As much as the NFL may be morphing more and more into a pass-first league, there's still a primary need for most NFL teams to run the ball at least ONCE in a while. The New York Giants have put their recent success behind a drive-defining running game. But since their Super Bowl championship year of 2007, the G-Men have had more and more of a problem pounding through enemy defenses when it counts. In 2007, New York ranked seventh in runs that achieved a first down on third or fourth down with 2 or fewer yards to go. In 2008, down to 23rd. Through the first six weeks of the 2009 season, they've bottomed out at 29th -- only the Rams, Chargers and 49ers are worse.
You'd think that with the 6-4, 264-pound Brandon Jacobs(notes) in the backfield, and one of the best offensive lines in the business, short-yardage power situations wouldn't be a problem. But Jacobs has had his running style questioned by noted bulk expert Tony Siragusa, though Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride thinks it's less about "tip-toeing" and more about Jacobs trying to be too fine at the line -- peeking through for gaps instead of simply establishing them. But there's no doubt either way that Jacobs' ability as a first-down machine has decreased. In 2007, 49 of Jacobs' 202 carries brought first downs (24.3 percent). That figure went up to 26 percent in 2008 (57 in 219 carries). In 2009, Jacobs has 107 carries and 16 first downs -- a very disappointing 15 percent. Jacobs is very fast for his size, but his primary role has to be to bash through the middle and make things happen.
He's going to have a very rough time doing that tonight against the Arizona Cardinals. It's a stat that surprises a lot of people, but the Cards have the NFL's best run defense -- they've allowed 59.6 yards per game and 2.8 yards per carry. Arizona has gone away from the blitz-happy schemes of Clancy Pendergast in favor of the gap-control defense of new defensive coordinator Bill Davis, and it's paid off. On the defensive side, Arizona ranks third in runs allowed that achieved a first down on third or fourth down with 2 or fewer yards to go -- the same stat the Giants can't seem to keep together over the last couple of seasons. We'll see who wins this primetime battle at the line.