Andre Williams chuckled when asked if Thursday’s live short-yardage drills in practice were a significant moment in this training camp, not just for the offense but for him personally.
“I would say so,” he said.
Indeed, converting short first downs has been an issue for the Giants for a number of years, and last season in particular, it seemed to be an issue that hampered the team. According to FootballOutsiders.com, the Giants had 58 snaps in 2015 on third or fourth down with 2 yards or less to convert, and they were successful only 31 times. That 53.4 success percentage ranked 27th in the NFL.
To make the numbers worse for the running game, the Giants were among the league’s leaders in throwing the ball in those situations, doing it 56.9 percent of the time. That was the sixth most in the league.
Numbers are one thing, just eye-balling the games they played showed there was a problem.
Now, though, Williams believes it has been fixed.
Perhaps buoyed by a rout from the offense in the drill – there were nine total snaps on third-and-1 and the offense converted seven of them, including two by Williams himself – he declared that the short-yardage game will be “better as a unit” in 2016.
“It’s a team game,” he said. “You can have the biggest, strongest running back or the smartest quarterback, but it takes all 11 guys. I think as a unit we’re going to execute better… There can be a number of reasons why we fell short last year, maybe lack of execution or lack of knowledge. I feel like this year we’re going to execute cleanly.”
On Thursday, they did.
Ben McAdoo ramped up the competitiveness of the drill by keeping score – Giants staffers waved white flags for offensive conversions, blue flags for defensive stops, and the tally was kept on a big board in the end zone – and declaring that the losing side would have to carry off the helmets and pads of the winners.
“You didn’t have to tell me twice,” guard Justin Pugh said of the stakes.
Besides Williams, there were some other standouts in the drill. And from both sides of the ball. Olivier Vernon made one of the defensive stops coming down the line of scrimmage from the backside to tackle Rashad Jennings. Kerry Wynn made a nice slicing lunge into the backfield. On offense, rookie Paul Perkins took a handoff through the line of scrimmage standing up thanks to sealing blocks from Shane McDermott and Jake Rodgers on the left side of the line.
The period was supposed to be “thud and wrap,” but it quickly escalated to full tackling. Not that anyone seemed too upset with it.
“When the defense is trying to stop you from getting that one yard, they have to take you off your feet,” Williams shrugged.
In 2016, Williams and the Giants hope there is far less of that. Thursday seemed like a good start.