By Steve Silverman
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The 2011 season may have ended in glory for the New York Giants, but it wasn’t so perfect along the way.
Since the Giants became a factor in the NFL in 1981, the running game has usually meant something to the team. No matter who was coaching –- remember, Ray Perkins was there before Bill Parcells –- the ground game was a key part of the formula for winning games.
The ground game plays a key role in short-yardage situations and in the fourth quarter. Run the ball with the lead and you drain the clock, and your opponent can’t do a thing after using all of its timeouts.
High-powered offenses have become the ideal in the NFL. Teams like the Green Bay Packers, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints have virtually ignored the run so they can throw the ball at will, build huge leads and laugh as the scoreboard expands.
But as nice as 40 points looks on the scoreboard in the third quarter, it’s not the way to go. Everyone is excited by down-the-field passing, but going forward in the NFL it will be teams like the Giants, Chicago Bears and Houston Texans — with multi-faceted offensive game plans– that will win championships.
Yes, the Giants. New York finished the regular season with the No. 32-ranked running attack last season, averaging 89.2 yards per game.
However, if the Giants weren’t able to improve that portion of their game in the postseason, they wouldn’t have punished the Atlanta Falcons and the Packers. They wouldn’t have beaten the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game and they wouldn’t have frustrated the Patriots in the Super Bowl. The Giants averaged 116.5 rushing yards per game during the postseason.
I don’t know if the Giants made the correct decision in letting Brandon Jacobs leave and join the 49ers, but Ahmad Bradshaw is good enough to be a consistent and productive No. 1 running back. And rookie David Wilson may be the kind of breakaway threat who can alter defensive gameplans.
His speed and quickness give him the ability to make big plays every time he touches the ball. A one-two punch of Bradshaw and Wilson will help Eli Manning play more consistently. Manning does everything you want in must-win and postseason games, but he’ll botch a few regular-season games every season. A competent running game eases his burden.
The Bears also subscribe to this theory. They have versatile Matt Forte and punishing Michael Bush to supplement Jay Cutler in the passing game. The Texans may be the team that sneaks up on New England, Baltimore and Pittsburgh in the AFC. They have one of the best backs in the league in Arian Foster, and his backup Ben Tate has the downhill speed to make a difference.
Quarterback Matt Schaub is an accurate and undervalued performer who has a game-changing receiver in Andre Johnson. This team has been hurt badly by injuries in the past, but this could finally be their season.
The Packers, Saints and Pats think that they know better than anyone else because they all have future Hall of Famers at the quarterback position putting up record numbers. But if the running game can handle its load and take pressure off of the quarterbacks, it makes playing consistent offense a much more legitimate possibility.
The NFL is a game of copycat and follow the leader. For several seasons, everyone wanted to follow the trend of building a passing game that would light up the scoreboard. Yes, that’s exciting, but none of the teams that followed that formula won the Super Bowl last year.
The Packers had a great year and the Patriots came close, but the Giants ultimately won. That Super Bowl victory opened more eyes around the league.
The one-dimensional style of offensive football is no longer the NFL ideal. You need real balance, and a little detail called defense.
Do you still have faith that Ahmad Bradshaw is a consistent and productive No. 1 running back? Sound off with your thoughts and comments below…