Brandon Jacobs – Feed The Beast!

As the second week of free agency ends, it is becoming increasingly clear that the New York Giants will not be able to significantly improve their roster with veteran acquisitions this offseason. I talked about this as being a likely scenario at the end of February in my As Free Agency Starts, Storm Clouds Are Approaching article.

It is a frustrating time for many Giants’ fans as they watch most of the teams in the NFL add new players. To date, the Giants have only added one player (HB Reuben Droughs by trade) and watched 10 players depart. While most of the players who have left fall into the “So what?” category, those are 10 roster holes to fill. More are likely to come as there are still a few unrestricted free agents who the Giants are unlikely to re-sign such as LB Brandon Short, OG Steve Edwards, OG Lewis Kelly, and WR Darius Watts. The Giants will likely add a few second- or third-tier players. These will be depth signings and there is no guarantee that these guys will make it out of training camp, such as when the Giants signed S Quentin Harris and TE Boo Williams last offseason.

With no significant influx of talent coming from free agency, the Giants must hit a home run in the 2007 NFL Draft and the ensuing rookie free agent signing period. However, the chances of acquiring multiple, immediate quality starters out the draft are not good. Rookies usually take time to develop. And the Giants only have seven draft picks and pick in the latter half of each round.

So new General Manager Jerry Reese is doing a bad job? I don’t think so. As I mentioned in my earlier article, the quality of the free agents available this year quite possibly was the worst since the advent of unrestricted free agency. Moreover, with most teams being awash in cash, teams are dramatically overpaying for average and sometimes even mediocre talent. The one guy who would have really helped the Giants – CB Nate Clements – signed an $80 million contract with the 49ers (and $22 million of that was guaranteed). A fullback from the Ravens signed for $18 million with the Falcons. TE Visanthe Shiancoe got $18.5 million from the Vikings. Guards are signing for $50 million. It’s nuts. And aside from Clements, these guys simply are not that good or on the wrong side of 30. If the Giants gave $32 million to WR Kevin Curtis, just imagine what WR Plaxico Burress and TE Jeremy Shockey would think? (Burress got $16.75 million from the Giants two years ago).

Nevertheless, many fans still say, “We’ve got to fill these holes!” But what these fans fail to recognize is that by simply signing someone, that hole is not automatically filled. If the player is average or below average, you really haven’t filled the hole and may find yourself having to fill the same spot next year. Worse, because you signed that player with a signing bonus, you have hurt your salary cap situation. How many holes did signing S Quentin Harris, S Jason Bell, S Will Demps, LB Brandon Short, LB LaVar Arrington, DT Junior Ioane, and TE Boo Williams fill last offseason? See my point?

Personally, I’d rather go into the season with some of the young guys already on the roster starting with rookies pushing them for playing time. I want to see Gerris Wilkinson and Chase Blackburn play at linebacker for instance with a couple of draft picks behind them. That’s more exciting to me than signing a slow, 3-4 linebacker who can’t drop into coverage such as Tully Banta-Cain.

That all said, get ready for the last-place predictions for the Giants in the NFC East. Outside observers see a team that has lost its best player (Tiki Barber) and left tackle (the hardest position to fill on the offensive line), an inconsistent quarterback, a depleted back-seven on defense, a lame duck head coach, a perceived lack of chemistry, a questionable place-kicking situation, and no new significant free agents. I guarantee you most folks will have the Giants dead last in the East. Unfortunately, these prognosticators – who don’t usually know jack – may be right.

So what is Reese’s plan? What is his long-term vision for this team. I think BBI poster Matt in SGS hit the nail on the head when he posted the following recently in The Corner Forum:

As I noted in a thread last week, Reese seems to be playing this free agent market/off-season with the intention of putting a “competitive” team on the field in 2007 so as to not give the impression of an all out rebuild. That’s why you’ll see guys like Droughns coming in as stopgaps for a season, or maybe two. Keep in mind, the NFL is so watered down that if you play a solid/conservative offensive game (power the ball with two smash-mouth backs) and sprinkle in a downfield passing game, you can win 7 to 9 games along with a decent defense. Guess what, that keeps you in Wild Card contention. If things break right, you win 11 games. If they don’t you lose 11. Which puts the Giants exactly where the majority of the NFL is nowadays, at a mediocre level. There are about 4-5 power houses (Pats, Colts, Chargers, Ravens, maybe Chicago/New Orleans), 3-4 crapola teams (Raiders, Lions, Browns, Tampa Bay) and the rest are all anywhere from 6-10 to 10-6 with the toss of a coin. The Giants are in that mix.

