In Tom Coughlin's eight seasons as head coach, the Giants have been devoted to the running the football while the rest of the NFL has turned its lonely eyes to the forward pass.
The league has become more of an aerial show in the last few years. But in six of Coughlin's first seven seasons as coach, the Giants rushing attack ranked higher than the passing game in the NFL's final statistics. The lone exception was in 2009, when the Giants ranked 17th in the NFL in rushing (114.8 yards a game) and 11th in passing (251.2). Last year, they more resembled a traditional Coughlin team, finishing sixth in rushing (137.5) and 10th in passing (242.8).
This season, the rankings look like they belong to a run-and-shoot team and not one that likes to hand the ball to its backs and let them run behind a stout line. The 4-2 Giants are ranked an uncharacteristic 30th in the league in rushing yards per game (90.2) and 31st in yards per carry (3.3). In the 25 seasons from 1986-2010 the Giants finished lower than 25th in rushing only once (they were 28th during the 4-12 season in 2003, the year prior to Coughlin's arrival).
But the passing game is flourishing. With Eli Manning posting the best numbers of his career, the Giants are sixth in the NFL with 278.2 passing yards per game. In those same 25 seasons, the Giants finished higher than 10th in passing only three times, with a top ranking of sixth in 2002 (246.9 yards a game).
As the Giants prepare for their game against the Miami Dolphins Sunday in MetLife Stadium, Coughlin would like to restore some of that offensive balance he so often speaks of. He certainly isn't looking to reduce the passing output. So achieving that goal means getting the running game back to where it normally is and where the Giants believe it should be.
Prior to their bye, the Giants had their best rushing game of the season two weeks ago against Buffalo, finishing with 122 yards and three touchdowns in a 27-24 victory. It was a step in the right direction, but it left plenty of room for improvement.
"Even last week we were only averaging 3.7 yards per carry, it's not like we're lighting up the field," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said today. "It was better, which was encouraging. I think we're headed in the right direction. I've never felt that we're not going to get it going, but it's certainly a work in progress."
"I think we did a lot better upfront," said running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after scoring all three touchdowns while running for 104 of those yards. "Just the courses from us backs and being able to take the handoff and being able to make a move at the line and getting a couple yards here and there. It helps and I think we beat them physically, so I think we came to play."
Coughlin cited one of the basics of Football 101 when asked for a key to improving the rushing attack.
"Blocking them," Coughlin said. "The keys are obviously to do a good job with the run and the play action pass so that the question is 'What is next?' That then becomes execution and the last time we played, it was a little better execution."
Presumably, it should improve further against Miami because of the return to action of guard Chris Snee and running back Brandon Jacobs, both of whom missed the Buffalo game with injuries. Jacobs missed the Giants previous two games with a knee injury but returned to practice after the team's five-day break. He's officially been listed as limited, but said he hasn't been constrained in any way.
"The bye week could not have come at a better time for me," Jacobs said. "I ended up missing two weeks and I thought that third week, if we didn't have the bye, I would have been good to go. It was at a good time. Let's just hope that we are lucky enough to stay healthy from here on out, because there is no more byes.
"I haven't felt (the knee) at all, actually. My knee is good and I am making good cuts going to both sides. Once I was able to see that I was able to make cuts going to my right, I knew it was good because that was the problem. I couldn't cut right without it opening up on me so I did that great and it felt good. I felt explosive yesterday and today. I am just ready to go out there and get some snaps and play."
Jacobs has rushed for at least 100 yards in 11 regular season games in his career. This year, he has run for 116 yards – total. He has only 38 carries and is averaging 3.1 yards an attempt. He'd like to carry the ball more, but understands he's in a job-sharing arrangement with Bradshaw, his close friend.
He was asked today if he expects to get the ball more on Sunday.
"I have no idea," he said. "I am just here working hard and whatever happens, happens. I am not making any more predictions or assuming that I am going to get something. I am just going out and if they call my number, I will be there. If they don't, fine."
Gilbride's only goal is to do whatever it takes to make the offense more productive. If that entails giving more carries to Jacobs, that's what he'll call.
