EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants don't really need rushing yards as much as they need rushing attempts. Coach Tom Coughlin has made this point several times over the past couple of weeks. The Giants continue to rank 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game and in yards per rush, but what Coughlin likes is that they've actually been able to run the ball more than 25 times in each of their past three games after failing to do so in any of their first five.
The reason this matters is that the Giants remain a passing offense that needs an extant threat of a run game in order to function at its best. If teams don't believe the Giants will run -- if they're not even trying to run -- then Eli Manning can't operate the play-action passing game that results in potential big plays down the field. When the Giants were averaging 17.4 rush attempts per game in the first five games, there was no reason for the opposing defense to ever buy the play-fake.
So it's good news that running back Andre Brown, who's been out since he broke his leg in the final week of the preseason, is eligible and expected to return to the field Sunday against the Raiders. Brown joins a crowded backfield that includes Brandon Jacobs, Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox, each of whom has carried some share of the load with varying degrees of effectiveness while Brown and David Wilson have missed time due to injury. But while no one seems to know exactly how things will be divvied up, it sounds as though Brown's role upon his return will be significant.
"Andre Brown, all I think about is when he played a year ago, and I'm looking forward to the return of that player, quite frankly," Coughlin said Wednesday. "Size, speed, can catch the ball out of the backfield, does a good job in pass protection. You sometimes forget that the guy is 230 pounds. That's a little bit of a different dimension."
So no offense to the guys who've been filling in, I guess, but it sure sounds as though the Giants like Brown a lot better than any of them. Before Brown got hurt, their plan was to use Wilson on early downs and Brown on passing downs and at the goal line. Expect him to get goal-line work if there is any this week, and surely his ability to help pick up the blitz is something they have been lacking, so you should see him some on third downs as well.
"I haven't been able to sleep, because it's like Christmas," Brown said. "Just really looking forward to going back out there and playing. I'm pretty sure pass protection, guys rushing at me and having to pick up the blitz and what-not is going to be hard. But I know I can pick it up. I'm going to be able to go out there and do my job, and I'm looking forward to it."
One other thing that could help is the potential return of tight end Adrien Robinson, who has been out since the preseason with a foot injury. The Giants have passed up several opportunities to put Robinson on season-ending injured reserve when they've needed roster spots, and the reason is that the run-blocking from their healthy tight ends has left a lot to be desired. Robinson, who practiced in full Wednesday, has a chance to contribute immediately as a blocker in the run game and, the Giants hope, help them run the ball an average of 29.6 times per game as they have in their past three.
"It's good just to have guys out there who can concentrate on certain aspects," Manning said. "These last few weeks we've been limited in terms of running backs, so having more options can only help."