The New York Giants head into Sunday’s tilt with the Houston Texans drastically undermanned — statistically and in actual man-power.
The Giants [2-2] head to Houston on the short end of the stat sheet, along with a depleted roster. Offensively, Eli Manning [four fumbles and six interceptions] and Ahmad Bradshaw [three fumbles] have combined for 13 turnovers, while their counterparts, Matt Schaub [four interceptions] and Arian Foster [one fumble], have only combined for five.
Among Schaub’s highlights this season is a near 500-yard passing game [497 yards against the Washington Redskins], 66 percent completion rate and a 95.6 passer rating. Foster, meanwhile, is tops in the league with 537 rushing yards and 6.3 yards per carry. Manning, contrarily, has looked skittish at times and there have been times when his errant passes have left his receivers vulnerable to huge hits.
In order to keep New York in the game Manning said he and Bradshaw will be the key to keeping that potent Texans duo off the field as much as possible.
“We have to stay on the field. Their offense is explosive and can score a lot of points, so we have to convert third downs,” Manning said. “They have great pass rushers, so we have to block things up. We have to run the ball, get play-action, stay in a rhythm, get a good down-and-distance, and make plays when they’re there.”
In order to keep Schaub and Co. off the field, ball control will be at a premium. But in order to have ball control, you must actually hold onto it. And that’s where Bradshaw’s role comes into play. While the fourth-year rusher has shown flashes with a team-high 382 rushing yards and a solid 5.1 yards per carry, he’s also been known to put the ball on the carpet, much to the dismay of head coach Tom Coughlin.
“Every week I’m assured, ‘Don’t worry coach,’ but the thing that happens is you get in the game [and] you become more instinctive and occasionally the bad habits come roaring out,” said Coughlin when asked if he’s thought about doing to Bradshaw what he did for Tiki Barber during his early fumbling days. “If that takes place [ball security], I think we’ll get what we want.”
The new technique could be a conundrum, however, because Coughlin admits the high and tight way of carrying the football near the shoulder pads is “not the most comfortable place to be.” He also fears the technique could hinder Bradshaw’s manic and aggressive way of running the football.
“Yeah, sure it could,” said Coughlin when asked if the new style could bother Bradshaw initially. The coach, however, added that the end result of a turnover is bigger than the unusual feeling. “But the ball on the ground with the other guy having it [supersedes comfort]. I love the kid. He’s a great effort guy and gives you every ounce. However, that aspect [fumbling] takes away from it [effort].”
Bradshaw has a tweaked ankle but gutted out practices this week. His biggest problem, however, may not be ball control, fumbling, or the ankle but what’s lacking in front of him – namely a lead blocker. Fullback Madison Hedgecock [hamstring] may not play, Sunday, and with a run defense as stout as the Texans, a lead blocker is paramount. Besides All-Pro defensive end Mario Williams, Houston has a plethora of talent in the front-seven, including bookend defensive end Antonio Smith, defensive tackles Shaun Cody and Amobi Okoye, Pro-Bowl linebacker DeMeco Ryans, and the return of last season’s defensive Rookie of the Year, linebacker Brian Cushing.
Hedgecock is the only fullback on the roster, so Coughlin has turned to an unlikely source for a replacement.
“Bear Pascoe did an outstanding job for a guy that really didn’t have many snaps last week,” Coughlin said of the third-string tight end. “The thing I really like about the kid is he’s such a hundred percenter.”
Pascoe was signed off the practice squad after Kevin Boss suffered a concussion in the season opener. He impressed Coughlin during training camp when he was the only one of the five tight ends on the roster healthy enough to practice.
“It’s just knowing your assignment and getting it done,” Pascoe said. “It’s part of the game. When your number’s called, you just step in there. It’s what we do.”
That’s no easy task, considering Pascoe takes no snaps at fullback with the starting offense in practice, although he does get some work at the position with the scout team.
“He never panics. This is like the second game out of four where we’ve taken him and literally said you’re going to be this guy on the field,” Coughlin marveled when recalling how little prep time Pascoe gets during the week. “There are even a couple of times where we wanted play calls that involved a little bit more than what your average fullback does and he knew what he had to do from that position. So, yeah, I am encouraged but I still don’t know yet what exactly we’re going to do there.”
Perhaps that’s not a good omen, as the Giants only a have a couple days left to figure it out.