The Giants offense has regained its mojo. Giants ran for 301 yards with Ward gaining an incredible 215 yards on only 15 carries. Ward had a big game; he ran well. He hit the holes quickly and found the creases that the OL made, but the creases were definitely there and the OL played with great force and effectiveness. I was talking to my son Darren this morning and I think he convinced me of the following proposition. I never put much stock in the theory that Jacobs wears down the other team and then Ward and Bradshaw come in and make the big plays. I always attributed Ward/Bradshaw's effectiveness simply to the change in style that the two runners employed and that it's hard for a defense to prepare for both. Jacobs is a straight ahead battering ram, certainly with more speed and footwork than people give him credit for, but a power back to be sure. Then Ward/Bradshaw come in and while the defense is used to the slightly slower bullying running of Jacobs, they then get the slashing running of Ward who is a bit more elusive and hits the holes a little more quickly which affects the timing of the defense. Surely that is a part of it, but after watching last night's game, I'm starting to come around to an equal contribution to the "wearing them down" theory. At the beginning of the game, Jacobs was getting stopped for 1-2-3 yard gains. Then as the game wore on, those 3 yard gains became 4, then 5 then 10. The changeup to Ward is like seeing a Mariano Rivera fastball after hitting against a Wakefield knuckleball all game. (Sorry for the baseball metaphor, and even sorrier for mixing Yankees and Red Sox, but it was just illustrative of my point.) Even more effective is the way the Giants use the backs, which is switching off from series to series or even play to play. I think the combination of wearing down the defense as well as changing the styles contributes to the effectiveness of the Giants running game.
But regardless of the style of the two Giants running backs, the running game doesn't go anywhere unless the OL plays well. Last few games, in the two losses against Eagles and Cowboys and even including the win against the Redskins, Giants running game has been held down. Opposing defenses were walking an extra safety up to the line of scrimmage and playing very aggressively against the run. Giants had to adjust their blocking schemes and find a way to get the running game going. They did a very effective job against the Panthers in subtly changing the blocking. First, Jacobs was able to pound forward and make some yards even with extra defenders. Second the Giants OL pulled the guards hard on counters and perimeter runs with a TE or FB pulling ahead of them and ran at tighter angles than the usual wide outside runs. The tighter angles allowed them to get upfield more quickly and with more power making the play more effective.
The other interesting thing they did was how they used the TE Boss in the run blocking. On several plays, instead of having Boss lining up tight and blocking down on the DE or leading and pulling down field from the tight position, they started Boss split out wide. From that position he would run down the line hard to seal the DE or would run down field to engage a DB or LB and make space for Ward's run. On all of the outside successful runs by Ward, Boss made critical blocks in space or down on the DE. It was Boss' best game blocking for the run: he was great. The other thing this does is move the 8 defenders out of the box, becasue Boss is a pass threat and someone has to move out to cover him. Boss has become a better blocker, but when he lines up tight to the line and has to block in the box, it requires the blocker to bend down low and use leverage to push the defender. This is hard for Boss since he is very tall and has trouble bending all the way down. He loses balance and leverage when he does that. Sunday against the Panthers, more often he was making blocks from a running position, where he could use his great athleticism and basketball-hands to engage the defensive player and block him. Like I said, he was outstanding.
One more word on Boss - he has also become an outstanding pass receiver. He perhaps is not as dynamic a player as Shockey used to be once he gets his hands on the ball. But Boss has two attributes that far exceeds Shockey's contributions: he actually catches the ball when it is thrown to him; he runs the routes that are called so the qb knows where he is going to be. I maintain that in Eli's nightmare performance against the Vikings last year throwing 4 INT's, 2 of them were on Shockey running the wrong route.
Many of Wards big runs were on the perimeter with a pulling G, FB and TE leading the way. Several of them were quick bursts up the middle, right between the DTs. On two runs, the Panthers moved their S up to the line right behind their DE. Gilbride called a quick hit up the middle, O'Hara and Snee obliterated the two DTs and created space between them which Ward burst through. Because the defense was at the line, but spread out across the line, when Ward could burst through the first level, and then make one man miss, he was gone. Giants may have found a way to get the running game going against these extra guys up at the line. Run quick hitting plays and find the weak spot in the line. Of course, this works better when the opposing DL is not as good; Panthers have a great offense but not a great defense. With the big Panther DT out of the game, this plan to attack the middle of the defense was effective. When big DT Kemoeatu did not play, that was the soft spot in the defense to attack and it worked. The hard, quick developing pulls to the inside which Ward bounced outside were very effective.
Eli was great. I was particularly impressed by his calm and control in the pocket. I loved his first long pass play to Hixon. He was chased out of the pocket, stepped up but did not have the time or a clean area to reset his feet and step into the throw. Instead, he just flicked the ball, all shoulder and wrist and threw a strike to Hixon 45 yards down field. Eli is brilliant in his understated style. You want somebody to put up big numbers - take Drew Brees. you want somebody to break tackles, scramble down field, make plays out of the pocket and make ESPN Sportscenter highlights take Donovan McNabb or Ben Roethlisberger. You want jewelry on your qb's hands - I'm taking Eli. It's actually a great skill to make great plays look ordinary and Eli does a wonderful job at it. It's shocking that people don't get it and that people don't give the Giants the proper respect. I understand that last year, the Giants were a 10-6 team that went all the way, that people would attribute it to the fact that they were a good team that got hot/lucky and all the breaks at the right time. But when the same team continues this year with the best record in football, you would think that the experts would figure out that last year it wasn't just a good team getting hot, but it was a good team growing into a very good team led by a talented qb who is morphing into a star before their very eyes. But because he is not flashy, he doesn't get the accolades. It's OK. He's got the jewelry.