The Giants’ starting offense left the field at halftime Friday night having rung up 189 yards of offense and a 19-13 lead over the Jets. Their night was over, and it seemed at first glance like a solid performance.
But there was a number that jumped out and was troubling upon a deeper inspection:
That’s how many rushing yards the Giants’ starters gained. On nine carries. That’s four inches per running play.
“Not pleased with the way we ran the ball, certainly,” Pat Shurmur said after the game. “We need to run the ball for our offense, but also for our team.”
Bad night? Maybe. Best runner on the bench? Well, Saquon Barkley was sidelined for a second straight game with a hamstring injury from which he appears to be close to returning.
Indicative of a larger issue? Hmm.
“It’s a team thing when you run the ball well [or] don’t run the ball well,” Shurmur said. “We’ve just got to go back and look at it, and I think it’s important that we’re running the right paths and blocking the right guys.”
For most of the summer, they have not been.
The running game started out promisingly enough. Barkley took the first preseason snap against the Browns, made a few cuts in the backfield, bolted through a hole and gained 39 yards. It was a longer run than all but two the Giants had in the 2017 regular season and seemed to represent the dawning of a new era both in terms of Barkley’s arrival and an offense that could move the ball on the ground.
Since then, however, things have deteriorated. The Giants have run 24 other times in three games with their starting offensive line and either Jonathan Stewart or Wayne Gallman in the backfield (plus a 1-yard QB sneak by Davis Webb). They’ve gained a net 23 yards on those plays.
That’s 16 fewer yards than Barkley’s opening dash.
Stewart’s stat line this summer is particularly ugly: 10 carries for minus-5 yards. He also fumbled inside the Jets’ 10-yard line on Friday night. Since he signed with the Giants in the offseason, he has insisted that he still has the ability to be productive, but he has yet to show it in any of the preseason games.
“There’s always a reason why things don’t [work],” Shurmur said. “If you just look at the raw production, you say, ‘Oh my goodness!’ but I think we have to take it for what it is. I know he can play football, he can play at a high level, and we’re just counting on that.”
Confronted with Stewart’s numbers, right guard Patrick Omameh said on behalf of the offensive line: “We’ll take the full brunt. At the end of the day, rushing stats, we always put those on ourselves . . . We have to be better. Point blank.”
They have two weeks left.
Shurmur said he was pleased that the backups at least ran better than the starters. “At the end, we found a way to carve out enough yardage running the ball to make it acceptable,” he said of the 86 rushing yards on 17 carries in the second half. Against the Jaguars in the opener, though, few of those Giants players will be on the field.
So what can the Giants do? They can throw the ball around the way they did Friday night.
“As a play-caller, you want to start finding things that get you yardage,” Shurmur said. “We found a way to get some chunks [of yardage] throwing the ball . . . and extend drives.”
One of the reasons why the Giants were so successful at passing, especially on play-action, was the Jets’ schematic dedication to stopping the run. If the Giants can’t show teams they’re able to move the ball on the ground, as the past few seasons have shown, that no longer will be the case.
They can hope that Barkley is so transcendent a player that he will be able to find holes and slither through them where Stewart and others have not.
“They weren’t really missed assignments, so to speak, but we have to get off of the double- teams a little quicker and just hit it up in there and give the runner a little more room to get his feet going,” Shurmur said.
What they won’t do, it seems, is panic.
“It wasn’t what we want,” Omameh said, “[but] by no means are we overly worried. We’ll take a look at the film . . . see what has to be corrected and keep pushing from there.”
Left tackle Nate Solder said of the running game: “We have to keep working on that, improving on that, because that’s a big factor on offense.”
At least it should be. It hasn’t been yet.