The New York Giants’ running game must get going early in Week 2 against Atlanta. Is Rashad Jennings and the offensive line ready?
By Bryan Pol
In Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, and Shane Vereen, the New York Giants feature a stable of running backs that can and will put up numbers, and they just might collectively prove their worth early on, starting against the Atlanta Falcons at 1:00 PM on Sunday for their first home game at Met Life Stadium.
Last week against the Dallas Cowboys, despite the opponents’ side featuring a far superior offensive line, the Giants outrushed Dallas 99 to 81, with Jennings leading the way at 52 yards on 13 carries, good for 4.0 yards per carry, to go with a monster 27 yard gain and a touchdown after a key interception return to the one-yard line by Trumaine McBride.
While Jennings’s numbers are hardly awe-inspiring, the Giants, who collectively garnered a healthy 4.1 yards per carry as a team against Dallas, look to feature their backfield more on Sunday, especially given the uncertainty of Victor Cruz’s status, Atlanta cornerback Desmond Trufant looking to clamp down on Odell Beckham, Jr., and Rueben Randle unable to make the most of his opportunities: quarterback Eli Manning only targeted him five times against Dallas, tied for third with running back Shane Vereen, and the LSU product only managed 23 yards on 3 receptions.
Andre Williams has much to prove in staking any claim on his status as a number one option in Big Blue’s backfield, although he was off to a dreadful start (14 yards on 6 carries) in Week 1. Williams, at 23, has the capacity to be that number one rusher, with two landmark games in 2014 to prove it: Week 13 against Tennessee–131 yards on 24 carries, including a touchdown and a long 50 yard run, even with Jennings in the lineup–and Week 15 against St. Louis–110 yards on 26 carries, with no scores and Jennings out. Williams was instrumental in both of those matchups, each of them a Giants win. The Boston College phenom is capable of far more than his meager output against Dallas suggests, and could use some home cooking on Sunday to convey his importance to offensive Ben McAdoo’s system.
For the offense to set the tone in the rushing game, it will not come easily: on Monday Night Football, the Falcons held Chip Kelly’s electrifying offense to a mere 63 yards on the ground, with 50 of them coming from arguably the third man on the depth chart, Darren Sproles. DeMarco Murray, the beneficiary of a stout offensive line in Dallas in 2014, mustered only 9 yards on 8 carries, and Ryan Mathews–4 yards on 3 carries–fared no better.
The Giants will be without their best blocking tight end, Daniel Fells, on Sunday, who will be out with a foot injury. Even so, New York has seen improved play from third year tackle Justin Pugh and fiery competitor Ereck Flowers, who, in ably filling in for injured left tackle Will Beatty, hardly looks like a rookie.
Shane Vereen, who looked awfully comfortable as a go-to option in the passing and rushing schemes for Eli at AT&T Stadium, will look to dazzle with each series that promises similar chemistry with Tom Brady that he will end up showcasing with Manning.
While the Giants’ 99 yards on Sunday places them squarely in the middle of the pack (they are currently 16th in the NFL), the Giants will look to provide the Giants a much-needed early season win and climb the ranks in support of Manning, who will be tested in the passing game given the aforementioned ODB/Trufant pairing. Should the backfield fare well, the Giants can put Sunday’s abysmal defeat against Dallas long behind them in preparation for another home game in Week 3, against the Washington Redskins, on Thursday Night Football.
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