So Reese sees this but he’s not ready to commit to Coughlin long term (anyone who can’t see that is fooling themselves). Reese saw that the Giants wanted Scott Pioli first. What would Pioli have done if he was here? Clean house, get out the long term contract guys who were not part of the core group (Eli, Osi, etc. fall in that category) and get the team ready to build a new foundation in 2007 with an eye towards filling the spots in 2008. Reese got the message so he dumps the injury/longer term deal guys. He doesn’t overspend on the few big ticket free agents out there because: (1) he can’t afford it with other teams having more money, (2) the Giants aren’t 1-2 players away from going over the top, and (3) why build a new talent base with a coach who probably won’t be here next year. Keep the team free of long term/big money players in a transition season. Makes for a better situation for a new coach to come into. Is it fair to Coughlin? Yes and no. He’s got his golden parachute with the extension at over $1 million for next year. But the guy is over 60 years old now. How much longer does he really have for this game, considering his style of coaching? Look at Parcells in Dallas – he was a burnt out shell of his former self there. He took Jerry Jones’ money to recoup is divorce settlement. Does Reese really want to hitch his sails to Coughlin? No fucking way. As I mentioned earlier, we as Giants fans need to recognize that the window of opportunity for this group closed in that loss to Philly. It’s time for a new run to begin and the first step is to keep clean and free of bad contracts for 2007. Reese is doing the right thing for where the Giants are now. They’d just better have the right coach in place in 2008 or it’s all for crap.

Everyone who has read any of my articles for the last couple of months knows that I am not a big fan of how Tom Coughlin handled the 2006 season. I think he came as close to getting fired as someone can. Ironically, Tiki Barber – who has battled with Coughlin all along – probably saved his job with his performance against the Redskins in the regular season finale.

But I do think the Giants can be competitive in 2007 and Coughlin can earn himself another contract extension. (Whether that is the best thing for the Giants is another matter for debate that I won’t address at this time). But for Coughlin to turn the team around again, he needs to dramatically change the nature of his offense – and thus, I would argue – his entire team. How does he do this? Feed THE BEAST!

The Beast is HB Brandon Jacobs. Barring injury, I am convinced that Brandon will be the next big star running back in the NFL. Barring injury, I am convinced that he – not Eli Manning – will become the face of the Giants’ new offensive football team. Not just because of his talent, but because of his personality and physical style of football.

There is no other back like Brandon Jacobs in the NFL. Not only is he much bigger than any back in the NFL, but he has the speed to run away from defenders. He also has a little wiggle to his game. He can make you miss, he can run over you, and he can run away from you. Opposing players HATE tackling the guy. We saw this in limited playing time last year – tacklers getting up slowing after the play or avoiding direct contact.

In addition to Jacobs, the Giants have added another power back in Reuben Doughns. Some have argued that adding a second power back makes no sense. It makes perfect sense – if both backs are used properly. Jacobs will dish out his share of punishment, but he will also absorb a lot of punishment with his physical style. When he comes out of the game, don’t give the defense any opportunity for respite. Keep hitting them in the mouth with Droughns. Break their will to fight. Wham!!!

My formative years of watching the Giants were the 1980’s. I saw the Giants evolve from the more finesse “Suburbanites” offensive line with a lot of Joe Morris sweeps to the straight-ahead power running game in 1989-1990 with O.J. Anderson and Rodney Hampton running behind Jumbo Elliott, William Roberts, Bart Oates, Eric Moore/Bob Kratch, and Doug Riesenberg. I still think of myself as young – even though I am not – and I forget that there are a lot of Giants’ fans out there who did not witness this style of football. It was boring. But it was damn effective. The Giants ground it out – four yards at a time. They controlled the tempo, kept the football away from the other team, shortened the game, and physically wore out the other team. It was power football, and it, combined with a superb defense, won the Giants an NFL Championship.

