Justin Tuck said he and some other team leaders were trying to find something that would fire up the Giants Sunday. They have a habit of starting slowly against seemingly inferior opponents played early Sunday, sometimes requiring a halftime wake-up call in the form of a screaming pep talk or the startling realization that a loss is imminent before snapping out of their snooze and pulling off a victory.
It happened two years ago against the Jaguars. It happened last year against the Dolphins. It happened last month against the Bucs. It could happen against the Browns.
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"We've had a tendency to come out in a lull," Tuck said. "You allow yourself to think back to that topic of them being 0-4, and we're supposed to run over this football team."
But just as the Giants' leaders were scratching their heads to come up with an idea to motivate the team from the opening kickoff, Trent Richardson came along and did their job for them. The Cleveland running back, in a conference call with reporters in New York this past week, noticed that running backs such as LeSean McCoy and DeMarco Murray were able to exploit the Giants' defense. And Richardson said he thinks he can do the same thing.
"Oh, yeah," Richardson said. "If we put our hat on a number, just cover them up, I think we can get good yardage on them . . . I think that if we cover the edges and run hard, not doing all this juking and that, one move and go, I think we can have some success in the running game."
That was all the Giants (2-2) needed. After a week of watching tape and having to convince themselves that the Browns are a better team than their record, Richardson seemed to provide them enough of a real challenge -- not a manufactured, imagined, fool-your-own-brain kind -- to have Big Blue seeing red from the get-go.
"If he looks on tape and he thinks he sees some candy," Osi Umenyiora said, "come try and get it."
Even before Richardson made his bold statements, the Giants were keying on him. A two-time national champion at Alabama, Richardson was the top running back selected in the 2012 draft. But in his first four games, he's run for 222 yards on 64 carries, an average of 3.5 yards, and has had only one run longer than 15 yards.
The Giants' run defense was exploited by McCoy and Murray, who totaled 254 rushing yards. Most of those were on cutbacks by two quick backs able to change direction like hummingbirds.
"The shifty ones, oh my God, they're everywhere, man," Jason Pierre-Paul said. "They're everywhere. That's something we have to adjust to."
But not right away. Richardson has speed, but he's not known as a cutter like those other two backs. He's more of a powerful runner, and that's the kind of back against whom the Giants' defense typically has more success.
"Guys like that, you have to get them stopped before they get going," said Rocky Bernard, the veteran defensive tackle who has been ruled out for this game with a quad injury. "Once they get going and they start getting that ground game pounding at you, it's tough to stop. You have to lock that out early."
Several Giants compared Richardson to a Marshawn Lynch-type of runner.
"He has speed, but he's a bigger one," Pierre-Paul said.
The Giants know how to stop that and prove Richardson's predictions wrong.
"We're gonna hit him. We're gonna hit him," Pierre-Paul said. "We're gonna have to hit him. We have to stop the running game first."
They can thank Richardson for having that priority reinforced even further.