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Questions Answered: Ahmad Bradshaw

This week, Ahmad Bradshaw unquestionably had has his first breakout game of 2009. Further questions about whether or not Bradshaw’s week 5 performance should give him the start over the current #1 RB Brandon Jacobs have been raised. From sports radio to the blogosphere – we’re hearing about how Jacobs is frustrated with his lack of performance, and deservedly so. Of the 180 runs the Giants have waged, Jacobs has nearly twice as many carries as Bradshaw, yet has managed to gain 20 less yards. Of Jacobs 100 carries, he’s gained 355 yards and scored 1 touchdown with 3.6 yards per. Bradshaw meanwhile has carried 58 times for 375 yards, two scores, which translates to an impressive 6.5 yards per carry…. so it’s no surprise Bradshaw fans like myself quite energized about the departure of Derrick Ward and the rise of Ahmad Bradshaw to the #2 spot. But now 5 weeks into the 2009 season it seems that the role of Jacobs and Bradshaw and who gets the majority of the Giants carries needs to be brought into question.

But in all seriousness… let’s not get carried away here.

While Jacobs is not putting up the same numbers he did last year, he is still running well. He’s helping to get the Giants into scoring position and he’s still wearing down defenses with his hard hitting style. He has struggled getting the ball in the endzone on short yardages in the red zone…. but in all fairness the hole he’s trying to hit hard doesn’t exist on most of those snaps because when the defense sees Jacobs in the backfield — they plug up every gap they can find with all 11 guys to prevent a punch-in touchdown.

I know I sound like a Jacobs apologist here, but even so you have to account for common sense – all defenses the Giants now face have a game plan for stopping Brandon Jacobs. It’s the way of the world in 2009 – we cannot expect Jacobs to run the ball downhill on every carry the way he seemingly did in 2008 because defenses are making that stop priority #1 when they face the Giants. Isn’t it this simple? The opposition figured out how to stop Brandon Jacobs… they stack things up and disrupt Jacobs from getting upfield and they are focusing on maintaining gap pressure to stop Brandon Jacobs at the line before he gets going – where there are many bodies to make the tackle. So let’s give the defense some credit here –  they’ve accomplished that goal. Congrats.

Now enter RB #2 – Ahmad Bradshaw.

AP on Bradshaw:

Q: You go up against Ahmad in training camp and things like that. Could you talk about what kind of a runner he has become? We always think of him as sort of a scat back. It seems like he has a little power to him, too.

A: The little junk yard dog is what we call him. I was telling the guys on the sideline that I would hate to play against him. The way he has been running in the last few games, it looks like he is one of the best backs in the National Football League. He is not a scat back at all. He is a guy that brings power, he has speed. He has got agility. He has got everything I could want out of back. He is great in pass protection. Ahmad is turning into one of the more complete backs in the National Football League. And obviously you saw that yesterday – him running the ball in on the goal line, and with the catching the screen on third and 24. So whatever we ask Ahmad to do he does it. And he is very hungry, he is very eager to go out there and make a name for himself. And I think he will definitely make a name for himself.

Q: Do you think people didn’t expect how strong he is because of his size?

A: All they have to do is watch film. You watch film of him over the last two years, this guy has run over guys, he ran through them and ran the route and juked and everything.. More about what is in their heart and their determination. If you watch Bradshaw, that is all you see. You see a guy that hates to go on the ground – he does not want to be tackled. If you have a runner like that with that mentality and the ability that he has, and it is difficult to tackle him.

People act like Ahmad Bradshaw is the NY Giants version of Darren Sproles. He isn’t. Bradshaw is a 5’9″  200 lbs of lightning in a bottle sitting on the seat of a bulldozer. The guy is the real deal, a complete running back and it’s time people recognize he’s been around for longer than 5 games. Bradshaw’s running style is totally different from what Derrick Ward brought to the Giants in 2008 – and by my estimation Bradshaw is and always was the better player. After all it was Bradshaw and Jacobs that teamed up on the Superbowl drive, not Ward who was sideline with an injury toward the end of the season.

Bradshaw runs extremely hard on every down – almost with abandon, he can catch well out of the backfield, he cuts on a dime, he’s lightening quick to the hole, he’s lightening quick period. Ward was shifty at best – he wasn’t all that fast, he couldn’t cut all that convincingly, and he lacked what makes Bradshaw the most exciting player to watch on the Giants – heart.

