Any Jaguars fan who followed the team when Tom Coughlin was their coach knows the man has no tolerance for a running back who fumbles. But when Coughlin announced Brandon Jacobs would start ahead of Ahmad Bradshaw, after Bradshaw's fifth fumble of the season in last week's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the change was a bit of a surprise.
Is it prudent to bench a top 10 NFL running back as you enter the December playoff sprint? Coughlin must feel confident with his depth.
And he should. It isn't that the Giants will necessarily see a drop when running the ball. Bradshaw ranks fifth in the NFL in yards, eigth in yards per attempt and has five rushing touchdowns. However, Jacobs, who was the starter as recently as last year, is averaging more yards per attempt (5.0 to 4.7) and has managed just as many touchdowns on less than half as many carries.
Jacksonville may actually like the decision to give Brandon the bulk of the carries.
That Jacobs runs more like Peyton Hillis, and considering how well the Jaguars shut down the Browns offensive leader on the ground, the expectation may be that if he gets the bulk of the carries it may work more in the Jaguars favor. What this may actually do, however, is aide the Giants ailing receiving corps.
With Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith both injured and not playing, Eli Manning will be without his top two receiving targets. But the stat sheet doesn't believe this will necessarily be a problem.
The vertical game for the Giants is very balanced and incorporates all skill positions efficiently: wide receiver, tight end and running back. After Nick's 92 and Smith's 72, Bradshaw and Boss have both been targeted 32 times, fourth most on the team, with Bradshaw sitting alone with the fourth most receptions at 28. Manningham's 13.2 yards per catch average (52 targets) is second to Boss who owns a 15.1 average. They both share the longest pass play at 54 yards.
Still it is a well rested Bradshaw which could be the Jaguars undoing. While Boss is occupying the linebackers, Manning could be checking down to a running back which leads the team in yards after catch with 231.
Looking back at the Browns game, it wasn't a wider receiver that was the Jaguars undoing. Cleveland's first scoring drive succeeded thanks to the McCoy to Hillis connection. For the game he had six receptions for 95 yards and one touchdown.
The other threat, who finished with three catches for 69 yards (second behind Hillis), was tight end Evan Moore. His receptions aided the touchdown drive, put Phil Dawson in position for a field goal and his 29 yard reception towards the end of the game gave them a shot to win.
Familiar formula for Jaguars frustration: throw to the running back or the tight end.
With Jacobs in the backfield Jacksonville will have one less weapon to worry about when Manning drops back to pass. It is during these situations where they must come up big. No Nicks and Smith will give the Jaguars the opportunity for turnovers: Manning is second in the league, throwing 16 picks.
We are late enough into the season that conditioning is not an issue, but in a close game, when the fourth quarter rolls around, I'd prefer an Ahmad Bradshaw with 20 carries, and more opportunities to fumble, than one with 10. I'd be even happier if it were only Jacobs to contend with. It will be interesting to see if the Giants can be successful pounding the Jaguars early with Jacobs, setting up Bradshaw for the late game kill on the ground and through the air.
- Brian Fullford