One day after his team’s 41-13 pre-season dismantling of the Chicago Bears on Monday night, New York Giants’ head coach Tom Coughlin very candidly told reporters, “The injury report is not something that I’m real happy about today.”
That was putting it mildly, after Coughlin lost three key defenders in Monday night’s very costly victory.
After seeing starting cornerback Terrell Thomas (last season’s team leader in tackles and interceptions) and promising reserve cornerback Brian Witherspoon each end their respective seasons with torn ACL’s against the Bears, Coughlin learned that talented and promising second-round pick, rookie defensive tackle Marvin Austin would also be lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle suffered in the same game.
That was just the latest of the bad news.
Cornerbacks Bruce Johnson (Achilles tendon) and rookie first-round pick Prince Amukamara (broken foot) are both out for at least several more weeks while starting defensive end Osi Umenyiora is still rehabbing from knee surgery.
And, then there are the free agent losses on the offensive side of the ball with the departures of former 107-reception receiver Steve Smith and reliable tight end Kevin Boss (leaving a huge hole at that position), along with a re-tooled offensive line returning only three-fifths of the group that once had an NFL-record 38 straight games starting the same five players over the past two seasons.
Despite it all, Coughlin remains optimistic, telling reporters on Tuesday, “I think we’ll rally.”
One thing that could buoy Coughlin’s confidence is his team’s ability to get back to basics and be a run-first team offensively, with the help of running back Brandon Jacobs, who seems to have a whole new outlook on once again becoming Big Blue’s backfield bruiser.
The 6-foot-4, 264-pound Jacobs didn’t touch the ball much (just three carries) in the Giants’ first pre-season game in Carolina, but he did produce a nice 5.3 yards-per-carry average while totaling 16 yards on the ground.
Against the Bears, starting quarterback Eli Manning believed in Jacobs enough to call an audible on the first play of the second quarter and hand off to Jacobs, who responded with a nice 18-yard touchdown run to break a 3-3 tie.
Including that play, Jacobs finished the night averaging eight yards per carry, netting 48 yards on six rushes while showing flashes of the runner that made him a 1,000-yard back in both 2007 and 2008 before being forced into a reduced role with the emergence of current backfield mate Ahmad Bradshaw.
At the time, that was something that didn’t sit well at all with Jacobs.
He became extremely disgruntled and as a result, less productive than he was capable of being and what the Giants expected of him.
After averaging an impressive five yards per carry during each of his 1,000-yards seasons, Jacobs carried more times (224) in 2009 than he did in 2007 (202) or 2008 (219), but his production dropped to a pedestrian 3.7 yards-per-carry that season.
Things then hit rock bottom during the second game of last season when Jacobs carried just four times for eight yards in a blowout loss in Indianapolis during which an extremely discontented Jacobs tossed his helmet several rows into the stands.
Jacobs was subsequently fined as rumors swirled that he wanted to be traded. He took a back seat to Bradshaw during Bradshaw’s breakout season of 1,235 yards during his walk year, even though Jacobs averaged a career-high 5.6 yards per carry despite seeing just 147 carries in 16 games last year.
While Jacobs’ attitude improved, and he even at one point regained his starting job back because of Bradshaw’s fumbling problems, it was widely assumed that Jacobs might not be back this season.
That is, until the mentally rehabilitated, team-first Jacobs agreed earlier this month to restructure his contract, even taking a slight pay cut (he can earn most of what he lost in incentives) to help the Giants re-sign Bradshaw.
Remarkably, Jacobs’ demeanor has taken a complete 180-degree turn. The same guy who sulked when lost his starting job to Bradshaw last year was vocally and demostratively cheering his backfield mate when Bradshaw ripped off a nice 13-yard run in the second quarter on Monday night.
The result of Jacobs’ new mindset could have a potentially season-saving trickle-down effect on the Giants given all they’ve already lost and what they’re still hoping will return sooner rather than later.
Of course, a lot depends on the continued jelling of the Giants’ revamped offensive line, but a happier, more selfless Jacobs should mean a more productive Jacobs, which in turn, should only make Bradshaw that much more effective if opposing defenses have to worry about stopping both backs.
A solid tandem, which could be among the best in the league in that case, would give the Giants more of a ball control offense, which could mean less time on the field for an injury-plagued defense to be exposed.
Other positive by-products of a good dual-back threat would be less pressure on Coughlin and especially on offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride in terms of play calling, and less pressure on Manning and his somewhat new receiving corps.
Coughlin, Gilbride, running backs coach Jerald Ingram, and general manager Jerry Reese all deserve praise for their respective roles in getting Jacobs back on board, but Jacobs also deserves credit for apparently reshaping himself from a team distraction back into a highly valuable team dependency.
If that trend continues, Jacobs might the most important factor in helping the Giants try to emulate last year’s Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers and successfully overcome a mounting myriad of key losses.