After New York running back Tiki Barber retired at the end of last season, the Giants’ ground attack was expected to suffer without the franchise’s all-time leading rusher.
After all, Barber had led the team in rushing for seven consecutive seasons, from 2000 through 2006, and was the main source of New York’s offense when he decided to call it a career.
Fortunately for the Giants, Barber did not take his blockers with him.
Led by center Shaun O’Hara and right guard Chris Snee, New York’s big and physical offensive line has been key in the Giants’ postseason run and could be a difference-maker against New England in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
New York has done a great job of managing games with a ball-control offense led by running backs Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, who have combined for 318 yards and four touchdowns in three playoff games.
If the Giants can control the line of scrimmage and have fullback Madison Hedgecock open holes for the 264-pound Jacobs and elusive Bradshaw, the Patriots could get beat.
But in order for that to happen, the Giants have to keep New England’s veteran defensive front off-balance with imaginative play-calling.
When the Patriots expect a run up the middle, New York has to be able to trip them up with a play-action pass or sweeps to the outside. When New England looks for quarterback Eli Manning to throw, the Giants should be ready to pound the ball with a variety of running plays.
Of course, that’s easier said than done against a Bill Belichick-coached defense. Everything will start with O’Hara, an eight-year pro who’s in his fourth season with the Giants.
O’Hara, who suffered a first half knee injury when New England defeated the Giants, 38-35, to end the regular season, will be under the spotlight against the Patriots because he’ll have to deal with New England’s dominant 325-pound nose tackle, Vince Wolfork.
In the Patriots’ 3-4 scheme, Wolfork has been nearly impossible to block in the playoffs. It will be crucial for O’Hara to keep Wolfork from penetrating and disrupting the Giants’ ground game.
When these teams played Dec. 29th, New York effectively ran the ball and led, 28-16, late in the third quarter. But then the Patriots forced punts on consecutive series and intercepted a pass to take control.
New England’s defense, which had missed one tackle after another and got caught up in blocks for most of the game, turned things around down the stretch and effectively took the Giants out of their comfort zone.
The players who made it happen were crafty linebackers Junior Seau, Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel, along with versatile Adalius Thomas.
Belichick, who prefers experienced players for a reason, called on his veterans and they stepped up by recognizing many of New York’s plays before the snap. If the Patriots are able to do this again, it will be a long Super Bowl for the Giants.
Summary: If New England proves difficult to run against, the Giants should not hesitate to get the ball to their running backs with screens and short passes against the Patriots’ quick-to-react defense.
As long as New York can keep New England’s offense off the field, the Giants have a chance to pull off a Super Bowl upset.