The Giants are in a rush to snap their four-game losing streak, and luckily for them, they’ll likely get their top rusher back this week, Rashad Jennings.
The veteran running back has been practicing this week and is on target to regain his starting spot in Sunday’s pivotal matchup with the San Francisco 49ers (5-4).
Head coach Tom Coughlin said that Jennings has been “working hard” the past two weeks and has incrementally upped his workload with each practice.
“He’s worked hard to get back. He will give our team an outstanding lift,” said Coughlin. “He will practice – the term is limited. We’ll selectively work him, and I think he’ll do well under those circumstances. And then we’ll progress him throughout the course of the week. And hopefully, without a setback, he’ll be ready to go by Sunday … and if he goes, then he’ll share a big load.”
Jennings is definitely needed to help a sagging Giants’ rushing attack, as he’s missed the last four games due to a medial collateral ligament (MCL) sprain, forcing rookie Andre Williams into the spotlight. And while the neophyte didn’t embarrass himself on the field, it was obvious Big Blue was missing something in the running game.
Williams, who spearheaded a running back unit that averaged just 83 yards per game in Jennings’s absence, has rushed for four touchdowns and 335 yards on 114 carries – a paltry 2.9-yards-per-carry.
But that production isn’t anywhere near what the Giants (3-6) have needed lately. Jennings, for his part, praised Williams for picking up the majority of the load in his absence. The veteran also didn’t make any promises about production, come Sunday, but is just happy to return and lend a hand.
“I’m encouraged, definitely, about how far I’ve come. Every day it’s getting better. I’m just anxious about getting back on the field,” said Jennings. “No guarantees [about production or percentage of playing]. I’m just taking it all day-by-day. This is my livelihood and it’s what I love to do. So, when you’re unable to perform on the field, you feel like something is stripped from you. … But with this time off, I think it was good to have some time where I was able to recalibrate some things and come back to the game with a stronger perspective.”
The Giants owned one of the worst rushing attacks last season, but with the addition of Jennings, it had a bit of a rebirth – especially during the five games in which he played this season. New York averaged 121.2 yards on the ground – and that’s including the stinker in Detroit during the season opener when they could only muster 53 yards on the ground, and last Sunday’s meltdown in Seattle when they tallied just 54 yards.
When Jennings went down with the MCL sprain on Oct. 5, the rushing attack sagged and the offense became heavily-dependent on quarterback Eli Manning, who has shown over the years that he’s not the type to single-handedly carry an offense and needs a balanced attack to really excel.
Coughlin acknowledged that while Manning is the focal point of the offense, it’ll be near impossible to continue to play without a rushing game that can ease the burden and snap this skid.
“It’s not easy. It [a lack of a running game] is not going to help us. I think we always talk about that,” said Coughlin. “We’ve had a couple of nice runs, but not too many. I tell you I want more balance, and if you’re going to score more points, you need that. You need to have big plays somehow, but you can’t if you’re not running the ball much.”
Jennings’s reemergence is needed for sure, considering his team-high 396 rushing yards have come in 23 fewer carries than Williams. The veteran’s career rushing day on Sept. 21 against the Houston Texans, when he logged 34 carries for 176 yards, still remains the single-game league-high this year in both categories.
Manning knows how important it’ll be to get his featured runner back into the fold.
“Rashad is a tremendous player and a guy we brought in this offseason to be the starting running back. He was playing well for us early in the year. He runs the ball well, has a great feel, and does a great job in [pass] protection. He can also catch the ball well out of the backfield on screens and pass plays,” said Manning, trying not to forget about the rookie rusher. “And Andre has done a heck of a job, too, by filling in and running hard … but it’s just better to finally have that 1-2 punch.”
Big Blue notes:
- Both running back Peyton Hillis and linebacker Jacquian Williams suffered concussions last week, and Coughlin deemed that both are “not good.” The coach noted that both players were sent home on Wednesday and are still under doctor’s supervision.
- Coughlin said that guard Geoff Schwartz will “get a lot of work this week.” Schwartz has yet to be activated off the physically unable to perform list (PUP), as the Giants have until Monday to make that decision or shut down the veteran for the season. The coach reasoned that Schwartz, who customarily worked the left side of the line, will get reps at both sides.
- The pre-practice injury report included: safety Nat Berhe (ankle); tight end Daniel Fells (neck); Hillis (concussion) and Jennings (knee); defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins (calf); Williams (concussion); and defensive ends Mathias Kiwanuka (knee) and Demontre Moore (shoulder).