By Ernie Palladino
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As Odell Beckham proved in practice this week, the Giants’ offense has the one-handed catch down pat.
It’s the other things they need work on.
Like running the ball.
Without that, it’s going to be a lot like last year, when Eli Manning checked down so often that you’d have thought Ben McAdoo limited his gameplan to a 15-yard box.
A ground game, something not seen around MetLife Stadium since Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw left the scene, is absolutely necessary for the Giants’ pass-first offense to succeed. They didn’t have one last year with Rashad Jennings and won 11 games and a wild card spot. But they won’t get away with that for long.
All of which brings us to Monday night’s second preseason game in Cleveland.
It would be nice if any of Jennings’ successors — Paul Perkins, Orleans Darkwa, Shane Vereen, or rookie Wayne Gallman — showed a bit of an inkling of rushing success.
A lot of that depends on an offensive line whose right side is still in flux. But just as much rests on the individuals in the backfield. And judging by their combined stats in the preseason opener against Pittsburgh last week, there’s not a whole lot going on.
Especially in Perkins’ case.
The second-year player who looked so good taking over for the injured Jennings at the end of last season had just three yards on five carries. Once believed a lock to take the featured role, Perkins’ grasp on that has become rather tenuous in McAdoo’s mind.
Now, it seems, he can feel the hot breath of competition coming from Darkwa. It’s what happens when you start a game with a seven-yard carry that should have gone much further, and then slide downhill from there.
Darkwa looked more solid than Perkins with 18 yards on three carries, the longest an 11-yarder. Still, that represented the best of a bad lot as the Giants totaled just 73 on 23 carries for a 3.2-yard average.
That average looked stunningly close to the 3.5 that ranked the Giants 29th in league rushing last year.
Gallman finished with 11 yards on five carries. Vereen who, if McAdoo is smart, will catch more balls than he carries, had one attempt for five yards.
Travis Rudolph and Khalid Abdullah didn’t do much, either, against the late-game scrubs. But they are basically camp fodder.
More than Darkwa, Gallman, or Vereen, Perkins needs to pick it up. McAdoo all but handed him the starting job in May. If the Giants really want to light a fire under his rear end, they could sign just-cut Eagles veteran Ryan Mathews. If nothing else, Mathews would add experienced competition to a struggling unit.
With the final three games coming over the next 11 days, Perkins will probably get an increasing share of the carries.
It’s a prime opportunity for Perkins to pull away from the competition and convince his coach that he deserves the position of lead back. He showed last year that he has the tools with 112 carries for 456 yards, a 4.1 average that ranked second among the team’s running backs to Vereen’s 4.8.
He has the power, the elusiveness, and at 5-foot-10, 208 pounds, enough muscle to get it done.
McAdoo would love to see his springtime trust justified. But he’s got a lot more than sentiment riding on the running game. A real ground game will help keep the heat off Manning so he can better use what potentially could become the NFL’s most explosive receiving trio.
If a good ground game means freeing up Manning to serve a passing feast to Odell Beckham Jr., Sterling Shepard, and Brandon Marshall, the coach is willing to switch.
After all, it doesn’t really matter who picks up the yardage.
As long as somebody does.
Perkins has three games to prove he’s that somebody.
Follow Ernie on Twitter at @ErniePalladino