NFL Nation: michael cox

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I understand those who want to grumble their so-whats about Monday's big David Wilson news. If you're a New York Giants fan, there's a chance you're sick of hearing so much about Wilson and seeing so little from him. The Giants' 2012 first-round pick hasn't made much of an impact, and even he'd admit he needs to show more than he's shown.

All of that said, Monday's news (via Wilson himself on Twitter) that Wilson has been "cleared for everything" following neck surgery can only be a positive for the Giants as they open training camp Tuesday. They were prepared to move forward, if they had to, without Wilson in their backfield. But they're in much better shape with him as a viable option.

Start with Wilson's raw ability. He touched the ball only 75 times on offense as a rookie in 2012, but he averaged 5.0 yards per carry and 8.5 yards per reception. A better look at his game-breaking speed showed up on kick returns, where his 26.9-yard average ranked among the league leaders. There is little doubt that when the ball is in his hands, Wilson is a threat to do something special.

The issue in 2013 was getting and keeping the ball in Wilson's hands. After Andre Brown was hurt in the final preseason game, the Giants installed and talked up Wilson as their workhorse starter -- a role for which he may not have been psychologically prepared. He fumbled twice in the opener and was benched for it. The Giants eased him back into the offensive mix in a Week 3 loss in Carolina and a Week 4 loss in Kansas City, showing good flashes before getting hurt in the Week 5 loss to the Eagles. And that was the end of his season. A lost season, to be sure, but Wilson just turned 23 last month and there remains plenty of time for him to remind us of all the positives he brings.

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
AP Photo/Kathy WillensDavid Wilson tweeted on Monday that he's been cleared to return to the Giants' backfield.
It's hard to know for sure what kind of role Wilson will occupy in the Giants' backfield this year, because injuries and circumstances always force changes in plans. But it's fair to assume the Giants will look for ways to use him, given that his speed offers them something their other running backs don't. Rashad Jennings was signed to be the do-it-all starter, but no one's sure he can be that. Power runner Andre Williams was drafted in the fourth round after a brilliant college season, but he needs work in pass protection and other areas before they can trust him enough to put him in a game. Peyton Hillis offers some reliability, but nothing special at this point. Michael Cox is a second-year back they like, but he brings his own question marks. Add Wilson to the mix and you have a group deep in talent and diverse in skill -- plenty of different toys for new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo as he builds the Giants' offense.

Not having to deal with the pressure of being the only real option at running back, as he was in Week 1 last year, should be a help to Wilson. The depth of this year's group should protect against the total collapse the Giants suffered due to injury at the position, and the creativity of the coaching staff in making opportunities for all of the backs tailored to their specific abilities should help the running game be more productive. The Giants also believe their offensive line will block better this year, which shouldn't be hard.

Still ultra-talented, Wilson is also now apparently healthy again. He's learned his lesson from last September about the way they want him to carry the ball in traffic, and the manner in which that lesson was taught ensures he's not going to forget it. The current structure of the Giants' roster should land him in positions that maximize what he does well and minimize what he still struggles with. All in all, the return of Wilson to the backfield can be only a positive for the Giants in 2014.

Andre Brown should play vs. Raiders

October, 29, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Andre Brown is eligible to return to action when the New York Giants host the Oakland Raiders on Nov. 10, and running backs coach Jerald Ingram believes Brown will play.

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"I'm very confident," Ingram said Tuesday. "I think he's practiced well in the last few weeks. He's eager to get out there. He's a competitor and he's gone through an awful lot and he has a lot of pain in his heart and I think he'll be ready to go."

Brown has been on short-term injured reserve since breaking his left leg in the Giants' final preseason game, but has been practicing with the team since Oct. 17. Ingram is eager to get him back on the field.

"Andre is definitely going to fit in," Ingram said. "We had plans for him before he got hurt. He's very athletic. He catches the ball well out of the backfield and he runs the ball well and he's got good speed. He's that multipurpose back that can do a lot of things in first, second down and third down."

Brown was supposed to be part of a two-headed monster at running back this season, along with second-year pro David Wilson. But Brown has missed the entire season, and Wilson suffered a neck injury against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 5 and has been out since.

"He's still day-to-day and I think early next week he's going to have some more tests to see where things have progressed to," general manager Jerry Reese said Tuesday, of Wilson, "and we'll make some decisions as we move forward with him."

Because of the injuries to Brown and Wilson, the Giants have had five different starting running backs in the first eight weeks of the season.

Brandon Jacobs, who wasn't even on an NFL roster at the start of the year, is the team's leading rusher, but has just 154 yards. Wilson (146 yards), Peyton Hillis (106), Da'Rel Scott (73) and Michael Cox (42) have all gotten at least one start as well.

It all adds up to the 29th-ranked running game in the league. The Giants are averaging just 69.9 rushing yards per contest.

