Monday, November 26, 2012
What now for the Giants' running game?
By Dan Graziano
The good news for the New York Giants' running game Sunday night was that they rolled up 147 yards -- their third-highest single-game total this season and their highest since Week 6 in San Francisco. The bad news is that the back who led them in rushing yards in each of their past two games broke his fibula and will be out for a long time, likely the rest of the season. Andre Brown had established himself as more than just Ahmad Bradshaw's backup this season. He'd become a legitimate early-down back who could offer relief to the perpetually banged-up Bradshaw, and his eight touchdowns are a testament to his reliability at the goal line.
But Brown is out now, and the Giants have to find solutions in the run game in his absence. It's not as simple as increasing Bradshaw's workload, since Bradshaw's already barely practicing and always seems to be running through some type of injury. Bradshaw said after Sunday's game that the bye week had done him some good and he'd been in less pain Sunday night, but the Giants have been down this road before with Bradshaw, and they have to operate on the assumption that his body's just not up for 20-25 carries per game.
With the reliable Andre Brown injured, can rookie RB David Wilson make an impact as Ahmad Bradshaw's backup?
Enter David Wilson, the first-round pick out of Virginia Tech who has a grand total of 102 yards on 24 carries so far in his rookie season. Wilson has found a role for himself as a kick returner, but the injury to Brown makes it all but certain that he'll start to see more reps on offense. The questions are about how many reps and when they will come. He's an imperfect fit in the role Brown was playing, and the Giants will have to make some adjustments as they work him into the game plan.
The good news is that they'd always planned to work Wilson into the game plan. He was their first running back off the bench in the season opener against the Cowboys, and had he not fumbled early in that game it's possible Brown never would have had the chance to make the contribution he made. The Giants' coaches have plays for Wilson, and ways in which they believe they can use him, so it's really just a matter of installing them into the game plan this week and in the coming weeks and hoping they work.
In order for those plans to work, Wilson will need to show an ability to be an asset in pass protection. He'll have to show an ability to find holes and grind out yards on early downs. And of course, he'll have to hold onto the football. Bradshaw is the more likely candidate to assume Brown's goal-line duties (a relief for all of his fantasy owners, to be sure). Wilson's value lies in his speed and explosiveness -- his ability to reel off a big play in the run game. If he shows he can catch the ball and pick up the blitz, he's liable to get a lot of third-down work, though they'll still need to use him to spell Bradshaw on first and second down.
The question is whether he can do it, and the Giants haven't seen enough yet to know the answer. That's not all Wilson's fault, or theirs. The main reason Wilson wasn't playing much is that Brown was playing well. It's important to remember that -- the fact that the Giants will be using Wilson to replace a player they weren't looking to replace. Wilson may well be up to the task of handling more regular NFL running-back duty, but if he's to replace the production Brown was giving the Giants, he'll have to play at a fairly high level. Even if the Giants believe he's ready for an increased workload, there's no guarantee he'll deliver what Brown was delivering as Bradshaw's top reliever and goal-line replacement.
But they have no choice but to find out on the go. Yes, they could go fishing for a veteran running back to add depth. They worked out guys like Joseph Addai and Ryan Torain during the bye week, presumably because they were concerned about Bradshaw's health, and it's conceivable they could sign someone like that. But whoever it would be would not immediately jump Wilson on the depth chart. If the Giants are going to maintain the success they had Sunday in the run game, they'll need Wilson to show something and they'll need to ask more of a battered Bradshaw. A couple of somewhat frightening gambles they have no choice but to make.