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BBV Mailbag Outtakes: Expectations for the ground game and run defense

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What are realistic expectations for the running game and the run defense?

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve been pestering BBV editor Ed Valentine for a chance to answer a mailbag question for weeks. So after finally wearing him down, Ed gave me an excellent question submitted by reader Jim Novotny.

Here is Jim’s question:

Do you think the additions made since Gettleman has taken over will lead to the Giants be able to stop the run on defense and being able to run the ball on offense?

The G-Men have not been able to stop the run for some time now. Pass Rush comes from stopping the other team from running the ball.

The running game did improve last year, but it is still short of where it needs to be. It had some big runs, but the success of grinding the ball was not there.

Thanks for that question, Jim! Let’s start with the running game.

I think a huge key to a better producing running game is that left tackle Nate Solder is hopefully going to be healthier than he was last year and left guard Will Hernandez, entering his second year, is going to be able to play faster.

Last year, according to NFL media stats, the Giants ranked 25th when rushing behind the left tackle hole and 30th when running behind the left guard hole. On the other side, for those who might be wondering, the Giants had better success, ranking first when running behind both the right guard and right tackle holes.

Now keep in mind that these stats don’t necessarily correlate to the player; for example, if left guard Will Hernandez pulls to the right, and the running play still goes through that hole, that counts as a credit toward the left guard.

If we use Pro Football Focus’ rushing direction chart for Barkley, that chart confirms that he had a little better success running right than he did to the left.

So what about the changes made on the right side of the offensive line? For what it’s worth, both the Browns (107.1 yards per game) and Vikings (122.3 yards per game) bested the Giants running game last year even with Barkley on board.

While part of that is due to the running backs each team had, another part of the credit goes to the offensive linemen who blocked for the running backs — Remmers for the Vikings and Zeitler for the Browns.

As for the run defense, like you, I’m curious to see how that unfolds. I think Dexter Lawrence will handle the position previously held by Damon Harrison and the ends will be Dalvin Tomlinson and B.J. Hill.

What I’m interested in seeing is the linebacker play, specifically if they can get off blocks and shoot gaps to help create congestion against the run, as they did in 2016 when the run defense was more effective.

In looking back over the team’s tackle leaders in 2016, except for Landon Collins, the top tacklers were either defensive linemen or linebackers, which typically meant tackles were made closer to the line of scrimmage.

Last year, the tackle leaders favored the defensive backs, which usually means that tackles were happening further down the field.

I thought last year, that lack of speed in stepping up and filling holes was missing from the Giants run defense, even with Harrison in the lineup for the first half of the season.

I’ll be looking to see if that aspect is improved as I think that will make a difference as will the fact that the Giants defense is in its second year under James Bettcher.


BBV Mailbag: Have questions about the Giants? E-mail them to bigblueview@gmail.com, and the best ones will be answered in an upcoming mailbag. Thanks!