- Dan Graziano, ESPN Staff Writer
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Something's got to give. On Sunday, the New York Giants, who had the worst rush offense in the NFL last year, host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who had the league's worst rush defense. I don't know what this means, but from the standpoint of this blog we have to say it offers the Giants a very good chance to get their run game going and put last year's troubles in the past.
To assess their chances, I consulted the NFL's Game Rewind app, which this year offers users the chance to watch the "All 22" coaches film and see where everybody goes on every play. Pretty useful stuff that should offer plenty of chances for great blog fodder as the year goes along. Here are a few things I learned about the Giants' run game watching it today.
Of the 19 run plays the Giants ran against the Cowboys in last Wednesday's opener, 11 went to the left side, seven to the right side and one up the middle (Ahmad Bradshaw's 5-yarder on 3rd-and-16 to end the first half).
Of those 19 run plays, 11 were on first down, five were on second down, two on third and one on fourth. Bradshaw's biggest run was a 33-yarder on 3rd-and-1 that was a very well blocked play to the side of the line on which the Giants did not have extra blockers. More on that in a second.
Bradshaw ran the ball 17 times. Rookie David Wilson ran it twice, and not at all after fumbling on his second carry. No other Giants running back got a carry in the game.
Of the 19 runs, 13 were run to the side of the line on which tight end Martellus Bennett was lined up. That includes the first 10 Giants running plays of the game. The first time Bradshaw runs to the side on which Bennett is not lined up is a 2-yard gain to the right side in the second quarter, and on that play tackle Will Beatty was in the game on the right side as an eligible tight end. The play is basically stopped immediately by Anthony Spencer when he gets off the block of Beatty.
Right tackle David Diehl had a rough game against Dallas defensive end Jason Hatcher. On the final play of the first half, the Cowboys have only three men on the line and Bradshaw gets the ball and runs right up the middle, but Diehl can't handle Hatcher, who brings Bradshaw down before he can get loose. Not that they were trying to do anything special there, but you never know.
There are times when Bradshaw shows indecisiveness and a lack of burst that costs him. The play just before the Wilson fumble is a 1st-and-10 on which Bennett motions to the right and Bradshaw runs that way. There appears to be a hole between Bennett and Diehl on that right side, but Bradshaw is unable to slip through before it closes. That play looked like one on which Bradshaw could have gained more. There's also a 1st-and-10 in the fourth quarter on which he's running to the right side, where Bennett and fellow tight end Bear Pascoe are both lined up, and he seems to have a brief opportunity to turn upfield quickly before Bruce Carter fills the gap and brings him down.
Once they started running away from Bennett's side, the Giants actually had more success. I don't know if this is because Dallas was devoting extra attention to Bennett's side (which would make sense, after the Giants ran their first 10 plays to Bennett's side) or if it's a matter of Dallas focusing more energy on pass defense once they had the lead. But Bennett is on the right side when Bradshaw runs left for a 10-yard touchdown to the left. The touchdown is a very well-blocked play that involves no tight ends. Left guard Kevin Boothe shoves the defensive lineman inside and then blocks Sean Lee. Left tackle Sean Locklear takes care of his man. Fullback Henry Hynoski, lined up in front of Bradshaw in the backfield, swings over and makes his block. Hakeem Nicks is trying to make a block near the goal line as Bradshaw jukes the defensive back and slips into the end zone. Good play all-around, and without extra blockers on that side.
The other very well-blocked play is Bradshaw's 33-yard run to the right in the fourth quarter. Bennett is lined up on the left side on that play, and Dallas is committing most of its defense to that side. But Diehl blocks his man while right guard Chris Snee gets out and makes a very nice block on DeMarcus Ware to spring Bradshaw for the one big gain of the day in the run game.
I need to make special note of the Wilson fumble play, which is all Sean Lee. The Giants load up on the left side with Bennett and Hynoski, and they get everybody blocked and make a nice little bubble for Wilson on that left side. But Lee, who is lined up as the far-side inside linebacker on that play (i.e., the side away from the side to which the play is run), makes an incredible quick and instinctive jump on the ball, slips past all of the engaged blockers and defenders and closes on Wilson with remarkable speed. Wilson of course needs to hold onto the ball, but he is completely blindsided on a brilliant play by a player who got there much quicker than anyone on the field could have had reason to expect him to.
I guess my conclusion is that I'd like to see more Wilson. I understand the benching and agree with it, but it does seem, going forward, as though Wilson is better suited to make a big gain out of the minimal blocking the Giants can expect at this point from their offensive line. There are more plays on which they don't block well than plays on which they do, but Bradshaw seems to be doing a poor job of taking advantage of the latter. They're giving him a lot of help by committing extra blockers to the side of the field to which he's running, and he's still not able to find anything. That may be the offensive line's fault most of the time, but it's not all the time.