‘From the Pressbox’
By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns
Ernie is the author of “Lombardi and Landry.”
The worst thing ever to happen to Brandon Jacobs was not Kevin Gilbride running him to the outside.
It was the 255-pound running back’s appearance on game film.
Through his seven seasons with the Giants, opponents have learned one thing about Jacobs. If you want to tackle him, go after him low. Catch him high, and he’ll bury you.
Jerry Rice didn’t seem to take that into account when he called Jacobs “soft” the other day, San Francisco’s legendary receiver taking him to task for what appears a lack of physicality in his game.
“I feel like Brandon Jacobs is a little soft,” Joe Montana’s favorite target said. “He can’t get away from a defender. The guy is 265, and it upsets me when I see him get tackled by a guy that’s like 190 or 200 pounds.”
Unfortunately for Jacobs, he may not have a chance to prove Rice wrong come Sunday’s NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park. The rain is falling, and could continue right up until the 6:30 p.m. kickoff.
Given that The Stick holds one of the worst bad-weather fields in the NFL, the place could well be a quagmire by the time game time rolls around. And that means everybody’s going to have trouble getting away from defenders, or at least keeping their footing. And that includes the second-seeded Niners’ top ground threat, Frank Gore.
So making yardage will be tough all around. Of course, that could affect the Giants more, since they long ago stopped depending on the Ahmad Bradshaw/Jacobs combination to set up their passing game. They’re a pass-first team right now, and have been the past several years. And it’s hard to switch gears to a ground-based attack when the weather turns bad.
Making it tougher is that Jacobs’ overall play has been hurt by a lack of blocking up front and a diminishing of his speed to the outside. Unless he actually beats a defender to the edge and squares his shoulders, he now has little chance of snapping off a big gainer.
It’s not a matter of Jacobs going soft, though. Rice is wrong there. When two or three players penetrate the front and latch onto the big running back’s tender ankles and knees, he’s going down. That’s all there is to it.
They did that enough to hold Jacobs to a career-low 571 yards in the regular season. But one can see how some re-dedicated blocking and perhaps the placement of an angry chip on his shoulder has changed Jacobs in the postseason.
He’s averaged 5.0 yards per rush against Atlanta and Green Bay, and finished off the NFC semifinal rout of the Packers with a nifty 14-yard touchdown run around the right edge.
He looked like the old Jacobs on that one, full of power and authority. But that one run was a lot different than the previous eight that netted him all of eight yards that day. Two negative runs cost him nine yards on that pass-heavy day.
For a truer assessment, perhaps Rice should have looked at the wild card game. Jacobs had 92 yards on 14 carries (6.6-yard average) in that one.
With inside linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman presenting both speed and physicality, it’s unlikely Jacobs will make much yardage on that muddy field. It may be enough for him to just hang onto the ball against a team that thrives on takeaways.
More than anything, though, the offensive line must block. Without that, Jacobs could come off looking softer than Charmin.
“We’ve been on a little bit of a run where we’ve rushed the ball better,” Coughlin said. “We haven’t had the success we’d hoped to have with the rush, but we do try to maintain some balance.”
Jacobs will be part of that balance on a field softer than anything Rice might use to describe the running back.
“I still love Jerry Rice,” Jacobs said. “But I bet you he won’t tackle me.”
Not unless Rice came in low on him.
Which team has the advantage in sloppy conditions? Will Jacobs prove Rice wrong Sunday? Sound off below…