Giants aren't physical enough

November, 21, 2011
11/21/11
11:40
AM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Lots of talk this morning about what New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs said about Giants fans. "That's the best thing they do here, is boo," Jacobs said after being booed for a 12-carry, 21-yard performance in the Giants' Sunday night loss to the Eagles. "You've just got to deal with it."

But while I've never been shy about getting on Jacobs' case for dumb stuff he's said, I'd rather talk today about what he didn't say. I was at Jacobs' locker for his entire postgame exchange with reporters. I heard him say the thing about the fans. I heard him answer "New Orleans" and walk away when someone asked "Where does this team go from here?" And I'd rather talk about what Jacobs chose not to say. Asked about the team's pitiful performance in the run game, Jacobs drew a deep breath and said this:

"Ultimately it's my fault, because I'm the one carrying the ball," Jacobs said. "But I just hope we get it right."

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jacobs
AP Photo/Bill KostrounBrandon Jacobs found little room to run Sunday against the Eagles.
This was Jacobs holding back. This was a guy who was thinking to himself, I can't run the ball if there aren't any holes to run through. This was a guy who's stood behind the Giants' offensive line for much of this year, looking for room to run and finding none, getting to the line of scrimmage only to find everybody else still right there where they started. You could absolutely tell from looking at and listening to Jacobs early Monday morning that that's what he was thinking. And rather than get on him for taking a swipe at fans for booing their own first-place team, I'm going to give Jacobs credit for not attacking his own teammates for their own poor performance -- especially since he's the one getting booed for it.

The simple fact is that the Giants' running-game problems this year are not the running backs' fault. The problem is, and has been all along, with the offensive line. The Giants' offensive line got pushed around by the Eagles' defensive line Sunday night, and it's been getting pushed around all year. That's not going to get any better when and if Ahmad Bradshaw returns from his foot injury. It's not going to get any better if they put in Da'Rel Scott. Jacobs may not be the dynamic back he used to be, but that performance last night simply wasn't his fault. It was the fault of a below-average offensive line that hasn't been able to block all year and completely fell apart against a more physical team.

"About as pathetic as it can get," Tom Coughlin said of his team's performance in the run game. He didn't single out Jacobs, and he shouldn't have. He said that his offensive line wasn't physical enough in this game, and while he said he didn't want to generalize about the whole season, he certainly could have. Because this has been a consistent problem for the Giants, and it's one they're going to struggle to overcome over their final six games.

The Giants, after losing by seven points Sunday night, have allowed exactly as many points this year as they have scored. You know what kind of team does that? An average team. Given that statistic and the way the Giants have been physically outmanned on the line in nearly every game, their 6-4 record is a near-miracle. It's a testament to intestinal fortitude -- to the clutch performance of Eli Manning in fourth quarters and a defensive line that, most weeks, has been able to make life difficult on opposing quarterbacks.

But while this year's Giants clearly have the mental toughness they need to pull out wins in the fourth quarter, they have not shown the physical toughness they need to dominate an opponent -- to impose their will for a couple of hours and make the fourth quarter stop mattering so much. This is going to end up mattering, I am sorry to tell Giants fans. The next three games are at New Orleans, home against the Packers and at Dallas. And while the Giants have proven they will be in each of those games and could potentially win any of them, it's going to be tough to win all of them if they're consistently unable to handle their challenges in the trenches.

That's where this tough second-half schedule is going to show up. Sure, they can go up to New England and win. Sure they could have won in San Francisco. Sure they can beat the Saints, Packers and Cowboys on a given week. But even as they were racing out to their hot start, these Giants lacked critical foundational elements that winning teams require to navigate long, tough stretches of the season.

The Giants still could end up on top of the NFC East. Someone, after all, will win this division. And it's becoming increasingly clear that the team that does so will not be a great team. But the Giants are going to have a tough time doing it, because the places where they're weak are places you don't want to be weak during your playoff push. They're weak up front, and eventually that'll sink you.

Dan Graziano

ESPN New York Giants reporter

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