New York Giants: Chris Johnson

Final Word: NFC East

November, 25, 2011
11/25/11
1:42
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 12:

Redskins will have to (gulp) throw. The Seattle Seahawks are allowing 100 rushing yards a game (the eighth-lowest figure in the league) and only 3.5 yards a carry (the fourth-best figure in the league). Meanwhile, the Washington Redskins, for whom the running game was such a big key in their early-season success, have become one of the worst rushing teams in the league. Their 83 rushing yards a game ranks better than only two teams -- the New York Giants and the Tennessee Titans -- and their 3.7 yards a carry ranks 27th. They're also not committing to the run the way they intended to, as only two teams in the league -- the Colts and the Buccaneers -- have had fewer rushing attempts. This is clearly not the week for the Redskins to get their run game back on track, which means the passing game and Rex Grossman. The good news there is that, according to ESPN Stats & Information, the Redskins are averaging 10.6 more pass yards per game and 8.1 more points per game with Grossman as the quarterback than they were when John Beck was the quarterback.

Weird, likely irrelevant historical note. The game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the New England Patriots is the 13th matchup this season between teams that have played each other in the Super Bowl. That bodes ill for the Eagles, who lost to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXIX, because only three of the previous 12 rematches have gone to the team that lost the Super Bowl matchup. The Packers beat the Broncos this year, and the Bills and Dolphins both beat the Redskins, though the Dolphins-Redskins game gets an asterisk because they met in two Super Bowls and split them. Either way, if you're the Eagles, Terrell Owens isn't walking through that door. And Tom Brady is.

[+] EnlargeLeSean McCoy
Dale Zanine/US PresswireLeSean McCoy's 3.61 rush yards per attempt before contact is the third-best figure in the league this season among runners with at least 50 attempts.
Eagles should get some push. Eagles running back LeSean McCoy is thriving with the help of one of the best run-blocking offensive lines in the league this season. ESPN Stats & Info says McCoy's 3.61 rush yards per attempt before contact is the third-best figure in the league this season among runners with at least 50 attempts. The good news this week is that the Patriots give up 2.74 yards per contact to opposing runners, which is the sixth-highest number in the league. So if the Eagles commit to the run, they have a chance against Brady and the Pats. Of course, that's a fairly big "if"...

Jacobs not toughing it out. I've said many times here, and still believe, that the Giants' run-game problems are thanks to the poor performance of their offensive line and that people have been too hard on Brandon Jacobs and the running backs. However, there is some proof, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info, that Jacobs could be doing more to help his own cause. Jacobs is averaging just 1.61 rushing yards per carry after contact, which is the fourth-lowest figure in the league among running backs with at least 90 carries. Each of the three backs behind him on that list -- Cedric Benson, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Johnson -- weighs at least 37 pounds less than Jacobs, whose size used to be among his greatest assets as a running back. It's possible he has slowed down as he's gotten older. It's possible that he is so discouraged by the lack of running room that he doesn't push through first contact the way he used to. It'd be understandable, given that no one likes to get hit. But it also would feed into the perceptions about him that the booing home fans have developed.

Eli against the blitz. The Saints love to blitz, and Giants quarterback Eli Manning surely will face extra pass-rushers on Monday night. But in spite of the injury to running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who's one of the best backs in the league at picking up the blitz, Manning has fared well this season against five or more rushers. In fact, over the past two years, Manning ranks among the best quarterbacks in the league when teams send five or more pass-rushers. His 74.6 Total QBR in those situations is fifth-best; his 8.4 yards per attempt and his touchdown-to-interception ratio of plus-16 are third-best; and only Aaron Rodgers has thrown more touchdown passes than the 26 Manning has thrown over the past two years when teams send five or more.

Giants defense has something to prove

September, 25, 2010
9/25/10
2:15
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Which Giants defense will show up against Chris Johnson and the Titans on Sunday?

Will it be the unit that limited Carolina's dangerous rushing combo of Jonathan Stewart and D'Angelo Williams to 74 yards on 21 carries in the Giants' 31-18 Week 1 win?