Perhaps this is what is so noticeably different this year and what we’re all noticing — Bradshaw is running with all the heart while Jacobs is “running smarter.”

You know it’s funny about group dynamics, how subtle things change depending on who is in the room. The fire starter we all remember last year was Brandon Jacobs, the guy with the most heart who without him screaming his head off on the sidelines the Giants had no identity. Without Jacobs plowing through the line taking 5-6 guys to bring him down every time, falling for 3-4 yards at a stretch picking up first downs left and right, touchdowns came in droves — without all this the Giants had no core. No heart. This year Jacobs and Bradshaw are splitting the difference without Ward as everyone knows, but what maybe needs to be recognized is that the intangible group dynamics on the team has also changed with the change in players. Slight personality changes based on nothing more than who is in the locker room and on the sidelines in 2009. Maybe Jacobs subconsciously is becoming more like Ward because he’s gone.

[ he IS catching passes out of the backfield now, running smarter, shifting more… gulp ]

Look I have no problem with improving technique, especially when the results come back positive. But if Jacobs has made some changes, doing different things this year, taking on a different role and he’s still trying to commit to them mentally —  like Tiger Woods changing his swing a few years back it’s going to be very strange and frustrating year for him. But I refuse to take him out of the starting position as a Giants fan because Brandon Jacobs is still the guy the defenses prepare for week in and week out and try to stop. And that’s fine by me…. look at all the other weapons the Giants are having success with. This is said about #1 receivers all the time, they make the guys around them better. It’s almost unfair and insulting that the same logic not be applied to Jacobs, right?

So let’s zoom out a bit on the Giants offense in general for a second and notice the larger trends that are happening. There has been a nice progression on offense this year – the Giants have a more complete and robust offensive attack this year, it’s quicker, it’s more complete in both breadth and depth. They are having success with the deep ball. Eli Manning is having an MVP type of season. But perhaps what is most noticeable – the Giants are benefiting from a bunch of young and hungry guys who want to prove they have what it takes to win games — Ahmad Bradshaw is only one of those guys.

Here is Eli Manning on Ahmad Bradshaw:

Q. Can you talk about Ahmad Bradshaw?

A. Yeah, Ahmad has played terrific. We knew he had great talent. Last year he got, not lost in the shuffle, he still made big plays for us and was always very explosive, we just had three good running backs last year. Now he is the second back and he has always had the ability to make big plays. He has not been able practice a whole lot during the week and all of a sudden been able to come out on game day. He caught a screen that went 55 yards and a couple long runs. He is just explosive and a guy that is hard to tackle. He is very shifty and quick but also has power and can run over you.

Q. Is the power something new that he has added to his game?

A. I don’t think it is anything new, I think he has always had that. He is a talented player and he runs hard and very explosive. He is a very fun player to watch. You just have to get the ball in his hands and he can make some special things happen.

Q. You mention the screen pass to Bradshaw, you also hit Brandon Jacobs. Is this a dimension the Giants need to develop and will you develop it going forward?

A. Running backs are always important in pass routes. They are critical in opening up lanes for other people but also if people don’t cover them and try to stay in their zone to take away from the deeper routes they’ve got to get open and catch the ball to get positive yards. Yeah, you always like to get the ball downfield but we’ve got to get it in the backs hands also.

So staying with the offensive progression — all preseason we heard about dump off’s and screen passes being integrated into Kevin Gilbride’s offense as a mainstay ingredient, yet we haven’t seen much of it going to the RB’s. For some reason Kevin Gilbride had Madison Hedgecock taking those reps that should have gone to either Jacobs or preferably still — Ahmad Bradshaw. [ perhaps KG was over thinking it a bit there… You know I’m all for the element of surprise, but shooting yourself in the foot to freak out the guy you’re dueling is not what comes to my mind. ]

But getting back to my point – it’s when we have seen these short passes called for playmakers like Bradshaw they turn into breakout plays most of the time. Just in the past few weeks for example – Mario Manningham, Hakeem Nicks, and now Ahmad Bradshaw have made huge plays out of these short calls. And I’ve said it before but perhaps these catch short and run long tactics work so well simply because they extend what the Giants already know how to do so well — block and run the football.

