With the passing game of the New York Giants likely to take a step back for the remainder of the season, the running game will become more important than it was previously. Over the first four weeks of the 2017 season, the Giants would abandon the run early if there was not a fast start. There was never a fast start.
But against the Los Angeles Chargers, and with Paul Perkins out, the Giants found a bit of a groove in the running game early. The Giants finished the game with 25 rushing attempts for 152 yards, easily their best performance on the ground -- 61 yards better than the second-best game of the year. Yards don’t mean much if they’re not accomplishing anything, but the Giants were finding success on the ground. Over the first four games, the Giants picked up just 11 first downs on the ground combined on 75 attempts. Against the Chargers, the Giants picked up nine on 25 carries. While the Chargers were also 0-4 heading into the game, their play hadn’t been terrible. Los Angeles was 16th in defensive DVOA, per Football Outsiders, and 18th against the run through Week 4.
Along with the ability to pick up first downs, the game against the Chargers featured the first rushing touchdown by a running back since Week 17 of the 2016 season. The touchdown was a 23-yard run from Orleans Darkwa in the first quarter. It was preceded by two plays, both Darkwa runs, when the Giants went no huddle with gains of 15 and five yards.
On the touchdown, the Giants were -- surprise -- in 11 personnel with Odell Beckham, Sterling Shepard, and Brandon Marshall as the three receivers. Before the snap, Marshall motioned from the outside right to the left side of the line in an attempt to draw a defender over with him.
However, the Chargers were defending any pass in zone coverage so no one moved with Marshall away from what would eventually be the play side.
Even with no movement from the defense, the Giants would still have a numbers advantage on the ground. One of the benefits of having three wide receivers on the field is typically the ability to spread out the defense, which leaves a light middle of the field against the run. That has been the case for the running game this season. Per the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Paul Perkins -- the Giants’ one qualified runner -- has not faced an eight-man box this season. On Sunday, Wayne Gallman -- the Giants’ only qualified runner of the day -- did not face one either. This, of course, matters less when those seven defenders can beat the blocking, as has been the case for the Giants this season, but that’s a different topic. Continuing with the trend, though, the Chargers had seven defenders in the box on this play.
At the snap, the Giants get off a few good blocks. Bobby Hart and D.J. Fluker double-teamed the defensive tackle in front of them and Evan Engram took on the defensive end across from him one-on-one. As those blocks were engaged, Justin Pugh pulled from the left to the right and Shepard worked to get inside the cornerback opposite him.
With Pugh pulled, there was a hole opened up in the middle between Weston Richburg and the Fluker-Hart double team. However, two Los Angeles linebackers would be uncontested to fill that hole, which would likely lead to a minimal gain. Instead, Darkwa decided to bounce further outside between the blocks of Engram and Shepard.
This is a place where not having Paul Perkins probably helped the Giants. While Perkins helped ignite the run game at the end of last season, he’s been largely unproductive as the starter in 2017. That isn’t all the fault of Perkins, though. The blocking has been bad up front and he’s seen run situations early, such as this:
These types of plays typically happen early in the game and then the Giants abandon the run and never allow the back consistent attempts to find a rhythm. This doesn’t help when Perkins gets scattered carries later in games. Not to compare Perkins to Todd Gurley, but it’s a similar scenario to what the Rams running back faced last season. With little success of blocking up front, Gurley never fully trusted what was in front of him and tried to hit the first hole he found without trying to find another path and it resulted in minimal gains.
Last year, Perkins’ jump cut was one of the best things about his running style and it helped create new holes and running lanes. That’s been beaten out of him this year, but for Darkwa and Gallman -- two backs who haven’t had to take that early punishment behind the line -- that trust hasn’t been lost yet and the will to create more yards is still there. Basically, with the 2017 version of Perkins in this game, that cut probably isn’t made.
We talked about the numbers advantage before and when Darkwa made his cut, the Giants had an extra blocker in the immediate area where the run was going. It was five-on-four for the Giants.
A big key to this run was the blocking from Shepard. He moved from the cornerback to the pursuing linebacker which helped open up the hole on the outside. Meanwhile, Pugh came to the outside of Engram and helped double off that defender as well.
Shepard’s initial block on rookie cornerback Desmond King (20) isn’t great, but it was just enough to knock King back which forced him to make a low arm-tackle attempt at Darkwa, one the running back was able to power through.
Once Darwka broke through the tackle, there were no Chargers ahead of him on the run.
All he had to do was beat a linebacker and safety coming across the field, and that proved to be fairly simple.
Despite the success on the run, Darkwa carried the ball just twice after the touchdown. Following the game, Ben McAdoo stated Darkwa suffered an injury and that’s why his play was limited the rest of the way. Ten of Gallman’s 11 rushing attempts came after Darkwa’s touchdown and the fourth-round pick also had some nice gains on the day. Gallman was also more involved in the passing game catching all five of his targets, while Darkwa had a few drops on his four targets that ended with just one reception.
There’s no word yet on whether Perkins will be able to return this week or how the carries will be shared going forward. But for the first time this season there were signs of life in the running game. But there are going to have to be more than just signs when the Giants face the Denver Broncos on Sunday, who sport the league’s best run defense by DVOA this season.