Or the group that allowed the normally pass-happy Colts to rush for 163 yards in an embarrassing 38-14 loss last Sunday night?

Linebacker Michael Boley stopped short of calling Sunday a statement game for the Giants defense, but he knows they have to right the ship against the run to be successful.

"I don’t want to say, 'Make a statement,' but definitely [we want to] show everybody we're better than we were last week," Boley said on Friday. "We let a team like Indy, who predominantly throws the ball, to come in and rush for above 150 on us. When you put that on film, other teams look at that and say, 'Oh, they ran the ball. Maybe we can run the ball on them.'"

You can bet that's what the Titans are thinking.

Johnson was held to just 34 yards on 16 carries last week against Pittsburgh, ending a streak of consecutive 100-yard games at 12. He'll certainly be hungry to start a new streak against the Giants, who after two games rank 24th out of 32 teams in rushing yards allowed per game (124.5).

Linebacker Jonathan Goff said the team didn't learn of any technical advantages to employ against Johnson from the Pittsburgh game.

"They just came in and played real physical football," Goff said of the Steelers.

And Goff knows the Giants have to be just as physical and disruptive if they want to slow Johnson, who set an NFL-record with 2,509 yards from scrimmage in 2009, including 2,006 on the ground.

Goff, like Boley, looks at Sunday as an opportunity for the Giants defense to establish an identity.

"Anytime game day rolls around, that’s an opportunity," Goff said on Friday. "It’s an opportunity ... to showcase your talents as a team and to establish yourself and your identity. We want to play Giant football and Giant defense."

Football Scientist: Keys to stopping CJ2K

September, 25, 2010
9/25/10
2:12
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Stopping Chris Johnson is a task that is obviously easier said than done, but the task is doubly difficult because of how creative Titans offensive coordinator Mike Heimerdinger is at run play calling.

The bulk of his calls are the typical fare -- counters, stretch and slant runs, isolations and sweeps. Those certainly work well (Johnson is explosive regardless of the play type) but Heimerdinger also uses them as set-up plays for the potential home run calls.

I covered this trend in detail in an ESPN.com Insider article back in July, but for the sake of those who might not have seen it, the gist of it is that Heimerdinger likes to add counter fakes to just about every type of run. He also gets his linemen to integrate fakes into their blocking that add to the backfield counter sell by Johnson.

Here is a write-up from that article explaining how he did a very creative job of adding a second set of counter fakes to a counter play in the 2009 Bills-Titans game:

"This play started out as a basic counter, with the fullback crossing the backfield to operate as a lead blocker and the left guard pulling for the same purpose. Johnson also took his usual false step to the left to sell the defense that the play was going that way.

"In addition to the backfield and pulling motions, the rest of the offensive line also sold the counter run. RG Jake Scott and right tackle David Stewart started what looked to be the beginning of combination block on the defensive tackle to their side and C Kevin Mawae blocked down on the defensive tackle on his side. TE Alge Crumpler also got into the act with a block on the middle linebacker. These fakes worked so well that the Bills' weakside linebacker started running to the opposite side of the field to pursue the counter to that side.

"The beauty of this play was not just in the double fakes, but how well all of the Titans' blockers sold them. For example, Crumpler set up his block in such a way that it looked like he was trying to keep the middle linebacker from getting past him. Once the linebacker fought his way through, however, Crumpler then angled his body to wall the defender off from pursuing the run to the left.

"Mawae did a similar thing to the defensive tackle, but he actually took it one step further by holding his block until Scott could disengage from his initial block on the other side. If Mawae wasn't able to do this, his defender could have stuffed the play at the line of scrimmage, but he held his ground perfectly until Scott arrived to take over. Mawae then had to get upfield to wall off the strong safety, but his and Scott's perfect execution allowed that to happen without a hitch, and it led to Johnson gaining 22 yards on the play." (Insider subscribers can see a motion-based schematic that gives an X's and O's visual of the blocking)

The good news for the Giants defense is that they are used to seeing some of the most creative run blocking in the NFL in practice every day. If they can use that experience properly, they might be able to keep their gaps against these double counter fakes and thus prevent CJ2K from running away with this game.

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