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Jacobs doing big damage with smallish load

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – For football purists who love the gladiator element of the game – yearning for the days when Earl Campbell, Christian Okoye and Jerome Bettis made defenders bounce off them like ping pong balls – this is a dream scenario.

Just once, what would it be like if New York Giants running back Brandon Jacobs were to get 30, oh heck how about 40, carries in a game?

Chances are, we'll never know.

"We want to keep Brandon healthy for the whole season, that's why we're not going to just waste him all on one game," Giants center Shaun O'Hara said.

While Jacobs' size (6-foot-5, 265-pound) and punishing style would cause fits for defenses trying to stop him 30-40 times a game, the Giants have learned that he's quite effective at a meager 16 carries a contest.

Against Seattle on Sunday, Jacobs set the table for teammates such as little-used wide receiver Domenik Hixon, who caught four passes for 102 yards with a touchdown as a fill-in for Plaxico Burress. Earlier this season against Washington and St. Louis, Jacobs forced both those teams to account for him, opening up the rest of the offense for big plays that put his team ahead quickly.

"You see how other teams have to respect him," Giants linebacker Antonio Pierce said of Jacobs, who pounded away for 136 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries against Seattle. "He's a runaway truck on every play. He can just rip off a big play anytime, any situation. You got a guy like that and the defense can't play normal. They have to load up, either an eight-man front or at least have the safeties checking him every play."

After Jacobs combined for a total of 59 yards on the first three plays of the game against Seattle, including a 44-yard run off a sweep, four other Giants combined to have six plays of 19 yards or longer in the first half on the way to a 27-3 lead. That included catches of 32 and 41 yards by Hixon.

"You look at the defense when Brandon is out there and they look worried," Giants wide receiver Steve Smith said. "We're good running the ball with everybody, but Brandon is just a little different. It's kind of like when I was in college (at Southern Cal) when we had Reggie Bush on the field. Different guys, but it's still like the defense is almost freaking out, making sure they know where Brandon is and what he's doing."

This is despite the fact that New York has limited his touches in an attempt to reduce the risk of Jacobs aggravating any of the nagging injuries that bothered him a year ago and forced him to miss five games.

View photo

Jacobs runs through a Seahawks tackler on Sunday.
(US Presswire/Rich Kane)

Still, imagine what could happen if Jacobs, a man who carries that weight with a swimmer's inverted-triangle torso that accentuates his broad shoulders, could spend an entire afternoon getting carries?

"I look at it as, if he wasn't on my football team and I had to play against him, I wouldn't want him to get 30 carries," Giants defensive end Justin Tuck said. "I already told him, if at anytime in our careers we're not on the same team, the first time I have to hit him, I'm going to try to knock him out the game so I don't have to deal with him. Every play after that, I'm going to be diving at his ankle. He's as big as I am. Man, they don't pay me enough for that."

On New York's first play from scrimmage Sunday, Jacobs took a screen pass. As he started to turn upfield on his eventual 9-yard gain, Seattle Pro Bowl linebacker Julian Peterson – listed at 6-3, 240 – tried to make the tackle by hitting Jacobs in the upper body.

Peterson bounced off Jacobs … and relatively speaking, got off easy.

In the NFC championship game in January, Packers cornerback Charles Woodson tried to tackle Jacobs one-on-one. Jacobs roughly rejected Woodson and more than a few players have said Woodson wasn't the same in that game after that hit.

In the season opener against Washington, Jacobs broke free for a long run. Redskins safety Landry, who was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft in part because of his strong hitting ability, got in good position to hit Jacobs just below the waist.

Jacobs made Landry look like a traffic cone taking on a teenage driver. Landry fell backward nearly two yards, sprawled on the turf and turned into an instant YouTube clip.

"Yeah, we played that one a few times in the film room the next day," said Giants backup running back Reuben Droughns, a former 1,000-yard rusher himself. "I know what you're saying about letting him just have a whole game. We're not going to do that here, but that would be special. You see how guys try to tackle him now. They might try to take him on once, but then they turn away, try to take him from the side or ride him out of bounds.

"A whole game like that? Beastly. The defense would probably quit. Guys would be asking out all game, like 'I don't want none of that.' "

What differentiates Jacobs from many of the classic bulldozer runners, including current Dallas starter Marion Barber, is he has enough speed to break long runs and set up fakes. In short, it's hard for defenders to simply plant and wait for Jacobs at the point of attack, hoping to wear him down with hit after hit the way the NFL eventually drove the likes of Campbell and Okoye into early retirement.

Other tall running backs (most top backs are generally under 6-foot-2), such as former Tennessee standout Eddie George, saw their production wane over the years as defenders took shots at their shoulders and chest. That may happen someday with Jacobs, but through four games he is averaging 5.8 yards per carry.

"You don't know what he's going to do? Is he going to run past you? Is he going to shake you? Is he going to bulldoze you? Do you go low, do you take a shot?" Giants cornerback R.W. McQuarters said. "It's hard for a defender to know what to do, that's why BJake wins so many of those collisions."

Jacobs is better prepared to recover from those collisions after changing up his style.

"Early on when he first got here, Brandon wanted to run over everybody," O'Hara said. "I think he learned from (former Giants running back) Tiki Barber how to take shots and avoid big hits and also when to attack guys."

That, for opponents, has to be a nightmare.

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