It took 14 quarters but the New York Giants finally seem to have located their misplaced running game. It could ultimately be the key to fixing the scoring woes that continue to plague this team.
The Giants ran 14 times for 91 yards (6.5 yards per carry) in the second half of Sunday's 17-9 loss to the Los Angeles Rams. It was a bright spot on an otherwise cloudy afternoon. It might even seem inconsequential given the Giants managed only three field goals, but it at least allowed the offense to function capably in the second half.
The Giants had plus-runs from Devonta Freeman, Wayne Gallman and Dion Lewis over the final 30 minutes of their latest loss. Gallman busted free for a 26-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter for the team's longest run of the young season. This was a step in the right direction for a team that entered Sunday averaging 56.7 yards rushing per game and 12.7 points. That final number dipped to 11.8 points per game through four weeks.
"One of the positive things we did was run the ball," Giants center Nick Gates said. "I think we had 130 yards on the ground, so that's a positive from the last three games before."
The Giants (0-4) actually finished with 136 yards on the ground, by far their best output this season. This helped their embattled offensive line, which allowed four sacks and nine pressures on 17 dropbacks in the first half, per NFL Next Gen Stats. They allowed six pressures and one sack (which was aided by quarterback Daniel Jones holding the ball too long) on 24 dropbacks in the second half when the Giants moved the ball significantly better.
There might be reasons for optimism as the winless Giants head into Sunday's divisional matchup with the Dallas Cowboys (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS). Especially considering Dallas' defense seems like the ultimate slump-buster these days.
The Giants, meanwhile, watched their defense hang tough again Sunday against a potent Rams offense, and their offensive line might have turned the corner.
Maybe this is the panacea the Giants were looking for, and maybe it will pay dividends over the final 12 games.
Coach Joe Judge's message to his team after the game centered on the season restarting next week when the Giants play their first division game. This falls right in line with his message prior to the season that the first four weeks would be similar to the preseason, before anyone would truly and accurately be able to assess their strengths and weaknesses.
"I did see an improved unit this week," Judge said of his offensive line. "These guys are getting better overall. ... When it came down the stretch, I liked the way the offensive line really played and stood in there. I thought they held up for the most part against a very stout rush. Obviously, not enough to take some of the production off the line that the Rams have, but you play good defense like the Rams, they're going to make some plays, too."
Except for a Jones interception where he regrettably didn't pull it in and run in the final few minutes, the Giants' offense looked respectable in the second half. And perhaps most impressive for the offensive line is that it did a commendable job against all-world Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald.
Donald was limited to two tackles and two quarterback pressures, and his disruption rate was 5.3%, per NFL Next Gen Stats. This was well below the 17.2% disruption rate he produced over the Rams' first three games.
It might seem like small gains, but this was a giant step for this offensive line. It gives the Giants reasons to believe they are close despite knowing they're operating short-handed on the playmaker side without star running back Saquon Barkley.
Speaking on reasons for optimism, Jones said, "Because we've been able to move the ball and get down there [to the red zone]. Once we get down there, we need to execute. I think we got the pieces to do it. Guys are playing well. We just need to be more consistent and execute down there in the red area and finish drives."
The Giants were 0-for-4 in the red zone on Sunday. They came into this week ranked 31st in the NFL in red zone percentage (33%), with only the New York Jets worse off. Surely some semblance of a running game will help moving forward.
But apparently that's a problem for another week. One at a time.