The New York Giants struggled to run the ball in 2016 while the problem remains at the forefront of their issues heading into the offseason.
The New York Giants’ Achilles heel in 2016 was, without question, on the offensive side of the ball. Struggling to score points all season, there wasn’t much production outside of Odell Beckham Jr., and the occasional big play from Sterling Shepard or Victor Cruz.
Eli Manning, despite throwing for over 4,000 yards and 26 touchdowns, certainly wasn’t at his best, either. The offensive line was also an obvious weak spot. Left tackle Ereck Flowers seemingly regressed in his sophomore season while the right side of the line struggled with the makeshift combination of John Jerry and Bobby Hart. However, the Giants’ inability to run the football has been an issue for four years. In fact, the G-men haven’t finished in the top half of the league in rushing yards or yards per attempt since 2012.
Fixing the run game isn’t something that’s going to be accomplished over one offseason, similar to how the Giants defense was redesigned last Spring.
First and foremost, the Giants have to decide if Flowers’s future is at left tackle. The second-year pro struggled after a solid rookie campaign. He was called for more holding penalties than any other tackle in the NFL while also showing a weakness against speed rushers. A return to his natural position at right tackle would not only bolster the Giants’ run game, but it could also boost the confidence of the former first round pick.
Flowers plays with a mean streak and could be better off clearing the way over the right side than protecting Eli Manning’s blind side. While a move to the right could help, that leaves an obvious hole at left tackle.
Left guard Justin Pugh impressed at left guard this past season and has some, be it little, experience playing left tackle. Pugh played the position during his Syracuse days and a return to LT is a possibility until a better solution arises.
Speaking of solutions, Andrew Whitworth, although 35, is an unrestricted free agent whom Pro Football Focus ranks as the best free agent, in terms of their grade from 2016 (91.3). Could a short-term deal attract the former all-pro to New York, while another young tackle is drafted and groomed to be his heir? It’s certainly possible, and worth considering given the Giants’ situation.
T.J. Lang, Larry Warford, Kevin Zeitler and Ronald Leary headline some of the best interior linemen that are UFA’s this offseason. The Giants’ cap situation isn’t quite clear just yet, given the possibility of cuts, restructured contracts, extensions, etc., though these could be names that fortify the interior.
Obviously, the draft will factor in fixing the run game. Whether it be an interior mauler or an athletic tackle, there are numerous options, depending when and where the Giants want to go.
Alabama’s Cam Robinson appears to be the most touted o-line prospect heading into the Spring’s draft, but anything can happen between the combine or a pro day. Let’s revisit the top draft prospects after the underclassmen finish declaring.
The Giants run game can also be improved by a better passing attack. Victor Cruz isn’t likely to return to Big Blue, and finding a replacement on the outside is no simple task. However, if Jerry Reese can locate a compliment to OBJ on the outside, the Giants passing attack could become more dynamic and allow them to open up the run.
For most of the season, defenses played two safeties deep and dared the Giants to run the ball. A stronger interior line and a better outside receiving threat might just open enough holes for Paul Perkins and company to be effective. The return of TE/FB Will Johnson from injured reserve could also be a boost, but time will tell how effective he is coming off an injury.
This isn’t a simple fix, but it’s hard to imagine the Giants’ run game get much worse.
Remember, the New York Giants don’t need a great running game to be successful; Eli Manning is the only quarterback in history to win the Super Bowl with the bottom ranked run game in the league. The defense has proved it’s ready to win now, and Manning isn’t getting any younger, so upgrades on offense complete the missing puzzle pieces.
Jerry Reeses managed to fix the defense in just one offseason, and will now try to amend the offense to solidify a championship contender in 2017.