2 Backs Are Better Than 1 For The Giants
The New York Giants are certainly no strangers to the two-back system, which is a good thing because we're likely going to see a whole lot of it this season. In the team's first preseason game on Saturday night in Pittsburgh, Andre Brown carried the ball four times while David Wilson got five carries in their limited time on the field. While only a small sample size, it's a microcosm of what the regular season will look like for the Giants — at least as far as the running back position is concerned.
For the Giants over the last decade and a half, the offense has been at its best when it operates with two running backs. Of course, everyone remembers the famous "Thunder and Lightning" tandem of Tiki Barber and Ron Dayne that helped carry the Giants to the Super Bowl in 2000. But how many people remember the days of Rodney Hampton and Tyrone Wheatley? It's understandable if you don't — the Giants of the late '90s hardly had any memorable moments, save for a fluky 1997 division title. That season was unique for the fact that the Giants had not two but three running backs that shared the load and rushed for over 500 yards a piece: Wheatley, Barber and Charles Way. And while Barber had a monopoly on the Giants backfield for most of the last decade, 2007 and 2008 brought us the three-headed monster of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw. The point is, the Giants having an abundance of talent in the backfield is nothing new, and this season should be no exception.
At this point, it's pretty much a given that the Giants will employ a two-back system this season with Wilson and Brown, but the only lingering question that remains to be answered is exactly how the Giants will split the carries between the two. Will they be split evenly down the middle like they were on Saturday night? Will Brown get the majority of the carries? Or will Wilson get the majority of the carries? Those last two questions really boil down to which back comes out of the preseason at the top of the depth chart. However it shakes out, though, both running backs will be heavily involved in the Giants’ offense this season, no matter whose name is listed at the top of the depth chart.
There certainly is a great opportunity for both backs to be equally successful this season. We've already seen what both Wilson and Brown are capable of under the right circumstances and given the opportunity to thrive. Brown's big game against Carolina last season gave us a glimpse into what he can do, and Wilson's breakout performance against New Orleans was his coming-out party.
Can they both share the load and rush for over 1,000 yards? Not only is it possible — given the offensive line stays healthy and the Giants put themselves in a position to run the ball consistently — but there's precedent as well (as recently as 2008, both Jacobs and Ward each rushed for over 1,000 yards).
Clearly, the Giants have options at the position, and the team is in a position to have not only two but possibly even three capable running backs to share carries this season. Michael Cox, the rookie out of UMass, had a few nice runs on Saturday night and finished with 33 yards on nine carries.
The most plausible way that this two-back system will shape up is that one back will receive a higher percentage of carries out of the backfield, while the other back handles more of the blocking assignments, picks up blitzes and functions as a pass-catching back on screen plays and check-downs.
At this point, it's still too early to speculate which running back will play which role. The Giants could choose to let the more experienced Brown handle the majority of the carries earlier on in the season while Wilson cuts his teeth on screen passes and third-down carries, or they can cut Wilson loose and let him have the majority of the carries. Either way, the Giants offense has evolved into a pass-first offense in the last few years, and most games will see around 20-25 designed running plays out of the backfield, with one running back getting 15-18 carries and the other handling close to 10.