What's Eating Brandon Jacobs?

Tom Coughlins hints at a problem with starting tailback

By Josh Alper
|  Wednesday, Sep 30, 2009  |  Updated 4:45 PM EDT
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What's Eating Brandon Jacobs?

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There hasn't been much going wrong for the Giants so far this season, which means that the few problems are hard to miss. When one of those problems is the productivity of the 260-pound Brandon Jacobs, you'd have to be blind to not notice that something is off about the tailback.

Through three games, Jacobs has carried 58 times for 196 yards. Those numbers aren't awful by any means and could be explained away by any number of factors, including the good run defenses of Washington and Dallas. When you notice that Ahmad Bradshaw has 201 yards on just 35 carries, though, it becomes more difficult to write off Jacobs's poor results on outside factors. Statistics only tell part of the story, however. 

The eyes tell the rest of the tale. Jacobs hasn't been attacking defenses with the same gusto he had over the last two seasons. He was accused of "tiptoeing" to the line of scrimmage by FOX announcer Tony Siragusa during the victory over Tampa, a bit of an overstatment but an apt enough shorthand for the tentative nature of Jacobs's play thus far. Power and agression are the tools that made Jacobs a great runner and, however you want to couch it, the fact that they're missing is a problem. 

The worries won't die down after hearing Giants coach Tom Coughlin answer a question Wednesday about whether he's noticed anything different about Jacobs this season.

Not that I would talk about in here, no.

The natural worry is that Jacobs has an injury and compensating for that injury is causing him to play without his trademark ferocity. If his body is betraying him, it makes sense that the Giants would want to keep that close to the vest but there are two pretty good reasons why they shouldn't do that. For the first they need not look any further than what happened to the Mets this season to see what happens when you treat injuries with less than complete zeal. They linger, get worse and then consume the season.

The other reason should also be clear in the aftermath of the Brett Favre injury report fiasco with the Jets. Jacobs hasn't appeared on any injury report this season and no Coughlin is on the record being coy about the fact that something is different. If Jacobs suddenly goes down with an injury, the NFL would be right to both investigate and find the Giants guilty of chicanery. The team isn't wholly opposed to listing players -- Bradshaw makes an appearance this week because of an ankle issue that shouldn't keep him out this weekend -- so they shouldn't resort to gamesmanship that will come back to hurt them one way or the other.

That's just the first thought about what Coughlin's cryptic statement might mean. There's also the chance that Jacobs is simply not doing what the coaches want, but that Coughlin doesn't want it made public. He probably would have given an answer of no rather than the one he gave in that case, though.

The answer that Giants fans should fear most is that Jacobs is simply wearing down. He's getting the same blocking and the same chances to carry the ball as he has in past years, but the results are nowhere near the same level. He wouldn't be the first brutish back to start slowing down before making it to 30, which makes Bradshaw's health a primary concern as well. 

It's too soon to make any big pronouncements in any direction, but it's certainly something worth watching as the season continues to unfold.

Josh Alper is a writer living in New York City and is a contributor to FanHouse.com and ProFootballTalk.com in addition to his duties for NBCNewYork.com.

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