Brown could certainly provide a boost -- in 10 games last year, he had 73 carries for 385 yards (5.3 yards per carry) and eight touchdowns. But he may not get the bulk of the carries, at least right away.

"You look at the New Orleans Saints a few years ago, they played four running backs. And it works," Ingram said. "Once you figure out what they do best and how it works with your quarterback, you can get it done. I think that's what we'll continue to do as these guys come back. They'll all have a role."

Scott was waived two weeks ago, and Jacobs has missed the team's past two games with a hamstring injury. But Jacobs could be ready for the Raiders, along with Hillis and Cox.

We'll see how it all shakes out, but Ingram likes his group.

"What's great about my room as far as running backs, we all have something to prove," Ingram said. "You've got a bunch of guys that are trying to prove that they exist in the NFL, they exist on this team, that they have worth to contribute and you couldn't ask for anything more than that."

Running back logjam looms for Giants

October, 28, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- It's important to remember that Andre Brown never thought he should have been put on injured reserve (designated for return) in the first place. So when you ask the New York Giants running back whether he'll be ready to take the field when first eligible in the Giants' next game Nov. 10 against the Oakland Raiders, you get a fairly eager response.

"I feel great," Brown said Monday. "Legs feel great. I'm exploding. I'm cutting really well. Ready to go."

Whether the Giants let him go to that extent 13 days from now remains to be seen. Brown himself admitted he still needs to experience contact as part of his rehab. And he said he'll be wearing a shin guard -- likely for the rest of his career -- over the twice-broken part of his leg. But the Giants had a clear-cut role in mind for Brown in the preseason, when they were preparing to use David Wilson on early downs and Brown on passing downs and at the goal line.

Brown's broken leg, along with Wilson's two Week 1 fumbles and subsequent neck injury, blew up those plans, and the Giants have started Da'Rel Scott, Brandon Jacobs, Michael Cox and Peyton Hillis at running back in the interim with varying degrees of success. With Brown eligible (and Wilson still possible, though there's no new news on him) to return, the Giants may have some decisions to make at the running back position in the next couple of weeks.

"I don't know," Jacobs said when asked how he thought it would shake out. "All I care about is that there's still a No. 34 hanging over that locker."

It's certainly possible the Giants could cut Jacobs, who's missed the past two games with a hamstring injury. But he's also the only back they have who's rushed for a 100 yards in a game this year. It's possible they could cut Cox, though they've passed up prior chances to do that when it might have made sense and they could have used the roster spot, and they like the improvements he's shown in recent weeks. Hillis seems an unlikely cut, as he rushed for 70 yards Sunday and has been an asset as both a blocker and a receiver in the passing game. They could wait to activate Brown, which would aggravate him but certainly be their right. Or they could put Wilson on season-ending injured reserve if his neck injury hasn't improved.

Those are the possibilities, and the last two seem the most likely at this point, depending on Jacobs' health. It's just important to remember, when predicting this situation over the coming days and weeks, that Brown was part of their Plan "A" at running back this year, and that if he had not broken his leg in the final preseason game, it's possible that Jacobs and Hillis never even show up here. A conundrum, for sure, as the Giants work to continue to improve a run game that's still ranked just 29th in the league at 69.9 yards per game.

Peyton Hillis looks like a helper

October, 27, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- Peyton Hillis' 70 rushing yards on 20 carries Sunday isn't exactly an eye-popping stat, but it's more than satisfactory for a New York Giants' run game that has ranked at or near the bottom of the league all season long. Mix in Michael Cox's 19 yards on nine carries and the team very nearly got to 3.0 yards per rush for the game. Again, nothing special, but a significant upgrade over the state of the run game in September, when it was basically crippling the offense.

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Hillis
"I think I'm a good fit here, and whatever it is they want me to do, I'm going to do it," Hillis said after the game. "I'm grateful for the opportunity."

It came because of injuries to David Wilson, Andre Brown, Brandon Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott, but the Giants are glad they found Hillis at the bottom of that pile. Not only is he banging out two- and three-yard gains that allow them to feel they're balancing their offense, he's also helping in the passing game -- as a receiver out of the backfield and as a blitz-pickup running back in pass protection. Those two aspects of his game are critical in helping quarterback Eli Manning feel more comfortable than he felt earlier in the season.

"I think we need to get in better position and continue to work hard to open up some more holes on the offensive line to be able to run the ball better," Manning said. "I have to do a better job seeing the clock and not making us rush through things on offense. I think Cox ran the ball really well and has done a nice job."

Work in progress, this running game. And with Brown eligible to return from his broken leg in Week 10 and Jacobs presumably over his hamstring injury at some point in the future, their options in the run game could be expanding soon. Wilson isn't even officially out for the season with his neck injury. The Giants aren't a running team and won't be anytime soon. But at least what they have in the run game now is representative, where it wasn't before.