"Those things always have a way of playing themselves out," Gilbride said. "So to be a concern at this point, as a coach, trust me, it's one of the least of our considerations. It's not a high priority. Is it getting us to play better, to run the ball better? Yeah, that's a high priority. Usually if a guy is doing well and playing well then more carries come his way. Again, it's something that we have to get better at. We're working feverishly to get better at it. Again, usually between injuries and everything else, when it all plays out at the end of the year those things take care of themselves."
Bradshaw said having Jacobs back will provide a boost both psychologically and physically.
"It is just being together on the sidelines again and getting each other amped up to go out and play football – it is a blessing to have him," Bradshaw said. "It helps in the long run. During practice it takes off reps and it helps with our legs being a running back. Also in the games and having that extra power coming off the bench is a lot of help."
Bradshaw and Jacobs still have 10 games to hit their stride and both backs are confident the Giants offense will soon rank much higher than 30th in the NFL in rushing yards.
"I think we have a lot to come this year," Bradshaw said. "Right now, our rushing numbers aren't where we need them to be. We are taking that into consideration and plan to do better."
*Defensive end Justin Tuck, who has missed four games this season with neck and groin injuries, said today he plans to play against the Dolphins.
"I'm a lot better than I was before the bye week," Tuck said.
That's certainly good news for defensive coordinator Perry Fewell, who doesn't enjoy Tuck standing next to him during a game.
"(It's) harder than I can explain," Fewell said. "When you have a guy that has talent, knows how to play and he's your captain and he's on the sideline, that's very difficult.
"You feel bad for the player because you don't get time back. That's one thing in this game, you don't get that time on the field back. So it's more that you feel bad for the player more than anything."
Tuck has practiced this week on a limited basis.
"(They are) just being precautionary as far as hoping that we can come out of this thing without any setbacks," Tuck said, "and make sure that we're in as close to full strength as we can be on Sunday.
"I kind of know my trouble areas so I guess I kind of try to stay away from them, but I'm encouraged with how practice went. Like I said, hopefully we can just continue to grow and continue to have good days out there and make it into Sunday as healthy as possible."
The Giants are tied for the NFL lead with 21 sacks despite not having their two-time Pro Bowl defensive ends – Tuck and Osi Umenyiora – on the field at the same time even once.
"Obviously, we have a lot of talent on our D-line and hopefully I can come back and add to that," Tuck said. "They've played well the last couple of weeks. Everyone knows how well we get after the passer, but we all will tell you that we have to stop the run in order to get to those passing situations. So we have to do a better job of that."
Coughlin is confident Tuck's return will provide a boost to the defense.
"If we can get the more players of his caliber on the field, the more flexibility we have," Coughlin said. "It is going to provide some opportunities for us to get some matchups that are in our favor."
*Fewell said cornerback Prince Amukamara is progressing in practice. The Giants' first-round draft choice hasn't played this season because of the broken bone in his foot he suffered on Aug. 6. Amukamara began working in team drills this week.
"He looked good in two practices," Fewell said. "He really had a good break on the ball today. He's been taking some scout team looks for us and really had a nice break on the ball today and looked very good. He is rusty. This is the second practice and he's only had three practices (as a Giant). It's going to take him a little time. I'm very excited to see him on the field working."
*Two players did not participate in practice: fullback Henry Hynoski (neck) and tackle Stacy Andrews (back).
In addition to Tuck and Jacobs, three players were limited: linebacker Michael Boley (knee), Umenyiora (knee) and cornerback Prince Amukamara (foot).
*The Giants will face the Dolphins for only the seventh time, their fewest games against any opponent in existence at the 1970 merger. A 1987 Giants-Dolphins game that would have been played in South Florida was canceled by the players strike. This will be their first meeting since Oct. 28, 2007, when the Giants defeated the Miami, 13-10, in London's Wembley Stadium in the first NFL regular season game in history played outside of North America. The Giants are 1-2 as the home team vs. the Dolphins, most recently losing a 23-10 decision on Oct. 5, 2003.
*The Giants are averaging 25.7 points per game, which places them ninth in the NFL. Only once in history has an NFL regular season concluded with nine teams averaging at least 25 points a game. That was in 2008, when the Giants finished tied for third with 26.7 points a game.
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