Tag:Ahmad Bradshaw
Posted on: February 11, 2012 10:34 pm
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Ahmad Bradshaw takes shot at Tony Romo

Romo

BradshawBy Josh Katzowitz

Just because Tony Romo is coming off another solid season and shrugged off so many of the previous expectations/assumptions about his toughness and ability to play in the clutch, that doesn’t mean we can’t continue to find his fellow colleagues to rip him whenever they get the chance.

I mean, the guy played with a punctured lung (and won!)and then, at the end of the season, he played with a bad hand, but hell, that apparently didn’t really satisfy anybody.

In fact, Romo started every game this season despite a number of ailments and obstacles. Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw was not so impressed.

Bradshaw, coming off his game-winning Super Bowl XLVI touchdown, was asked on the NFL Network if the Cowboys could ever win a Super Bowl with Romo as the starting quarterback. Bradshaw, predictably, doesn’t believe in Romo.

Dallas' quarterbacks
“You know what, man, I don’t see it happening,” Bradshaw said. “I don’t think they believe it, and they’re America’s team.

“It all comes in together. If the fans don’t believe it, the team doesn’t. They’re kinda doubtful with Romo.”

While I'm not sure Bradshaw's reasoning makes sense (since when do players care what fans think about their teammates?), this also isn’t the first time this year a Giants running back has criticized Romo. You might recall Brandon Jacobs saying this in October: “[Eli Manning] is definitely a 100 percent better quarterback than Tony Romo. No question.”

Also criticizing Romo this year? Redskins tight end Chris Cooley and NFL Network analyst Deion Sanders (though Romo also had a pretty big backer (literally and figuratively) in Dirk Nowitzki).

Surprisingly, not everybody, especially those in the Cowboys organization, agrees with Bradshaw (and Jacobs).

“I thought Romo was competing at a level that would’ve given us that opportunity but the rest of us need to play better and get better before we can really gel the way the Giants are,” Jones said at the Senior Bowl last month.

And when CBSSports.com’s Will Brinson caught up with Dallas running back DeMarco Murray during Super Bowl week, Murray defended Romo.

"One week he's a hero, the next week he's not,” Murray said. That's just the way it is with the Dallas Cowboys. We're used to it, we love it and we wouldn't want any one else leading our team."

Obviously, Romo is used to hearing people bash him for a variety of reasons. He tries to turn the other cheek. But he also understands why his vast array of critics say what they do.

"It's just an easy thing to say until you win the Super Bowl," Romo said in November. "Until then any time you lose a game it's a big game. But if you win, then it really wasn't that big of a game. That just goes with the territory."

But from a guy who just won the Super Bowl, Bradshaw’s words can’t feel so good to Romo.

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Posted on: February 7, 2012 10:14 am
 

VIDEO: Eli discusses Bradshaw on Letterman

By Josh Katzowitz

If you wanted to hear Eli Manning’s full explanation on why he yelled at Ahmad Bradshaw not to score on what turned out to be his game-winning touchdown in Super Bowl XLVI, watch him as he discusses his thoughts on the “The Late Show with David Letterman” (on CBS!) that aired Monday night.

As the Super Bowl MVP walked out, he received a standing ovation from the crowd and a half-hug from Letterman before they discussed the game-winning play. Manning, of course, had a good reason for shouting at Bradshaw as he handed off the ball.

“When you score a touchdown, you don’t want to give Tom Brady time to score a touchdown,” Manning said. “He’s very good in that situation.”

Click the video for the entire discussion on the matter.



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Posted on: February 5, 2012 10:01 pm
Edited on: February 5, 2012 11:48 pm
 

Manning, again, beats the Pats when it counts

C. Blackburn's interception of Tom Brady helped change the game for New York (Ryan Wilson, CBSSports.com)
By Josh Katzowitz

INDIANAPOLIS – Eli Manning did it again.

Four years ago, Manning proved he was one of the most clutch quarterbacks in the game, leading the Giants to the shell-shocking Super Bowl victory against the undefeated Patriots, and at Super Bowl XLVI, he cemented himself as one of the most-elite signal-callers in the game.

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Manning is an all-timer, maybe a future Hall of Famer. Maybe not quite as good as brother Peyton. But Peyton only has one Super Bowl ring. Now, his younger brother has two.

Losing for most of the second half, Manning, with 3:46 to play, led the Giants on a nine-play, 88-yard drive to pull off the 21-17 upset of the Patriots.
Eli Manning was the Super Bowl MVP (AP)

Once again, Manning beat Tom Brady in the final game of the season. Once again, Giants coach Tom Coughlin knocked off New England’s Bill Belichick in the most-important contest of the year. Once again, Manning needed to be clutch in the final minutes with his team trailing the favored Patriots, and yes, once again, Manning delivered the victory.

Not surprisingly, he was the Super Bowl MVP and led a 9-7 team to the NFL title -- the first time that's ever happened.

While there were no David Tyree moments -- not one receiver caught the ball off his helmet -- Manning’s first throw of the final drive was a 38-yard pass to Mario Manningham that advanced the ball to midfield. From there, it was a 16-yard pass to Manningham, a two-yard throw to Manningham and a 14-yard throw to Hakeem Nicks.

After a seven-yard run by Ahmad Bradshaw, Manning completed a four-yard pass to Nicks to set up the Giants game-winning score.