Brandon Jacobs inactive as expected

October, 27, 2013
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PHILADELPHIA -- New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs, who did not practice all week and was listed as doubtful on the team's most recent injury report, is officially inactive for the second game in a row due to his hamstring injury. Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox will share running back duties for the Giants on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles as they did in Monday night's victory over the Vikings.

Jacobs
Also inactive for the Giants are running back David Wilson, cornerback Jayron Hosley, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, tight end Adrien Robinson, center Dallas Reynolds and third quarterback Ryan Nassib. None of those is a surprise, as the first three already had been ruled out due to injury, Robinson hasn't played all year due to a foot problem, Reynolds is new and Nassib is more or less redshirting.

Rogers being inactive means that rookie Johnathan Hankins will be involved in the defensive tackle rotation, as he was in Weeks 5 and 6 against the Eagles and the Bears. Hankins was inactive Monday against the Vikings with all of the veteran defensive tackles healthy.

Michael Vick will start at quarterback for the Eagles, as Nick Foles is inactive due to a concussion. Vick has not played since injuring his hamstring in the second quarter of the Eagles' Week 5 victory over the Giants at MetLife Stadium.

In other Giants news, Adam Schefter reported on ESPN on Sunday morning that the team is "resisting all overtures" for wide receiver Hakeem Nicks in advance of Tuesday's trade deadline. That's not to say there's no chance Nicks gets dealt, but as we have discussed here, his value isn't very high right now and the Giants haven't yet given up on their season or the idea of keeping Nicks beyond this season. Perhaps that changes if they lose Sunday, but either way, it's obviously unlikely they trade Nicks by Tuesday.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For the New York Giants, Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles is a chance to get back in the NFC East race.

For Peyton Hillis and Michael Cox, it's a second chance to make a first impression.

With Brandon Jacobs almost certainly out with a hamstring injury, Hillis and Cox will again share the carries on Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field.

[+] EnlargePeyton Hillis
Al Bello/Getty ImagesPeyton Hillis scored a touchdown for the Giants just five days after joining the team.
Hillis and Cox combined for just 59 yards on 29 carries (2.0 yards per carry) Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings, but the passing game and defense propelled the Giants to a 23-7 victory.

The Giants will likely need more from their running game to take down the Eagles and their high-octane offense, ranked third in the NFL in yards per game (425.3).

Hillis, who was signed just five days before the Vikings game, was thrown right in the fire, with 18 carries for 36 yards. That's a lot of work for, and pounding on, a guy who'd been sitting at home since being cut by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in late September.

Hillis admitted Friday that he is still "a little sore" four days later. "I expect that it's gonna be here for a couple more weeks. But I've gotta work through it and try to produce."

He only averaged two yards per carry against the Vikings. But Hillis did have five catches for 45 yards out of the backfield, and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. He also did a nice job in pass protection.

"I'm very proud of the effort that he put forth," offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride said Thursday. "The good thing is he's a bright young man and I think we had the good fortune that he had at least been exposed to our terminology, our system having been down in Tampa Bay. That certainly expedited the learning curve a little bit, but not everybody could have done what he did.

"I think the thing that was really impressive was the physicality that he brought to the game. He turned north-south on a couple of those catches. It's something we need as an offense. It's nice to be finesse. It's nice to throw the ball, but it's nice to show that physical prowess, too."

Cox, the team's seventh-round draft choice this past spring out of UMass, got his first NFL carries against the Vikings -- 11 of them. He only accumulated 23 yards, but gained some valuable experience in the process.

"I definitely feel my confidence rising a little bit having more experience and knowing what it's like already," Cox said Friday.

This may be Hillis' and Cox's final opportunity to prove they belong, at least this season. The Giants have their bye next week. The following week, Andre Brown is eligible to come off short-term injured reserve. And David Wilson may be back before the end of the season, too.

But for one more week, the Giants have no choice but to turn to these two.

Hillis is the veteran with the track record, having a 1,000-yard season with the Cleveland Browns three years ago on his résumé. Don't be surprised if he handles the bulk of the load.

He wasn't happy with his performance last week, but predicted better things to come.

"Especially me, when you get in the groove of things and start going through it bit-by-bit, day-by-day and week-by-week, you get slowly better," Hillis said. "I expect to do that. I expect that this Sunday is going to be a lot better."
McCoy-ManningUSA TODAY SportsA steady diet of LeSean McCoy will help keep Eli Manning and the New York offense on the sideline.
Just three weeks after the Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York Giants 36-21 at MetLife Stadium, the NFC East rivals meet again Sunday. This time, the scene is Lincoln Financial Field, where the Eagles have lost a franchise-record nine consecutive games.

