The Giants will rush for 2,000 yards this season.
John Schmeelk: Fiction – Eight teams ran for 2,000 yards last year, with four or five (depending how you count Marcus Mariota) needing quarterbacks that could run to get there. Others, like the Patriots, Saints and Texans (who had Deshaun Watson) needed a productive second running back. I think the Giants will be right around 2,000, thanks mostly to Saquon Barkley, who should be good for about 1,500. For them to get to 2,000, Wayne Gallman will have to run for around 400 yards, maybe 500+. I’m not sure I see that happening. I think they finish with somewhere between 1,900 to 1,950 yards and just fall short.
Dan Salomone: Fact – With a rookie running back, albeit a darn good one, and an offensive line that wasn’t settled until the second half of last season, the Giants still ran for 1,650 yards – 1,307 of which came from Saquon Barkley. I don’t think it’s too much to expect the offense to add at least 350 to its total in 2019. If Barkley could flirt with 1,500, you’re looking at 500 more from what has become one of the deepest positions on the roster. Wayne Gallman is slotted in as the No. 2 back right now, with Paul Perkins, Rod Smith, Jon Hilliman, and even fullback Eli Penny vying for spots. Don’t forget about Daniel Jones and possibly Eric Dungey, who could fill a Taysom Hill-type role. Even with Jones as a backup, who knows, maybe the Giants will put him and/or Dungey in a package to add more threats on the ground.
Lance Medow: Fiction – The last time the Giants ran for at least 2,000 yards was 2010 when they had a one-two punch in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Last season, they collected 1,650 yards on the ground with Saquon Barkley responsible for 1,307 of those yards. Is it a stretch to think the Giants could add 350 more rushing yards to their total this season? Absolutely not, but you also can’t just assume Barkley will duplicate his rookie rushing numbers. In 2018, he averaged an impressive five yards per carry. While an improved offensive line should help, how many more yards per carry do you think he’s going to average? When it comes to the goal of reaching 2,000 rushing yards this season, it’s not so much what Barkley will produce but more about what the rest of the depth chart contributes.
The Giants will carry the ball on at least 40 percent of their plays (36.0 last season).
Schmeelk: Fact – In 2018, 18 teams ran the ball at least 40 percent of the time, and I think the Giants will fall into that category in 2019. The answer to this question will likely depend on how often the Giants are winning or playing in competitive games, since game situation often dictates play selection. The Giants want to be a run-first football team, and they played like that the second half of last season. If the Giants are forced into another 65/35 split, it probably means the season isn’t going as expected.
Salomone: Fact – I think what you saw down the stretch last season was Pat Shurmur finding the right formula and figuring out his players’ strengths. It takes time for offenses to click, and Barkley isn’t going anywhere but up. Furthermore, when Shurmur took over, he wanted this offense to be balanced, which means it can be unpredictable. Having the offensive line and a deep group of running backs should allow that in Year 2. Giants fans also hope their team won’t be playing from behind as much, which means more running.
Medow: Fiction – Last season, the Giants ran the ball on 36 percent of their plays, but in the final four games of the season, that number jumped to 41 percent. That’s a small sample size but the reason it’s worth noting is because in those four contests, the Giants were without Odell Beckham and the offensive line made strides. I think the team will place an emphasis on the run game this season, but I think it’ll finish just shy of 40 percent. An improved line doesn’t just mean more production on the ground but also more time to survey the field and make plays through the air.
Running back Wayne Gallman will have a bigger workload this season.
Schmeelk: Fact – Wayne Gallman ran the ball 51 times last year, just over three times per game. With the Giants’ renewed effort to be a run-first team behind an improved line, I expect he will have to carry more of the load to give Saquon Barkley the rest he needs. I think he will be between 80-105 carries this year, which would translate to five-seven carries per game.
Salomone: Fact – You want to give Saquon the ball on every play, but the Catch-22 is you need to give him a rest every once in a while to have enough juice when you hit Barkley Mode on your controller. That’s where Gallman will be valuable. And he’s more than just a relief pitcher. He was a record-setting back at Clemson, which is no slouch in football. This spring, Gallman worked in packages with the first team and looks physically stronger. This is going to be a fun year for fans who appreciate a good running game.
Medow: Fiction – Every season we debate the roles of the various running backs on the roster, but I’m not falling into that trap this season. Saquon Barkley is the Giants’ number one back and they will once again do everything they can to maximize his opportunities. That’s not a reflection on Wayne Gallman’s skillset/production. It’s more about what Barkley brings to the table and the fact that most teams don’t want to take their best player off the field if they don’t have to, especially a player who is an every down back. Last season, Barkley played 83 percent of the offensive snaps, while Gallman logged 15 percent. Gallman had 51 carries on the season with 14 of them coming in Week 13 at the Redskins because it was such a lopsided game. Outside of that contest, he had no more than six in any other game. I don’t think those numbers will dramatically change in 2019.
The trademark of the NFC East right now is running the football.
Schmeelk: Fiction – I think the trademark is going to be that all four teams think they have their quarterbacks of the future, players who have been drafted in the last three years. Carson Wentz just signed a long-term extension in Philly and Dallas’ Dak Prescott isn’t far behind. The Giants drafted Daniel Jones this season, and the Redskins selected Dwayne Haskins. These teams all believe they are set at the quarterback position and the future of the division will be determined by which teams are right, and which are wrong.
Salomone: Fact – Not only do you have the names at running back (Barkley, Peterson, Elliott), but you also have them on the offensive line (take your pick). There are Pro Bowlers and All-Pros up and down both of those lists. Quarterbacks dominated this division for a long time, but the NFC East has gone retro with the running backs. I’ll even go as far as to say the team that runs for the most yards in 2019 will win the division.
Medow: Fact – This statement saved me from the “fiction sweep” this week. As it stands right now, all four teams have a workhorse back: Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys), Saquon Barkley (Giants), Jordan Howard (Eagles), Adrian Peterson (Redskins). Despite the fact that last season three of the four teams finished in the bottom half of the league in rushing yards per game, I’d still argue their main strengths are personnel in the backfield. Over the last few years, Dallas’ identity has been the ground game, even when DeMarco Murray was the team’s starting back. Last season, the Redskins were 5-2 when Peterson ran for at least 96 yards and 2-7 when he finished under that total, which pretty much sums up their 2018 campaign. I think the Eagles will capitalize on Howard’s skillset a bit more than the Bears and have him fill the role LeGarrette Blount and Jay Ajayi have assumed in the past, and the Giants have a versatile weapon in Barkley, who ran for over 1,300 yards as a rookie. The run game is important across the league but it especially sets the tone in the NFC East. It’s no coincidence that the most consistent rushing team, the Cowboys, has won three of the last five division titles.