The problem for the Giants is that they don’t have the defense. While they have some core guys who you can build around – Umenyiora, Kiwanuka, and Pierce for example – they don’t have enough difference makers. They may need another defensive tackle. They definitely need more linebackers and defensive backs.

But the NFC stinks and the Giants could eke out 10 or 11 wins if their offense delivers and the defense surprises under new Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. That might even be enough to win the NFC East. But the Giants need to get back to the power running game. Here is why I think so:

  1. Ever since Eli Manning took over at quarterback, the Giants have put too much pressure on him. When they benched Kurt Warner for Manning in 2004, they did so right before a then murder’s row of NFL defenses in the Eagles, Redskins, Ravens, and Steelers. In 2005, Manning was called upon to throw the football 557 times – the third highest amount in the entire NFL (and more than his brother). In 2006, he threw the ball 522 times – the sixth most in the NFL. For a second- and third-year player blessed with a top-notch running game (Tiki Barber), those numbers are absurd. Simply put, the Giants have thrown the football too much in recent years and I think this has hurt the development of Manning (as has all of the mental responsibility they place on him in a complicated offense is that is not quarterback friendly). I know this sounds like excuse-making, but I firmly believe it is the truth. The Giants have been passing the ball more than they have been running it (431 rushing attempts in 2005 and 425 rushing attempts in 2006 by the running backs). They need to reverse these figures and run the ball more. Pound the football, force the other team to move its safeties forward, and then use play-action (which Manning is very good at) to burn secondaries deep with Plaxico Burress, Amani Toomer, and Jeremy Shockey.
  2. The Giants have a big, athletic, and solid offensive line. Other than the center, everyone is 310 pounds or heavier. RT Kareem McKenzie and RG Chris Snee can maul people on the right side. LT David Diehl and LG Rich Seubert can run block. OC Shaun O’Hara is 300 pounds, and while not a blaster, he can get to the second level and take out defenders. Everyone does a decent job of pulling. The offensive line is one of the strengths of the team. The big question is whether or not Diehl can handle pass blocking chores at left tackle. He did a decent job in the two games he started last year. But the Giants can also help him out by running the football more. Play to the strength of his game.
  3. Change the personality of the team. Power running teams are physical, tough football teams. And they take pride in their toughness. Moreover, the toughness on one side of the ball inevitably spreads to the defensive side as well. The entire team takes on a tough, physical persona. Tough, physical football teams win a lot of football games.

Most knowledgeable Giants’ fans see this strategy of adopting a power running game and committing to it as obvious. However, while former Giants’ Offensive Coordinator John Hufnagel gets blamed for all of the offense’s problems last year, keep in mind that Tom Coughlin was in charge of the team. He’s an offensive coach who didn’t force Hufnagel to adjust. Now Kevin Gilbride – a former “run-and-shoot” guy who was criticized as the offensive coordinator in Houston, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo as being too pass happy – takes over as the Giants’ new offensive coordinator. My biggest worry is that Coughlin and Gilbride will preach “balance” again. Don’t be balanced! Hit the other guy in the mouth with THE BEAST over and over again. Wham…Wham…Wham. Defenses are faster in the NFL today than they were in 1990, but they are not as tough or more physical. Too many of these young guys coming out of college are “athletes” who don’t really like to mix it up. It’s time to introduce them to some old-school football. There is nothing more satisfying than watching your team run the football down the throat of an opponent when the opponent knows it is coming but can’t stop it.

If the Giants really want to employ this strategy, I would strongly suggest that they pursue unrestricted free agent FB Terrelle Smith, who was recently cut by the Cleveland Browns. Smith is one of the best blocking fullbacks in the NFL. He’s a truck and would be a perfect complement to Jacobs and Droughns. The Giants also need to find a Dan Campbell-like blocker for the second tight end position.

Do the obvious thing Coach Coughlin and Coach Gilbride. Feed THE BEAST!