As he did last time, Michael Vick is expected to start at quarterback for the Eagles. Vick was injured before halftime of that game and hasn't played since. In his absence, Nick Foles led the Eagles to a decisive win in Tampa and an equally decisive loss to Dallas. Foles left that game with a concussion.

As he did last time, Eli Manning will start for the Giants. The Eagles intercepted Manning three times in the fourth quarter. Against the Vikings Monday night, Manning had his first game of the season without an interception, after throwing 15 in the Giants’ first six games. All six were losses, which is probably not a coincidence.

Dan Graziano, who covers the Giants for ESPN.com, chatted with Eagles reporter Phil Sheridan about Sunday’s game.

Phil Sheridan: Now that the Giants have that elusive first win, is there a sense the season is salvageable?

Dan Graziano: Phil, I really think the Giants have excelled at one thing this year, and that is keeping their focus on the week at hand and pushing the ugly, big picture out of their minds. They know they're in a huge hole at 1-6. If they stopped to think about it, they'd probably realize their chances of making it a season are impossibly low. But they're not stopping to think about it. They are enjoying the fact that they won a game for the first time since Week 17 of last year, and then they're locked in on trying to beat the Eagles and get another one. This is where Tom Coughlin's leadership shows, I think -- in the Super Bowl runs but also in a tough time like this, when it really is all about playing for pride, but over the years we've seen a lot of teams unable to do that when a season slips away. The Giants are unlikely to quit on their season, no matter how bad it gets, and that week-to-week focus is critical to that.

How about the Eagles? Ol' Mike Vick couldn't finish the game three weeks ago and hasn't played since, but it sounds like he's starting Sunday, right? Will he be at full strength and able to rip off those long runs that caused the Giants so much trouble the first time?

Sheridan: I doubt Vick himself will know the answer to that one until he tries it, Dan. That’s the thing about an injury like a hamstring or other pull. You can’t be sure it’s 100 percent until you do something that would make it pop again without popping it. Vick has been avoiding that while the injury heals. That question leads to the next point, which is that Vick running was about the only thing working for the Eagles in that game against the Giants. He couldn’t get the passing game going and the Giants drew up the blueprint Dallas just copied to contain LeSean McCoy. So this shapes up as a tough test for Vick and the rest of the offense.

Speaking of that Giants' defense, it looked as if Jason Pierre-Paul had a little more bounce Monday night. How much better and healthier is that defense than it was even three weeks ago?

Graziano: Pierre-Paul did look better in the first half, I thought. I thought the same thing in the first Eagles game. But we haven't seen him maintain it throughout a game yet, and regardless of how he looked Monday, he's still a player who has one sack in his past 14 games. The Giants need him to be great, and he hasn't been. They believe there's a week coming when he'll terrorize people again. They wish they knew which it was. The biggest difference, though, to me on the Giants' defense is new middle linebacker Jon Beason, who has really taken over as a leader and a playmaker the last two games since coming over in that trade from Carolina. Beason is getting the defense fired up before the game and lined up during it, and his performance so far really points to how glaring their need was for anything at all at linebacker. The whole defense is more energized and organized now, and they are doing a good job limiting opposing running backs, especially between the tackles. Vick and McCoy are going to have to find room outside if they're to pile up yardage.

How's that Eagles defense shaping up these days? I know they were happy when Eli Manning started throwing them the ball a couple of weeks ago in the fourth quarter, but they weren't much for stopping a weak Giants offense in the first three quarters. Are they improving on defense in Chip Kelly's first year?

Sheridan: They were darn near respectable against the Cowboys Sunday. It’s important to remember that the Eagles played the Broncos right before the first game against the Giants. Peyton Manning put up 52 on them. It was an Arena League game. The Eagles desperately needed to show some improvement. When Eli Manning hit on a couple of deep throws, it looked like another debacle in the making. That fourth quarter, and those three picks, helped a lot. The Eagles were fine against Tampa Bay, but that was against a rookie quarterback making his second start. So playing well against Tony Romo and Dez Bryant was a big step. They aren’t going to scare anyone, but they can get some pressure on the quarterback, play the run reasonably well and are improving in the secondary. It remains a work in progress, but you can actually see the progress, which helps.

Seems like the Giants went ahead and grafted an entirely new running attack onto their offense since the last go-round. How effective have Brandon Jacobs and Peyton Hillis been? And has that helped Eli get the passing game going a little bit more effectively?

