The Giants downplayed their offensive struggles in the preseason a year ago. It was a function of vanilla play-calling, they said. No real game-planning. It’ll get better when the season starts, they said.
It did not.
The Giants’ inability to score points and move the ball with any consistency became an obstacle to success. The defense carried them to 11 wins and a playoff berth. The offense was stuck in the same mud in which it began spinning its tires in August.
This year, though, Ben McAdoo wants to change that. And not only in the regular season. The second-year coach is adamant about establishing his team’s ability to run the ball as soon as Friday night’s preseason opener against the Steelers.
“Yeah, we need to come out and run the ball, the first group,” McAdoo said Wednesday. “Coming out running the football is important to us, and it starts with the first time we hit the field together in a team environment.”
While the flashy additions to the offense have all been made to help the passing game — Brandon Marshall, Evan Engram — it is the running game that will free up those playmakers. The Giants don’t need to become a dominant running team. They probably won’t have a 1,000-yard rusher for the fifth straight season. But they do need to be able to demonstrate an ability to run to keep defenses honest.
“We want to set the tone so we can open up other things,” center Weston Richburg said. “We have lots of weapons that we want to be able to use, and if we get the running game going, that opens that up to be a little dangerous.”
They believe they will be able to do that. They have a new starting running back in Paul Perkins and a new blocking tight end and fullback in Rhett Ellison. They essentially have the same offensive line, but they’re an improved group, according to McAdoo.
“I think the offensive line is developing confidence in each other, they are coming off the ball,” he said. “There have been some shots of the offense knocking a hole in the defense [in practice], and that’s encouraging.”
The Giants averaged only 88.2 rushing yards per game in 2016, 29th in the NFL. They had six rushing touchdowns, the fewest in the league. Their longest run was for 25 yards, the shortest in the NFL. The Giants want that to be better. It’s almost impossible to be worse.
“It’s a work in progress just like everything else at this point,” running back Shane Vereen said of the running game. “It’s definitely, in the running back room, I can say it’s a priority . . . We all take pride in ourselves and in the run game. We’re working very hard.”
They get their first chance to show the fruits of that labor Friday night.
“I think we just understand the run game as a whole better,” Richburg said. “We’ve had time in the offseason to talk about it and think it over, go over some things that didn’t go well last year and put those things into practice this year. I think we’ve made some good strides so far.”
This first preseason game will be a good indicator of how many more they need to take.