Giants taking on new identity with Andre Brown back in action
The return of Andre Brown - who broke his leg in the Giants' final preseason game - was expected to give the ground attack a significant boost, and it did just that in Week 10 against the Oakland Raiders. In his return to action, Brown was fed the ball a whopping 30 times on the ground, piling up 115 yards and a touchdown. Brown also added a catch for four yards. With the 30 carries (more than any Giants running back in a single game this year), Brown is now just 14 carries behind the team leader on the season.
The general belief was that Brown would be eased back into the Giants' offense, as he had not played a game in over two months, but the coaching staff knew who their most effective back was and they force fed him despite of the long layoff. Brown relegated Hillis (five carries for 21 yards) to a clear backup role, while Cox did not touch the ball for the first time in a month.
With the ability to pound the ball for solid gains constantly throughout the day, the Giants were able to control the clock, and quarterback Eli Manning had a much easier time hanging in the pocket and finding open receivers - a rushing threat forces opposing pass rushers to be more conservative and forces defensive coordinators to put more players in the box. Despite an unimpressive roster, the Raiders are actually very strong against the run (ranked sixth in yards, seventh in yards per attempt), so the fact that Brown was able to give them problems on the ground is impressive.
The Giants' offense still scored only 17 points (seven of which came after an interception returned to five-yard line), but it looks like they may be in the process of taking on a new identity. Excluding special teams and defensive touchdowns, the Giants' defense has given up just 13 points over their past three games. Despite their struggles in pass defense early on, the Giants have not given up a touchdown through the air since October 10. Meanwhile, Giants running backs toted the ball 35 times in Week 10, while Eli Manning threw the ball only 22 times - this was despite the Raiders leading for much of the game.
It looks to me like the Giants are feeding off of their defense's exceptional play as of late, and they took an approach on Sunday that looked more like an old school smashmouth team than the pass-happy unit that won the Super Bowl two seasons ago. They may have gone to a run-first approach sooner had they had a viable running back, but the ground game was simply not reliable before the return of Brown. The Giants are no lock to keep up their defense-first, ground-and-pound philosophy, particularly with some much tougher offenses coming up, but I expect them to roll with what's been working, especially with Brown back in the picture.