Graziano: Well, Jacobs rushed for 106 on 22 carries in the loss to the Bears, but he and Da'Rel Scott hurt their hamstrings in that game, so they ended up signing Hillis last week and running him and rookie Michael Cox out there for their first carries of the season Monday. Figure David Wilson and Andre Brown were supposed to be the "co-starters" preseason, and they're down to their No. 5 and 6 running backs. I think the Jacobs game was a fluke against a bad Bears defense that has nothing on the defensive line right now, and while Hillis got some love Monday, they averaged only 2.0 yards per carry against the Vikings. The one thing that I think has come out of the past two games in terms of running backs is that Hillis looked like a good checkdown option for Manning catching passes out of the backfield. So many of Manning's issues this year come down, I think, to his insufficient comfort level in the pocket due to protection issues. Having a checkdown pass-catcher whom he trusts would be a helpful thing in terms of limiting turnovers.

And Manning cutting out the turnovers sure would put the Giants' fans in a better mood going forward. Speaking of which, what's the mood like around the Eagles in Philadelphia these days? The fans high on Chip Kelly? Skeptical? And ultimately, do you think they break their home losing streak against the last team they beat down there?

Sheridan: I would say there is a fair amount of skepticism about Chipper right now. Not being Andy Reid only goes so far (especially when Big Red is Bigger, Redder and 7-0). Reasonable fans (there are a surprisingly large number of those here) expected it to take a little time to implement Kelly’s plan. I think whatever doubts have crept in are due to Kelly himself: a silly two-point conversion try against San Diego, admitting he didn’t know an injury/timeout rule, a truly dreadful offensive showing against the Cowboys, and so on. We just haven’t been dazzled by the promised bells and whistles on offense. Still, there is a lot of curiosity about where this is going and what Kelly will do next. As for predictions, well ...

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants center David Baas missed three games with a neck injury, returned to start Monday night's game against the Vikings and ... limped off the field during the first drive of the game and didn't return. Baas injured his left knee and will have an MRI on Tuesday, but he did not sound optimistic about the results.

Baas
"We think we have an idea what it is," Baas said. "Hopefully it's not what we think, but we'll see. Obviously it's frustrating, because you feel like you can't catch a break. But it is what it is."

If "what it is" is a torn knee ligament, obviously the Giants could be without Baas for the remainder of this season. Jim Cordle took over at center and would be the most likely replacement.

Defensive end Justin Tuck left the game briefly in the fourth quarter in a lot of pain, but returned shortly thereafter. Tuck said the problem was a dislocated finger, but that he was fine as soon as he popped it back into place. This is, apparently, something that happens to him with some sort of frequency. He went for X-rays after the game, but he should be okay to play Sunday.

Tuck also got a sack in the game. He had a half a sack in the season opener in Dallas but was shut out in that category since. He did his trademark bow after bringing down Josh Freeman on Monday.

"I almost forgot how to do it, honestly," Tuck said.

Running back Brandon Jacobs was inactive for the game after rushing for 106 yards in Week 6 in Chicago and injuring his hamstring last week. Jacobs said he was told Monday morning he wouldn't be playing. He hopes to be able to play Sunday in Philadelphia.

"I'm hoping and praying," he said. "I think they made the right call (Monday). The medical staff said I could have gotten out there and pulled it, and it could have ended up being worse."

Newly signed running back Peyton Hillis rushed for 36 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown and caught five passes for 45 yards. Rookie Michael Cox rushed for 23 yards on 11 carries and caught two short passes.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Well, let's see. The New York Giants... let me check... yes, they lead the Minnesota Vikings 10-7 at the half here at MetLife Stadium. Eli Manning has ... right, has not thrown an interception. His touchdown pass to Rueben Randle surely could have been intercepted, or at least knocked away, had Vikings cornerback Chris Cook ever laid eyes on it. But Randle saw it first and made a great play to leap in the air and scoop it out from in front of Cook's face. That's the difference-making play in an awful game so far, and the Giants have their first halftime lead of the season.

Gonna go right to the bullet points, because my eyes hurt:
  • The Giants' opening drive took 9:36 off the clock with 17 completely uninspiring plays and resulted in a Josh Brown field goal when they failed to convert their fourth third-down attempt of the drive. They were sharp, if unexciting, on the previous three third downs, and an interesting game-plan issue revealed itself. They were using Peyton Hillis some and Michael Cox some at running back on early downs, but they don't seem to trust either in pass protection, so when they get to third down they either go empty backfield or, a couple of times, have lined up wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan back there. Imperfect solutions, to be sure, but Cox and Hillis are the fifth and sixth tailbacks they've had to try this year due to injuries, and perfect solutions are unavailable at the present time. I did think Cox looked good on a couple of inside runs early, and I am at a loss to explain why a slow-footed Hillis got the bulk of the second-quarter work.
  • After missing three straight games with a neck injury, center David Baas returned to the lineup but limped off with a knee injury during the first drive. Can't make this stuff up. Jim Cordle is back at center.
  • In the first five weeks of the season, three different Giants opponents were named their conference's Special Teams Player of the Week. Minnesota's Marcus Sherels continued the misery with an 86-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter to put the Vikings ahead 7-3. The Giants have been so awful at so many things this year, but it's possible their coverage on punts has been their worst thing.
  • The thing the Giants do best is stop the run between the tackles, and Adrian Peterson's nine yards on eight carries in the first half are evidence that this aspect of the Giants' game is no joke. The Vikings need to get Peterson going if they're to come back and drop the Giants to 0-7, because new quarterback Josh Freeman looks very new and uncomfortable back there. He has not, however, been sacked. Coming in, the Giants as a team had five sacks for the season and only eight in their last 11 games.
  • Jared Allen's sack of Manning right before the end of the half was unlike any I've ever seen. He had his arms wrapped around the waist of Giants left tackle Will Beatty and yet still managed to grab Manning's jersey on the other side and hold on long enough to bring him down. Embarrassing for Beatty, incredible by Allen.
  • The Giants should win this game, which says a lot about how awful the Vikings are. But the Giants are pretty awful too. Let's settle in and see who's less awful in the second half.

