Short Yardage Debate - How Do You Pick Up A Yard?

Well, this morning offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride probably woke up with a smirk.

All week, much was made of the play calls involving Ahmad Bradshaw against the Redskins last week in short yardage situations. 3rd-1 and 4th-1 situations both ended without a first down and pundits all across the land questioned Gilbride for not utilizing their 6’4″ 264lb running back Brandon Jacobs instead of the much smaller but quicker Ahmad Bradshaw. Gilbride said this in response to media questions about the calls:

“Unfortunately you’ve seen it not work (with Jacobs), haven’t you? That’s your answer. It’s a lot of things. It’s the scheme. If it would make sense to simplify it, (then) if they’d put eight guys within your tackles, if you run straight ahead what are the odds of you making it? You all saw last week with New Orleans. They had goal line and they tried to make one yard and they ran straight ahead. How did that work out?”

Well, as a reminder of exactly how this works Gilbride called another critical short yardage straight ahead run last night with Brandon Jacobs in the backfield, and guess how it worked out? NADA. In fact the defense was all over Jacobs so fast the Giants lost significant yardage on the play.

So Gilbride basically proved he’s damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t last night — and he can have a sense of humor about it because the Giants won in any case last night. I have little doubt he called that play because of the criticism he received all week from the press, pundits that know better than what opposing defenses are thinking when the Giants line up Brandon Jacobs in short yardage, and basically have the shortest of memories when it comes to running on 3rd and short downs with Jacobs instead of Bradshaw.

The truth is, it’s more complicated than it seems. If the line does not perfectly block the defense, you will not pickup the first down. If the running back is not at the hole the instant it gets opened by the line, you’re not picking up the first down. If the defense overloads because they know what you’re going to do, you’re not getting the first down. See how this goes?

The best tactic is what Gilbride has been experimenting with for the past 2 seasons, and it’s something I know I’ve been writing about since 2008 when I first started contributing to blogs — Deception. Using Bradshaw instead of Jacobs opens up the offense to doing a lot of things they can’t do with Jacobs in the backfield – and it confuses the defense. The defense by design has got to hedge their bets with a guy like Bradshaw in there — a guy who can run inside, outside, and catch out of the backfield. What are the Giants going to do here? No one knows for sure, and the defense is forced to thin out as a result.

The corollary is of course Danny Ware’s play. Ware picked up a key third down by taking a pitch and breaking it back inside with fantastically blocked lane wide open for him. But the defense honestly had no clue where that ball was going. DECEPTION. However, it was not a 3rd and 1 situation… but the reason I point to it is because they rarely used Ware last season and defenses caught on to Bradshaw running that play consistently and thus it became ineffective.

So the conclusion I’ve come to is this — let Gilbride call what he thinks is the best play to run with the guy he thinks the defense will have the hardest time figuring out in that moment.

Instead of questioning Gilbride for overthinking it, let’s focus on the fact that he’s gotten more and more creative with the run game over the past few years in a way that has also benefited Eli and the passing attack. Defenses are no longer fooled with Jacobs lining up on a 3rd and 1… and they know it’s not going to be thrown and they know Eli isn’t keeping it. The less you can be one dimensional the better the odds of executing the play.

Gilbride HAS done a good job in recent years emerging into a more deceptive scheme, I’m the first to give him that. Lord knows I’ve been looking for it… I’m seeing it. It’s time Big Blue loyal come to grips with the fact that it’s not 2008 anymore and even if it were, the Eagles figured it out and showed everyone how to beat the Giants in that system anyway. Time to move on, Gilbride obviously has.

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