In last Thursday’s loss at Chicago, the Giants set season-highs in rushing yards (123) and carries (26).
Both numbers are significant. The Giants stuck with the run, and they stuck with it because it worked. Also, the Giants never had to abandon the run because they were too far behind.
These are all good things — and they are also reasonable, necessary and attainable goals for Monday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings.
New York’s passing game will be a key part of the equation against Minnesota. The Vikings are vulnerable against the pass, and the Giants can exploit this weakness. However, the passing game, for all of its skill, has been mistake- and turnover-prone. Having quarterback Eli Manning hand off 25-30 times on Monday night isn’t a bad thing. In fact, the passing game could benefit if the Giants run like they did against Chicago, perhaps in the form of a few play-action pass opportunities.
Numerous factors helped the Giants’ ground game get back on track last week. The Giants’ offensive line held up well at the point of attack, giving 6-foot-4, 264-pound Brandon Jacobs the room he needed to roll. For his part, Jacobs ran hard and had a couple nice gains after breaking through the line and building up speed. In all, he racked up 106 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 22 carries against the Bears.
All things considered, it was a very good performance from the 31-year-old tailback, who hadn’t had a 20-carry game since 2009. The veteran running back did pull his hamstring in the game, but is expected to practice Thursday, according to head coach Tom Coughlin, which is a good sign.
The Giants will need everything Jacobs can give them on Monday night. With David Wilson seemingly unlikely to play against Minnesota with a neck injury, the Giants figure to call on rookie Michael Cox and recently signed veteran Peyton Hillis to back up Jacobs.
The Giants are working to get Cox ready to play, but his ability to contribute remains to be seen. On Monday, Coughlin indicated that Cox’s pass protection was a work in progress.
“He’s young. It’s sophisticated and complex the things that are thrown at him, particularly in the protection area, so you’ve got to be careful,” said Coughlin, according to a transcript from the club.
The 27-year-old Hillis, whom the Giants signed Wednesday, has 33 NFL starts to his credit. However, like Cox, he wouldn’t seem likely to be used very much unless it was absolutely needed. If he's up to it, Jacobs could have another busy night.
It could also be a productive night. The Vikings have surrendered 110 rushing yards per game and about four yards per carry. If the Giants execute in the ground game like they did at Chicago, Jacobs will have a chance to hit some creases as he works to hit full speed.
One or both of the reserve backs needs to be capable of spelling Jacobs for at least a couple plays here and there. Cox is speedy but has yet to record a carry or reception on offense in the regular season, though he has returned a pair of kickoffs for a total of 39 yards. Hillis, a power back with some athleticism, could probably handle a few carries without much trouble.
Ideally, though, Jacobs will get his chance to show what he’s got on “Monday Night Football.” He deserves it.