Orleans Darkwa has waited four years for the feeling he had when he got out of bed Monday morning.
“It feels good to get that workload,” said Darkwa after setting career highs in carries (21) and yards (117) in Sunday night’s 23-10 victory over the Denver Broncos. “I woke up that next morning a little sore. Gotta like it. I like that feeling.”
The Giants have gotta like the work the 25-year-old fourth-year running back has done for them this season.
In limited opportunities the past couple of seasons, Darkwa has given glimpses of what he might be able to do. He averaged 4.3 yards per carry in 2015, but toted the rock only 36 times. He had back-to-back 10-carry, 53-yard and 12-carry, 48-yard games last season. In Week 5 of this year, he had 69 yards in just eight carries.
Is Darkwa the long-term answer?
I don’t believe anyone should jump to that conclusion. I have thought for three years now that he was under-utilized, perhaps even the best running back on the roster. In that sense, Darkwa’s play the past two weeks (29 carries, 186 yards, 6.4 yards per carry) has been gratifying.
That, however, doesn’t mean the Giants have their answer at running back. Or, that the running game is fixed.
It means they are blocking better at the point of attack than they have in a long while. It means Darkwa is doing a nice job taking advantage of a full opportunity that probably should have come his way long before now.
“I just try to make the most out of every play,” Darkwa said.
Darkwa told me back in the spring after coach Ben McAdoo had named Paul Perkins the team’s starting running back that his goal was to change McAdoo’s mind. Well, he’s done that.
In my view, Darkwa does two things well that have helped the Giants run the ball better.
First, he presses the hole. There isn’t any hesitation. He gets north and south and, if there is a crease where and when there should be a crease, he hits it aggressively.
Second, Darkwa isn’t a shifty make defenders miss runner or a guy who will run away from defenders in the secondary. He is, however, a hard-nosed runner who isn’t easy to bring down and can make some yardage by falling forward or pushing defenders backward.
“The backs are running big. They’re running big. They’re running heavy. They’re running physical,” coach Ben McAdoo said this week. “Sometimes it’s not the cleanest picture, it’s not the cleanest read, but they’re not afraid to hit it and fall forward for a few yards.”
So, what happens now?
Can Darkwa continue to carry the load? He has certainly earned the right to be given the chance. Can the Giants, now a more respectable 24th in the league in rushing and 18th in yards per attempt at 4.1, continue to have success on the ground? Especially when teams now know that without Odell Beckham Jr. pounding the rock is a big part of their offensive formula?
Darkwa isn’t going to average 5.7 yards per carry forever. Expecting him to do so is unrealistic. He has already carried more times and gained more yards than during any other season in his career.
One of the things that has held Darkwa back is that each time he seems ready to step forward some type of nagging injury has gotten in the way. How long and how well he holds up with a heavier workload will be worth watching.
“Something I learned from Rashad (Jennings) while he was here is invest in your body,” Darkwa said this week. “I’m doing a lot of thing treatment-wise to make sure I’m ready to go. I’m going to be ready. No matter how many carries I’m gonna be ready for it.”
Darkwa, though, won’t be able to do it alone.
Fourth-round pick Wayne Gallman has had some success and might, ultimately, end up as the No. 1 guy. Perkins hasn’t gotten his final opportunity. The running back of the future might be in the 2018 NFL Draft class.
All of that is yet to be determined. It is, however, good to see the Giants having some success on the ground — and good to see Darkwa being a major player in the success.
A note about the offensive line
The Giants’ much-maligned offensive line has to get some credit, especially for the work last week against the Denver Broncos. Right guard D.J. Fluker, graded 18th of 61 qualifying guards last week by Pro Football Focus, has helped. Justin Pugh had a nice game. Brett Jones has filled in well for Weston Richburg and no one is talking about Ereck Flowers, which is a complement in itself.
“The guys up front are playing physical. They’re playing with the right mindset. That helps,” McAdoo said. “The tight ends and the receivers are blocking for them. The tight ends are a big part of it and the receivers sticking their nose in there is a big part of it too because it takes – it’s the ultimate team game. It takes all 11. Eli (Manning) does a good job directing it.”
Special mention here, though, for John Jerry. Criticized for years as a poor run blocker, Jerry has moved to left guard in the re-shuffled line and done a nice job. Look at the work on this critical fourth-quarter run by Jerry (77), Brett Jones 69) and even by wide receiver Tavarres King (12).