It has been an interesting year for the Giants running backs, to say the least. Lots of controversy, flip-flopping starters and plenty of highs and lows. While I don’t think Jacobs and Bradshaw can be considered elite backs at this point in their careers, most teams would consider it a good problem to have two talented backs battling for the starting role. In some ways, the Giants mishandled the their backs by not making the best of the situation.
I look specifically at Kevin Gilbride, who has absolutely no creativity in his play calling. The Giants have had multiple talented backs for several years now, and not once has he found a way to incorporate more than one back into a play. As one example, many teams have found a great deal of success with the wildcat formation, so why wouldn’t a team like the Giants, who have enough talent to confuse any defense, utilize their weapons to their fullest potential? This inability to take full advantage of the personnel in this position has helped all three backs underachieve this season.
Although he spent most of the season as the second back, I will start with Jacobs. He threw a serious temper tantrum when he lost his starting role, and his helmet ended up in the lap of a fan. But I will give him credit where credit is due. Many players who feel slighted and disrespected aren’t smart enough to keep their mouths shut and put the team first. Some get to the point where a team is afraid to keep them around for more than a year because they start acting up once they get comfortable (T.O.). Fortunately for Jacobs, he shut his mouth and publicly put his team first in order to keep his job for at least the season, and avoided, at least for the time being, jobs on rotating terrible teams, again a la T.O.
Whether he really did put his team first mentally is tough to say, but his on field performance seemed to indicate that he had changed his tune. Remember the whole north/south vs. east/west debate between him and Coughlin? Jacobs wants to be a complete runner, which I can respect, but any athlete knows they need to first play to their strengths. In Jacobs’ case, this means running guys over. Once he started playing the kind of game the Giants needed, he ended up having a decent season as a backup.
These numbers were not overly spectacular, but he tied his 2006 season for the second most touchdowns in a season, dwarfed his previous longest rushing gain of 44 in 2008, and had a career-best 5.6 yards per carry. But one of the most important things Jacobs brought to the team was, in my opinion, his enthusiasm and emotional displays on the field.
Years ago Jeremy Shockey was considered a lightning rod for the offense, so long as he was involved in his preferred manner, as in making catches. Jacobs brings a similar energy when he is on the field, though as a running back he has more opportunity to wear his emotions on his sleeve. Despite everything I am a Jacobs fan, though I have my doubts he will be back next year. In my perfect world, however, Gilbride would be the one sent packing, and the Giants would start using their two backs in a more creative and exciting manner. Can you imagine the momentum this team would feel if Jacobs rip off a huge run off a wildcat snap to him, after he faked a handoff to Bradshaw and went the distance?
Despite my affinity for Jacobs, I am also a Bradshaw fan and was both unsurprised and supportive of his move to the starting role. I was a big Tiki Barber fan when he was a player, and Bradhsaw reminds me of him. They are both small in stature but have a strong work ethic. They also are chronic fumblers, though Tiki learned how to overcome this problem.
I buy into the argument that the game has changed and defenses are becoming much better at stripping the ball, but there are plenty of backs who are considered elite partly because they have an answer for these defenses. According to Ed Valentine in Big Blue Review:
Bradshaw has now fumbled 12 times in three years, once every 42 carries. Just for reference, I chose a few top-flight backs at random. Maurice Jones-Drew of Jacksonville fumbles once every 114 carries. LaDainian Tomlinson has fumbled 31 times in more than 3,000 career carries, once every 99.9 carries. Michael Turner of the Atlanta Falcons has 11 fumbles in 1,116 career carries, once every 101 carries. So, Bradshaw is fumbling more than twice as much as some other elite backs.
For my part, I would be willing to give Bradshaw another year to prove he can be a consistent starter for this team. I think he has the right work ethic to motivate him to fix his fumbling problem, and he is young enough to have a lot of good years in the NFL. I especially love his second efforts when he hits the wall of players, and his 1,235 total yards are a direct result of his never give up attitude. Unfortunately I would watch these efforts and find myself yelling at him to go down out of fear that he would lose the ball.
A team simply cannot hang their hat on a guy who fumbles the ball as often as Bradshaw has this season. Bradshaw is a free agent, so I will definitely be keeping an eye on this situation. Whether or not he will be a Giant next season, I think Bradshaw has a bright future ahead of him.
I don’t think anyone knows much about Ware and his capabilities. It’s tough to stand out when you are third string behind guys like Jacobs and Bradshaw. But then again Derrick Ward received a lot of attention when he was with the Giants in this role. That fact alone leads me to believe Ware will not receive a shot at the starting role anytime soon with this team, barring injuries of course. As you can see by his stats, he did not have much opportunity to prove himself with the offense:
I will say, however, that he was the best option as the kick returner on special teams. He averaged 20.6 yards on 21 returns, and left me even more angry with the coaching in this area, who let Reynaud continue to run directly into the first opponent to get anywhere near him on every return until he was injured. This was his greatest contribution to the team this season, but unless Domenik Hixon does not return next season to resume his role as kick returner, I don’t know that there will be a place for Ware beyond the third string back position.
Overall, the Giants running backs had a good season and helped the team in several big wins. But they seemed to run out of steam toward the end of the season, and although they were not alone in this mindset, it could have made a world of difference if this unit had been able to step up. I think there is quite a bit to build on if the right coaching changes are made. These backs are part of a team that is on the brink of greatness, and we as fans have to hope that Jerry Reese, Tom Coughlin and the rest of the Giants leadership have what it takes to make the tough decisions to bring this team back to the Super Bowl.