I get on his case a bit with using Hedge, but I still truly believe Kevin Gilbride has been on the right track for the first 5 games by running these plays sparingly — while the rest of the offense develops and gets in sync. Overall if you watch how the offense has changed from 2008 – 2009, there is a clear cut safety valve we notice on every play with the RB’s blocking and then getting open just in case. And not only that, the Giants have adopted the designed dump off play and we saw run all of training camp and it was capitalized by Danny Ware in the preseason with a touchdown catch and run. Now we see the effectiveness of these short passes on a 3rd and long buried against the Giants own endzone — Bradshaw takes it 55 yards on a designed dump and the crowd went nuts. It wasn’t sexy, I admit it — but you gotta love it.

So to bring it all back around – this Giants offense has changed bit. As evidenced by the way they are having success in passing more and trying to get away from the over reliance on the run. The running backs are blocking well this year and there is a focus on picking up the blitz so Eli has time to connect… it’s working. The running backs are also finishing their passing routes nicely, getting open just in case – and this was a heavy ingredient all preseason that is clearly adding a new dimension to this Giants offense. Completion. Wholeness.

Perhaps Brandon Jacobs’ stats this year are the victim of this change, but as any member of the Giants will tell you – its not about stats but winning games. So instead of trying to stir up drama and suggest Bradshaw bump Jacobs out of his starting role, let’s step back and recognize that the Giants are having success by playing tremendous team football. The running game still is a huge threat, it’s been working, it ain’t broke. So lets not fix anything just yet.

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4 Responses to “Questions Answered: Ahmad Bradshaw”

  1. You can’t say that DWard didn’t have heart. Just because Bradshaw is the more exciting and explosive player, Ward’s durability and consistency and well-rounded game bailed the Giants out countless occasions. I seem to remember a 200 yard performance in prime-time against the Panthers last year that locked up home-field advantage. Without Ward’s late-game heroics (and a missed FG by John Kasay) the Giants would have gone into the playoffs even flatter than they ultimately did.

    Furthermore, the undrafted Ward was on the field when Brandon Jacobs wasn’t.

    But the whole thing is predicated on the guys up front. This is what gets lost time and again. The Giants O-line has been the most cohesive and consistently dominant group in the league. So don’t forget that there’s gotta be some holes before anyone does any running.

    And let’s not say good riddance to a guy whose contributions were essential in the success of the Giants.

  2. The talent and benefits of the O-line goes without saying first of all…. thats why IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING. It isn’t lost time and again, its a given. Can everyone follow that logic?

    Second – of course the Carolina game was a breakout day for Ward… I remember it vividly. But I also remember a heartless day for Ward against the Eagles when it really mattered in the playoffs. Jacobs was fired up as all hell and Ward did nothing…. here you have Brandon Jacobs with all the heart and desire in the world killin it, running for 12 yards a carry until he had to split his snaps with Ward, a guy who’s replacement could out play him on his death bed.

    Is that too harsh?

    Of course its moot — but Ahmad Bradshaw could have easily taken those snaps and filled in and did better a better job because he is a better RB. Those who saw the talent back in 2007 know what I’m talking about…. it’s the things Bradshaw does that Ward can’t. He makes things happen when they aren’t there using his quickness and strength — line or no line. Ward is finding out how well he had it behind the Giants — Bradshaw meanwhile could go most anywhere and do well because of how he plays. Brutal strength with lightning quick legs, great vision, and he refuses to go down.

    As a Bradshaw fan since he came on and a fellow Virginian, I find no shame in admitting that I was glad Ward left so Bradshaw could get his opportunity to step it up.

    He clearly is.

  3. daJudge says:

    “Et tu Phil? Then die Jacobs.” I just heard none other than Phil Simms predict that the Giants would lose Sunday. A very sad night indeed. He stated on ESPN that the Saints would stop the Giant’s running game. All of the pundits agreed. Of course, there was no rational discourse on the matter whatsoever. It followed an equally inane discussion of Rush’s desire to purchase the Rams. Let’s prove ’em wrong. I’m really starting to hate ESPN. They no bonafide NY guys at all. In fact, they’re haters. 125 yards for Jacobs on Sunday/100 yards for Bradshaw, who is awesome! Go Giants. Go Brandon Jacobs.

  4. big chris says:

    Look…there is no need to feed into all this in house chatter about who is better…that will only divide us as a team…split the carrys because both guys are essential for success…thats it. Lets keep steamrolling these pretenders…go Big Blue!

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