Jacobs out, Cox to make first start

October, 21, 2013
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Eleven days after rushing for 106 yards in a loss to the Bears, New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs is inactive for Monday night's game against the Vikings due to a hamstring injury. That means rookie Michael Cox, who was the second-to-last pick in this year's draft and has not had a carry yet this season, will be the starting running back for the Giants on Monday. Newly signed veteran Peyton Hillis and fullback John Conner are the only other two active running backs for the Giants, who have lost David Wilson, Andre Brown and Da'Rel Scott to injury so far this season and are 31st in the NFL in rushing yards per game.

In other player-eligibility news, cornerback Corey Webster is active for the first time since Week 2. He's been out with a groin injury, and he may not be all the way healthy yet, as the team lists Trumaine McBride as a starting cornerback and Webster as a reserve for this game. Center David Baas is active for the first time since he injured his neck in a Week 3 loss in Carolina, and he is starting at center.

Jacobs missed practice Saturday with the hamstring injury and couldn't recover in time for the game. Cox, who has contributed on special teams but hasn't yet contributed as a running back, was coming along in practice and apparently has shown enough to earn the coaches' trust as the Giants continue to look for their first victory of the season. It remains to be seen how the carries will break down between him and Hillis, and what the Giants will do with their running backs on third downs and in pass-protection situations. But when they list a guy as the starter, he tends to be the one who gets the most work. (Unless he does something crazy like fumble twice in the season opener against the Cowboys.)

Defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins, who was active for the last two games, is inactive as he was for the first four games of the season. The Giants are deep with veterans at defensive tackle, and when all of the defensive linemen have been fully healthy this year, Hankins has been the odd man out. He played very well against the Eagles in Week 5, a little bit less well against the Bears in Week 6, and while the Giants like him and wouldn't hesitate to use him, they believe guys like Mike Patterson and Shaun Rogers are better bench options for them at that position at this time.

Also inactive for the Giants besides Jacobs, Wilson and Hankins are quarterback Ryan Nassib, tight end Adrien Robinson, safety Cooper Taylor and cornerback Jayron Hosley. Of those, Nassib (who is the third quarterback and has been inactive for every game) is the only one who has not been dealing with an injury of some sort.
The New York Giants signed veteran running back Peyton Hillis last week for depth. But the way they've been losing running backs this season, it's no surprise that Hillis might find himself in position to play a more significant role in Monday night's game against the Minnesota Vikings than initially thought.

Brandon Jacobs, who ran for 106 yards on 22 carries in the 0-6 Giants' most recent loss nine days ago in Chicago, missed practice Saturday with a hamstring injury and is listed as questionable for the game. The "questionable" designation technically means a 50-50 chance to play, but the fact that Jacobs didn't practice represents a setback. When the Giants held him out of practice on Monday, they said it was a precaution, and their plan was to have him practice for the rest of the week. That plan changed, and now we're left to wonder whether Jacobs will play at all and, if so, how much they can expect from him.

Jacobs
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With starter David Wilson out with a neck injury, Andre Brown ineligible to return from his leg injury until Week 10, Da'Rel Scott released thanks to his own hamstring injury and rookie seventh-round pick Michael Cox likely still not ready to contribute much on offense, it's the new guy, Hillis, who could get the ball on early downs if they don't have Jacobs or if they have to limit him.

The Giants would feel at least some level of comfort with Hillis, even though his first practice with them was a mere three days ago. He is a veteran who's had success in the league, rushing for 1,177 yards and 11 touchdowns as Cleveland's starter just three years ago. He spent time earlier this season in Tampa Bay, where former Giants assistant Mike Sullivan is the offensive coordinator, so they believe he knows their offense and its terminology. He has the size (6-foot-2, 250 pounds) they look for in their running backs, and he's known to have great hands as a receiver out of the backfield. Tom Coughlin specifically mentioned that he caught the ball well in Tuesday's workout for the team.

