Giants' improved run defense gets first test against Dallas Cowboys

Giants defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins stretches after a Giants defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins stretches after a day of team training camp at Quest Diagnostics Training Center. (Aug. 2, 2013) Photo Credit: James Escher

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The Giants invested heavily in their heaviness this offseason. On Sunday, they'll see if the pounds pay off.

While the 2012 season ended mostly in confusion and grasping for reasons behind the two dud games that doomed the Giants' playoff chances, there was one concrete reason the team could point to for not defending its championship. They allowed too many rushing yards, and especially too many up the middle.

So the Giants focused on fixing that problem in just about every aspect of their offseason preparations.

Their one big free-agency splurge was bringing in Cullen Jenkins, a defensive tackle who can play end, as well.

They drafted Johnathan Hankins, a big-bodied Buckeye, with their second-round pick.

They took a flyer on Mike Patterson, a veteran tackle and former first-round pick.

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And most importantly, they re-signed Shaun Rogers, the tackle who missed the entire 2012 season with a blood clot in his calf and who was probably the biggest Giants loss to injury that year (and not only because of his scale-tipping listed weight of 350 pounds).

The result has been several often unprompted compliments of the run defense by Tom Coughlin this preseason and some pretty impressive numbers so far. "We've come along," the coach said of that part of the defense, which particularly impressed him against the Colts and Jets.

So how did the Giants' run defense do in the preseason? They allowed 84.2 rushing yards per game, fourth best in the NFL. Last season, the Giants allowed 129.1 rushing yards per game, eighth worst in the league. The 2.9 yards per carry opponents gained was tied with the Lions and Rams for the best in the NFL. They were one of only four teams to not allow a run of 20 or more yards.

"That's definitely a positive," Rogers said. "That's something they were looking to build on. Hopefully, they're happy with what they saw and we'll keep it moving like that."

The first test will be against the Cowboys on Sunday when they face DeMarco Murray and a revamped run-focused offense. In last year's opener, Murray ran for 131 yards against the Giants, his only 100-yard game of the season. He did not play when the teams met in Week 8, and the Giants held Felix Jones to 19. Guess which one the Giants won.

Now, with O-line guru Bill Callahan calling the plays and focusing on more zone blocking, the Cowboys would seem to be an even bigger threat to the Giants on the ground despite some uncertainty on their offensive line. After finishing 31st in rushing last year, the Cowboys have vowed that changes will take place.

"Some things are different, but you'll have to wait and see," Murray told reporters in Dallas this week. "You'll have to watch come Sunday."

Some things are different with the Giants, too. They may even be spending some time in a 3-4 look this season, a scheme traditionally better suited to stopping the run. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell has professed "flexibility" this preseason, and the team has dabbled in the 3-4 package at times.

"At the end of the day, you want to do what it takes to win and you understand that stopping the run is one of the things you have to do to win," Rogers said. "If we do a good enough job at it to get us a victory, then I'm happy with that."

And the Giants will get a positive return on their investment.

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