EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** A confluence of factors has put the Giants' run defense under the spotlight as the team prepares to host the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday.
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The Chargers ran the ball 40 times in their 37-13 victory. Twenty-three of those carries were in the second half, when the outcome was assured and they tried to bleed the clock. And San Diego's average of 3.6 yards a carry was not particularly high.
But the numbers are relevant because the 11-2 Seahawks are a physical offensive team that is committed to running the ball. They have the NFL's third-ranked rushing attack, averaging 141.5 yards a game on the ground. Marshawn Lynch, their workhorse back, is third in the NFL with 244 carries, fifth with 1,042 yards and tied for first with 10 rushing touchdowns. Russell Wilson, Seattle's quarterback, has run for 458 yards.
"Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch are the two keynote people to be recognized," coach Tom Coughlin said. "But it is an outstanding offensive line and tight end combinations with outstanding wide receivers, who make very good plays, a lot of plays off of the play action. (They have) a very good core of offensive players."
The forecast Sunday is for cold and breezy conditions, another reason the Seahawks will look to move the ball by giving it to Lynch.
"I think Marshawn is the No. 1 rusher by (183 carries over No. 2 back Robert Turbin), so he's the guy that makes them go," linebacker Jon Beason said.
"I'm more impressed with Marshawn just for the fact that he's a running back that gives more of a pounding than taking it," defensive end Justin Tuck said. "That scheme really fits him well. It's a constant that you see him falling forward, breaking tackles. You really don't see him getting hit for negative yardage, so that's going to keep the sticks in their favor. Plus, he's one of those backs that when he does break it, he can take it to the house. We've played a lot of great backs this year and hopefully that experience helps us out with him, because he's a load."
The Giants have held many of the league's best backs to far below their year-long per-game and per-carry averages, including Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, Minnesota's Adrian Peterson and Kansas City's Jamaal Charles.
The run defense, which is ranked 11th in the league (105.4 yards a game), recently had a six-game stretch in which it allowed no more than 110 rushing yards. That ended in Washington, largely because quarterback Robert Griffin III broke free for 88 yards. Alfred Morris, the NFL's sixth-leading rusher, was held to 26 yards.
But last week, San Diego's Ryan Mathews ran for 103 yards, just the second back to pass the 100-yard barrier vs. the Giants this season (joining Carolina's DeAngelo Williams).
"They blocked us," Coughlin said. "I don't think we tackled really well, but they also have a good scheme with a big offensive line and a nice mix. When you do that and have less numbers down, no matter if you're in a one back or however, you better be in the right position and gap responsibility, and you also better be able to handle the people that are coming off. Give credit where credit is due."
"We weren't being physical enough," safety Antrel Rolle said. "Two, just playing your assignment and not trying to do too much…a lot of times I felt like as an entirety we were trying to do too much at certain times. It's just going out there and being physical. The run is all about being physical and attacking at the point."
That is exactly what the Giants must do against Lynch and the ground-based Seattle attack. Can the defense return to the formidable run-stopping it demonstrated earlier in the season?
"We've done it do; there's no reason why we can't do it this week, but it's going to take a special effort," Beason said. "Guys have to prepare harder, especially when you're coming off a disappointing loss in terms of your performance. It's on the individual, but you have to do it for the man next to you too. Everyone has to buy in and say, 'Okay, let's get back to the basics and just do what we're supposed to do.' Whatever the call is, know your job and do it."
On Sunday, the Giants' run defense must do its job well to stop the Seahawks.