Rashad Jennings caught the third-and-12 pass for a gain of 10 yards in the second quarter of Sunday’s game against the Bears and started trotting to the sideline. Then he looked up and saw something he was not expecting.
Coaches and players were waving him back toward the field.
It was time to go for it.
“I had no idea,” Jennings said.
On fourth-and-2, he caught a short pass out of the backfield, juked a tackler and squirmed far enough to convert it with a gain of five yards.
It was the second time in the game that the Giants attempted to convert a fourth down under somewhat less than typical conditions, the second time they were successful, and the second time it led to a scoring play.
“We do pretty well on fourth down,” Jennings said. “We need to act like every play is fourth down.”
This year it feels as if the Giants don’t have to pretend so much. Coach Ben McAdoo has been very aggressive when it comes to attempting fourth-down conversions.
Two weeks ago against the Bengals, the Giants scored the winning touchdown on fourth down with a pass to Sterling Shepard. Against the Ravens in Week 6, Odell Beckham Jr. scored the winning touchdown on a fourth-down play.
Through the first 10 games, the Giants have gone for it on fourth down 11 times and converted six of them. Last year they were 9-for-16 on fourth downs, but those were more traditional settings — fourth-and-shorts, late-game situations when trailing.
McAdoo seems to love the all-in aspect of keeping his offense on the field.
“I believe that they appreciate the confidence,” he said of the players. “We talk to them about how we want to play and coach. Everyone needs to be on the same page.”
On fourth down, that page becomes more important.
“Obviously, the awareness should skyrocket,” Jennings said of fourth-down plays. “It’s all about getting to the sticks, it’s not about getting into position to get to the sticks. You gotta get it. Knowing that call, that’s a lot of trust from the sideline coming from the coaches. The whole team is keyed in. It amps up.”
It seems to be happening around the league, too. The Giants’ 11 fourth-down attempts are tied for eighth most in the NFL. The Browns, this week’s opponent, lead the NFL with 13 of them. Only one team has converted all of their fourth-down attempts this season: The Cowboys are 7-for-7.
Jennings may have been caught off guard by the fourth-down attempt, but McAdoo already had told Eli Manning they were in position to roll the dice. Manning said he likes knowing when the Giants are in four-down territory.
“It helps,” he said. “Now you kind of know, hey, we get close and we might go for it. He told me before the game [last Sunday] with the windy conditions that the kicking game might be tough, so when we got into the 30-yard-line area, if it was a manageable situation, we might be going for it a few times.”
Even if he hasn’t been given explicit instructions, Manning has come to learn that McAdoo might keep his foot on the gas pedal in those situations.
“I think you understand that if there’s a chance to get the first, you want to get it, but if you can run or get a checkdown that maybe gets 4 or 5 yards and makes it a manageable fourth down, there’s a chance we might go,” Manning said. “I think once you cross that 50 and get into some of those positions, you start playing for the possibility of going for it on fourth down.”
With McAdoo, it’s a very strong possibility.