With 122 yards rushing in last week’s game against the Bengals, the Giants snapped an NFL-record five straight games with fewer than 80 yards on the ground. Remarkably, the Giants have now won four games in a row despite having the No. 31 rushing attack in the NFL. If the playoffs started today, the (6-3) Giants would be the No. 5 seed.
That reasonably begs the question: Can the Giants win the Super Bowl with such an atrocious running game?
If you go back through history, several Super Bowl winners have been big outliers on offensive and defensive sides of the ball -- including the 2011 Giants, who were ranked 25th in offense.
Here are some others: 2006 Colts (23rd-ranked defense); 2008 Steelers (20th-ranked offense); 1995 Cowboys (32th-ranked head coach).
Just kidding, Barry Switzer. You were probably at worst the 30th-ranked head coach that year.
Speaking of Dallas, the 8-1 Cowboys are widely considered the best team in the NFL this year. Their lone loss? Week One at home to the Giants. Sure, a lot has changed for both teams since that matchup. One thing that hasn’t changed? The Giants’ running game is still terrible.
Sure, they clinched last week’s win over the Bengals with a 9-yard run by Rashad Jennings. But if you think that’s going to become the norm, you’re huffing paint.
Still, in this day and age, with the passing game emphasized and the running game demoted (unless, of course, you have an awesome offensive line like Dallas), it seems like the blueprint for winning a Super Bowl could reasonably include:
a) Explosive offensive game. The Giants have the No. 9 passing offense in the NFL behind Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, etc. The team only handed offensive play-calling duties over to Mike Sullivan two weeks ago before the Eagles game. It stands to reason the passing game will only improve.
b) An underrated defense. Look, the 2016 Giants are never going to be confused with the ’85 Bears, but they have the No. 1 ranked red zone defense. They make the stops when they have to. They’re below average in points allowed per game (20.4, 22nd in the league), near the bottom in interceptions and second to last in sacks (13). Know who else is at the bottom of the league in sacks? Oakland and Pittsburgh, two teams whose Super Bowl blueprints closely resemble that of the Giants.
Almost every team in the NFL has an Achilles’ heel this year. The first-place Texans (I know, I know, the AFC South) have the league’s worst passing game. The Seahawks, who just beat New England on the road and are widely viewed as a top Super Bowl contender, are only slightly better than the Giants on the ground, ranking 30th with just 77.7 yards per game.
The Raiders, who would be the No. 2 seed in the AFC if the playoffs started today, have the No. 29 ranked defense. The 6-4 Falcons are 27th on defense.
In short, there’s no 1972 Dolphins or 1996 Green Bay Packers in this mix --the only two Super Bowl winners that were ranked No. 1 overall in both offense and defense. Can the Giants’ piece together a Super Bowl blueprint? Until someone else beats Dallas this year, you tell me why not.
For this week’s game against Chicago, the winning blueprint seems straightforward:
a) Stop Bears rookie running back Jordan Howard, who is second in the NFL with 5.3 yards per carry.
b) Don’t fall asleep on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. The Bears score the second fewest points per game in the NFL (15.7, just above the Rams), but Cutler still arguably possesses the strongest arm in the NFL. At 2-7, the Bears have the second-worst record in the NFC. They aren’t going to the playoffs. They have nothing to lose. That makes for a dangerous opponent. Fear Jay Cutler (or at least act like you do).
c) Protect Eli Manning with extra blockers. The Bears actually have a pretty good defense. They’re 11th in yards allowed per game, just above the Cowboys, and they’re tied for eighth in sacks (24). Eli has been an All-Pro this year about throwing the ball into the ground at the first whiff of pressure, so hopefully he’ll maintain that approach.
If the Giants can win this game and again next week against the Browns, they’ll be 8-3 and right near the top of the NFC playoff standings. Do they have a Super-winning blueprint? Well, it’s safe to say a Super Bowl contender wouldn’t lose to the likes of Chicago or Cleveland, so we will see.