The Giants' rushing attack finally seems to be hitting its stride, and the timing couldn't be better.
Perhaps the best development – aside from the final score – to emerge from the Giants' 41-27 victory yesterday over the Cleveland Browns was the production of the run game. The Giants churned out 243 yards on the ground, their highest total since Dec. 21, 2008 (301 vs. Carolina). Ahmad Bradshaw ran for a career-high 200 of those yards.
Coach Tom Coughlin said credit for the impressive outing should spread beyond the offensive linemen and Bradshaw. He also cited the tight ends (Martellus Bennett and Bear Pascoe) and fullback Henry Hynoski.
"That was a group effort, no doubt," Coughlin said. "Our runner ran very hard. He was very passionate about his play yesterday. I heard the remark that he made about the fumble (on the game's first play) upsetting him. He was upset with himself for that. You have good plays, you have not-so-good plays. Yesterday, we had a few more that lined up in that plus category. I thought that the tight ends did block well, and the fullback did block well and in key situations, in particular Victor (Cruz) and Domenik (Hixon), did a nice job blocking in front of the ball."
Coughlin said he wasn't aware Bradshaw was approaching 200 yards, but was glad he reached that milestone.
"It's a big deal for a coach (too)," Coughlin said. "It's a big deal for the offensive line. The first thing he (Bradshaw) yelled out when he came into the locker room is he congratulated the offensive line."
The surge enabled the Giants to jump from 23rd to 12th in the weekly NFL rushing rankings. And they've come a long way from 2011, when they were 32nd and last in the league in rushing yards.
"It felt good," guard Chris Snee said today. "It's been a long time since…there was a stretch there where that was kind what of would happen every couple of weeks (in the past), but it's been a while since we had that. So it was nice to have a breakout game and hopefully we can build on that."
"It was definitely good to see Ahmad have such a big day," said Kevin Boothe, the other starting guard. "He's been with us now through the tough year and half where we haven't been rushing very well average-wise. So it was good to see him have a big game.
"I think we were more consistent. I think there was only one play where we had negative yards and I think that's the key, just to maintain consistency and get positive yards on every play. So when that happens, you're going to break a few longer runs and I thought that happened yesterday. So as long you stay on schedule and consistently get three, four yards every carry, the bigger runs will come and that's our challenge every week."
That test intensifies this week, when the Giants travel to San Francisco to face the 49ers in an NFC Championship Game rematch in Candlestick Park. The 4-1 Niners have allowed only three points in their last two games. They are ranked second in the NFL in defense (the Giants are ranked second offensively). Their run defense is among the league's best, allowing only 81.4 yards per game.
The Giants are well aware that the 49ers' defense will present a formidable obstacle. In two trips to the Bay Area last year, the Giants were unable to rush for 100 yards. They had 93 yards on the ground in a regular-season game loss on Nov. 13 and 85 yards in their title game.
"We need to build on that (their performance on Sunday)," center David Baas said. "So whatever it was that helped us do that, we've just got to continue to work toward that and have that same rhythm. We know it's going to be a challenge going out there. They have a really good defense."
"Anytime you have a performance like that, it's important (to keep the momentum)," Snee said. "That being said, if we don't carry this forward to this week, it's old news. We need to build on what we did. Listen, we know it's not going to be easy. We, obviously, played them twice last year and it wasn't easy either time. So we expect it to be the same. That's a hell of a defense."
The Giants will do their best to crack it in a hostile environment on Sunday.
*Coughlin said he does not know if Hakeem Nicks will be able to practice this week. Nicks has missed three games with foot and knee injuries.
"I'm going to wait until I gather all of that information," Coughlin said. "Let's take it one day at a time here. Let's see how it works out."
Coughlin admitted Nicks had an MRI on the knee, which apparently revealed something startling.
"It's a knee," Coughlin said. "He has two of them."
*Ramses Barden, who missed the Cleveland game with a concussion, has been cleared to return to action.
"He was in the meetings today," Coughlin said, "and when I had an opportunity to visit with him, he was bright-eyed and very excited about being back; smiling, that type of thing."
*Running back Andre Brown suffered a concussion, and it is not known when he might return.