Add in John Conner, who looked in Chicago like the kind of blocking fullback the Giants need to run their power running game with regular fullback Henry Hynoski also out for the season (man, they've lost a lot of backs!), and the Giants feel they have a recipe to run the ball effectively with Jacobs, Hillis or some combination of the two. The big questions about Hillis over the past couple of years have been about durability, but when we spoke with him last week, he seemed eager for the opportunity. I imagine he'd be able to tough out at least this first game.

The most important part of a Giants running back's job is pass protection, and the extent to which Hillis showed in practice Thursday, Friday and Saturday that he could handle the protection schemes could determine how many carries he gets. If Jacobs is hurt and they don't trust Hillis to pick up blitzes, they have an issue. Conner could be used in blitz pickup in a case like that, but that's an imperfect solution that would lead to an unbalanced, pass-heavy game plan. I don't think that's a bad way to go against the Minnesota secondary. The Vikings have seven interceptions this year, and only two are by a defensive back. And that defensive back, Harrison Smith, was placed on injured reserve last week. The Giants should be able to throw on the Vikings and would be wise to try it -- assuming, of course, that their protection can hold up.

With Jacobs banged up, newcomer Hillis on Monday night could find himself a bigger part of that -- and of the running game itself -- than anyone could have imagined a week ago.

Peyton Hillis: Don't get too excited

October, 16, 2013
10/16/13
1:30
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I have to believe there's at least a 17 percent chance that Peyton Hillis thought it was a friend playing a prank on him and said, "Very funny, jerk" before hanging up on the New York Giants the first time they called. Hillis hasn't been a good NFL running back since 2010 (when he was admittedly a great one) and when you get to Week 7 before anyone calls to offer you a tryout, you've probably been wondering whether the NFL Network is still hiring.

Hillis
Hillis
But the Giants did call, and of the five running backs they tried out Tuesday they liked Hillis the best, so they're going to sign him to a contract Wednesday and because you've all heard of him you want to know what it means.

My answer: Not much.

Hillis is a Giant today because of injuries to at least three and possibly four running backs they liked better. Starter David Wilson is out with a neck injury. Andre Brown, who was listed as co-starter in training camp, is out until at least Week 10 with a broken leg. Da'Rel Scott, who started one game for them this year, was released with a hamstring injury. Brandon Jacobs, who started last Thursday and rushed for 106 yards, was held out of practice Monday with a hamstring injury of his own. Plain and simple, the Giants needed a healthy body at the running back position, and of the group they culled from the Week 7 scrap heap Hillis was the one they liked the best.

Will he play a role? Could he start? Hey, anything's possible. When Jacobs was signed, and for the first few weeks after, you'd have laughed at the idea of him ever getting 22 carries in a game, as he did in Chicago last week. So never say never. But the list of things that had to go terribly wrong for Jacobs to be elevated to the Giants' starting running back role is long and terrifying, and if you're a Giants fan you're probably not eager to find out what Hillis' path is to the same. He might have something to offer in relief of Jacobs and/or rookie Michael Cox. He might be able to pick up a blitz, which I'm sure Eli Manning thinks would be nice. He might not even be active for Monday night's game against the Vikings; might never play a down for the Giants.

The reason they signed him is because they needed somebody, anybody who knows how to play running back in the NFL. That's it. At this point in an 0-6 season, you're forgiven if you're hoping for more. But as you have been since early September, you're also likely to be disappointed.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- With Brandon Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott off to the side nursing hamstring injuries and David Wilson out in California getting his neck looked at and Andre Brown not eligible to play until Week 10, the New York Giants were a little bit thin at running back in Monday's practice. This fact was pointed out to a surprisingly whimsical coach Tom Coughlin.

"What do you mean? We had one. We're all set," Coughlin said with a broad smile. "We had [fullback] John Conner and we had Michael Cox. They had a pretty good practice, too."

The impact of Conner, who had a big night blocking for Jacobs on Thursday in Chicago, is not to be overlooked. And while Wilson could well be out for the season, Coughlin said the team was holding Jacobs out as a precaution and he believed Jacobs would practice Thursday. But if Jacobs can't play in next Monday night's game against the Vikings, the workload is likely to fall to the rookie Cox, who was the next-to-last pick in this year's draft. Coughlin said the Giants feel good about some things with Cox and not so good about others and "we're working on the not so." Reading between the lines, it sounds as though they want Cox to show he can handle himself in pass protection before they're willing to give him more carries.

"He's young, and it's sophisticated and complex, the things that are thrown at him, particularly in the protection area," Coughlin said. "So you've got to be careful."

