six players, the defense will need to keep seven defenders in the tackle box.

With a player like Beckham, who commands double teams every play, forcing a defense to stay in a base package, opens up match-ups for the other three eligible receivers.

Running the ball is also an effective way to protect your quarterback and offensive line. Defenses simply cannot rush recklessly against a team that is a threat to run the ball. We've seen what happens when the Giants' own defense does that, and it's not pretty. And generally, offensive linemen like running the ball. While offenses can be more aggressive in gaining yards with the passing game, offensive lines are more aggressive when they're running the ball. Pass protection is largely passive, they are giving ground to pass rushers to buy time for the quarterback to make the pass.

Running the ball has the added benefit of wearing defenses down over time. Using an up-tempo, no-huddle rushing attack prevents defenses from substituting players. Playing defense is more taxing than offense, and each hit that a back like Andre Williams delivers adds up over the course of a game.

And finally, running the ball lets the passing game be more aggressive. Not only can it force more 1 on 1 match-ups, but it opens the possibility of the play-action pass. Though the Giants are running a West Coast-flavored offense, the run game is still important. In fact, Bill Walsh believed that play-action -- or the play-pass -- was one of the most important weapons in an offense's arsenal:

The Play-Pass is the one fundamentally sound football play that does everything possible to contradict the basic principles of defense. I truly believe it is the single best tool available to take advantage of a disciplined defense. By using the play-pass as an integral pant of your offense you are trying to take advantage of a defensive team that is very anxious very intense and very fired-up to play football. The play-pass is one of the best ways to cool all of that emotion and intensity down because the object of the play-pass is to get the defensive team to commit to a fake run and then throw behind them. Once you get the defensive team distracted and disoriented, they begin to think about options and, therefore, are susceptible to the running game.

Final Thoughts

Wondering if, or how much, the Giants should rely on the run game is a tricksey question. There are arguments for and against it, and no team actively seeks to be one dimensional. It's a delicate balance to strike when the strength of your offense is so blatantly obvious (ie: throw it to No. 13!). Relying too heavily on an ineffective run game will put your offense in long down and distance situations, which will put the offensive line and, consequentially, Eli at risk.

But, abandoning the run game has the same effects. And if defenses know they don't have to respect a play-fake. If an offense can't use play-action, then any deep pass they take would be a lower percentage throw.

The neatest answer is to find another starting guard to finish rebuilding the offensive line. If the offensive line could consistently run block effectively, I doubt anybody not actively looking for something to complain about would mind the Giants using the run game.