Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin seems to have figured it out—how to win. Run the ball as much as possible while asking quarterback Eli Manning to do enough but not too much to win. If winning in the NFL is about balance, then Coughlin may very well be a high wire walker and a successful one at that.
Eli Manning has shown improvement since entering the NFL. His pass completion percentage has steadily risen by about 4 points each season. He’s completed 60.4% of his throws this season, up from last year’s 56.1%. In the last four seasons, he’s thrown for 3,000-plus yards and an average of 22 touchdowns. The big difference has been in his picks. Thus far this season, going into the final game of the season, he tossed just 10 interceptions. In past year’s he’s averaged 19. His rating has gone from a three-year average of 75.5 to this season’s 86.9.
The key has been the team’s running game, which has been exceptionally effective in a few ways. Running backs Brandon Jacobs and Derrick Ward are one of the most dynamic ground duos in the game. Each should end the season with 1,000-plus yards. Jacobs, who has averaged 5.0 yards per carry, has crossed the goal line 15 times for touchdowns. His partner, Ward, has a 5.6 yards per carry average and has scored two touchdowns. Both offer fine pass-catching skills, which certainly help to keep opposing defenses off balance.
The fly in the ointment regarding the running game is the health of both men. Jacobs’s (knee) physical state is more tenuous than Wards (ankle) and their status needs to be monitored daily. The Giants have earned a bye in the playoffs and that should certainly help both runners find better footing.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Giants lead the conference in Takeaway/Giveaway at plus-eight. The “D” has made 16 interceptions, putting them fourth in the NFC. Their fumble takeaways are the lowest in the conference—five. What has helped the defense has been the offenses’ ability to hang onto the ball. Manning’s 10 interceptions are helpful and the three fumbles, which are the fewest in the league, certainly helps to keep the offense churning and the defense off the field and out of some tough situations.
The Giants’ pass rush has been effective, sacking quarterbacks 40 times, which ties them for sixth in the NFL. They’ve allowed the ninth fewest rushing yards (94.9 per game) in the league. Although the Giants have been good at making picks, they’ve allowed an average of 212.5 yards per game, ranking them 11th in the league. They’ve allowed 16 passing scores and 13 rushing touchdowns, making them 11th versus the pass and 16th against the run.
For the Giants to win and get back to the Super Bowl, they have to play grind it out, clock control football. If they can establish the running game, it allows Manning the opportunity to throw primarily high percentage outlet passes and the occasional deep bomb. It’ll also help keep the defense rested. Overall, the defense is solid but it can be worn down, especially by other running teams. Manning is a quarterback who can make the big play but calling on him too many times to do so in one game can spell disaster. He’s not a Peyton Manning nor a healthy Tom Brady. If either Jacobs or Ward goes down, both Manning and the defense will be asked to step it up another notch or two.
I didn’t think this at the start of the season, but these Giants have the potential to do it again.