This is not new, this concept. Pass protection concerns were the main thing that kept Wilson out of the lineup in his 2012 rookie season, and were as much an unspoken concern about him early this year as the fumbling problems were a spoken one. The Giants released Ahmad Bradshaw, the best pass-protection back in the league, in the offseason for cap reasons, and they believed Brown could fill that role until he broke his leg in a preseason game. They've struggled to fill the role ever since, and they've even hesitated to use Jacobs on third downs in spite of his extensive knowledge of the protection schemes.

"They're definitely harder here than in college," Cox said. "But I feel like I understand it now."

So while it might be easy to look from the outside at Cox and see an explosive young runner who deserves a chance to show what he can do in a lost season, it's not that simple for the Giants. Protection of quarterback Eli Manning remains a higher priority than rushing yards, and especially with the health and other issues they've had on the offensive line, that's not going to change any time soon.

If you see Cox in the game a lot Monday, it's almost certainly because the Giants had no other choice. But if he starts to earn a larger role even once Jacobs is fully healthy, that's how you'll know they've started to trust him more in pass protection. That's the only real clear path to carries for a Giants running back, and that's not new.

Giants running out of running backs

October, 14, 2013
10/14/13
2:10
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Giants have one of the poorest running games in the NFL, and things may get even worse.

The Giants had just one tailback participate in practice Monday -- rookie seventh-round draft pick Michael Cox.

David Wilson is in Los Angeles getting a second opinion on his neck. Brandon Jacobs and Da'Rel Scott sat out with hamstring injuries. And Andre Brown isn't eligible to return from short-term injured reserve until Week 10.

On the bright side, Jacobs' injury doesn't appear to be serious. "Brandon, I think, will make it for Thursday [practice]," coach Tom Coughlin said. "Today was precautionary just to keep track of him and not do something that was unnecessary."

Nevertheless, this may be Cox's big break. Cox said the coaches have told him he'll play next Monday night against the Minnesota Vikings.

What his role will be remains to be seen. He's been active for four games this year, but has yet to get a carry. He does have two kickoff returns for 39 yards.

"There are some things that I think right now we feel good about," Coughlin said, regarding Cox. "There are other things not so [good]."

Coughlin's biggest concern? Keeping Eli Manning upright. "[Cox's] young -- it’s sophisticated, complex, the things that are thrown at him, particularly in the protection," the coach said. "So, we gotta be careful."

Cox admitted the offense has been harder to grasp than he expected, but thanks to studying film and talking with coaches and teammates, "I feel like I understand it now."

"I think it's just a lot to learn," Cox said. "You gotta be able to read the defensive line, see the secondary -- kind of like a quarterback does. That's the biggest difference."

The Giants are ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing, averaging just 67.8 yards per game on the ground. Wilson's injury could be season ending, and Scott may be lost for a while, too.

Jacobs rushed for 106 yards last week against the Chicago Bears, but he's 31 years old -- his best days are certainly behind him.

The Giants have an opportunity to throw Cox in the fire the next couple of weeks and see what the kid can do -- as long as they can reasonably trust him in pass protection. The team is 0-6, and some consideration should be given to building for the future.

Cox opened some eyes in training camp with his speed and explosiveness. But they'll never really know what they have until they give him opportunities in games.

Ahmad Bradshaw was the Giants' seventh-round pick in 2007 and finished his career as the sixth-leading rusher in franchise history, helping the team win two championships.

Perhaps Cox can defy the odds, too.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs was standing off to the side with a wrap on his left leg and not working with the rest of the team during the portion of Monday morning's practice that was open to the media. Now, the Giants don't play again until Monday night, and they're not practicing Tuesday or Wednesday. So it's possible they're just resting the veteran back as much as possible after his 22-carry performance in Thursday night's loss to the Bears. But this is worth monitoring, since David Wilson is in California getting a second opinion on his neck injury and Da'Rel Scott is likely out for a while with a hamstring injury and if Jacobs is hurt that leaves rookie Michael Cox as the only healthy halfback on the Giants' roster. They'd likely look to add someone at that position this week. Depending on the results of Wilson's exam, they likely will anyway.

Running back Andre Brown, eligible to practice this week for the first time since breaking his leg in the preseason and being placed on injured reserve/designated to return, was doing a fair bit of running. But he isn't eligible to play in a game until Week 10 against the Raiders. So no help coming there yet.

Cornerback Corey Webster, who's missed the last four games with a groin injury, was doing a lot of work on the side with a trainer.

Cornerback Jayron Hosley (hamstring) and safety Cooper Taylor (shoulder) stood off to the side with Jacobs during stretching.

Center David Baas, who's missed three straight games with a neck injury but said Friday that he expected to be able to play this week, was indeed working in position drills with the rest of the offensive linemen.

And lo and behold, tight end Adrien Robinson, who's been out since training camp with a foot injury, was practicing. Didn't see that one coming.

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