But here was a potential problem: with 57 seconds remaining, the Patriots simply allowed New York to score a touchdown so they’d get the ball back, and though Bradshaw tried to stop himself, his momentum carried him into the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown.

"These guys never quit," Manning told NBC's Dan Patrick on the field afterward. "We had great faith in each other. ... It just feels good to win a Super Bowl, no matter where we are."

On fourth and 16 deep in his own territory, Brady kept the game alive by throwing a first-down ball to Deion Branch. After back-to-back incompletions, Brady took the final snap of the game with 5 seconds to play, and though his Hail Mary attempt was batted around in the end zone, it fell harmlessly to the turf to seal the Giants win.

For the first 26 minutes of the second half, the Patriots were in control of the game and seemed likely to get New England its first Super Bowl title since 2004.
Ahmad Bradshaw tried to stop himself from falling into the end zone but ultimately couldn't. (AP)

Many of the pregame storylines -- the Giants were going to pick on the Patriots secondary all night, New England’s offense would be much less dynamic without a completely-healthy Rob Gronkowski and the New York defense would spook Tom Brady once again -- hadn’t panned out.

Instead, after falling behind 9-0 in the first quarter, Brady was fantastic on the final drive of the first half, completing all 10 of his passes. Though Jason Pierre-Paul stuffed Danny Woodhead on second and goal from the 3 for a 1-yard loss, Brady, with all kinds of time provided by his offensive line, found Woodhead for the four-yard touchdown pass to give New England a 10-9 lead at halftime.

The 14-play, 96-yard drive tied a Super Bowl record for longest drive, and that momentum continued in to the third quarter. Though Madonna elongated halftime with her mostly-panned performance, the Patriots came out hot in the second half, as Brady went 6-for-6 on the first drive of the third quarter and threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to tight end Aaron Hernandez.

Except for his performance in the first half, New England's offense struggled behind Tom Brady. (AP)
On those two game-turning drives, Brady was 16 of 16 for 154 yards and two touchdowns, and he proved that many of those pregame prognostications were inaccurate.

Except the Patriots offense didn’t do much of anything else after that.

Gronkowski, like we thought, wasn’t much of a factor except as a decoy and a blocking tight end. Even with the best tight end in the game suffering from a high ankle sprain, New England’s offense, especially went it went to no-huddle, was dynamic enough in the middle of the game. Brady did try to go deep to Gronkowski early in the fourth quarter, but Giants linebacker Chase Blackburn intercepted him.

But after that strong output in the drives sandwiching intermission -- Brady completed a Super Bowl-record 16-straight passes -- New York’s defense stopped the Patriots.

The Giants couldn’t have had a better start defensively after the Patriots forced a punt and New York punter Steve Weatherford dropped a kick at the New England 6. On the first Patriots play from scrimmage, Giants defensive end Justin Tuck got good pressure, and Brady released the ball across the middle of the field before he took the hit.

But officials penalized him for intentional grounding, and since Brady was in the end zone when he threw the ball, it was ruled a safety to give New York a 2-0 lead -- the second time this postseason the Giants had opened a game with a safety.

Giants 21, Patriots 17
On the next drive, Manning, who started the game 9 of 9 for 77 yards and a touchdown, found Victor Cruz for the 2-yard score to give New York a nine-point advantage. At that point, New York had run 17 plays to the Patriots total of 1.

But toward the end of the second quarter, the Patriots started playing better.

Still, the Giants kept themselves in the game. Even though New York fumbled three times, they managed to recover two of them and the other was wiped out by a Patriots penalty. After falling behind 17-9, Lawrence Tynes kicked a 38-yard and a 33-yard field goal in the third quarter to cut the lead to 17-15.

After the game, Coughlin was asked by NBC to talk about how he matched the Super Bowl total of his mentor, Bill Parcells.

Said Coughlin: "I'm not about comparisions."

Fair enough, but we know enough to say this. Coughlin shouldn't ever have to worry about his job security in New York again, and Eli Manning never should have to worry about being overshadowed by his brother.

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Posted on: January 24, 2012 1:59 pm
Edited on: January 24, 2012 2:00 pm
 

Harbaugh: Bradshaw non-fumble like tuck rule

Harbaugh: 'In my opinion, that was a fumble." (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

Head coach Jim Harbaugh has exceeded everyone's expectations in his first year with the 49ers. He led them to a 13-3 record, the NFC West title, and San Francisco was possibly one play away from the Super Bowl. No, not that play, the Ahmad Bradshaw fumble that wasn't.

With 2:29 to go in the fourth quarter and the scored tied 17-17, the Giants running back lost the ball -- except that the officials ruled that Bradshaw's forward progress had already been stopped. The play was blown dead and anything subsequent to that -- including a fumble -- didn't matter.

The Giants would go on to win in overtime.

On Monday, Harbaugh compared the Bradshaw ruling to a four-letter word that the NFL would probably prefer never be uttered again: tuck. As in "tuck rule."

"In my opinion, that was a fumble. I'm sure the league will defend it and the officials will defend it. But to me, that play was still going on," Harbaugh said during his news conference Monday, according to CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Michael Erler. "There was still struggling by Bradshaw. ... I felt like it was analogous with the tuck rule."

Judge for yourself:


Was Bradshaw's forward progress stopped before he fumbled?

The "tuck rule" game turned 10 years old last week and it's still hard for many of the Raiders players and coaches involved to talk about it.

Just like the Raiders-Pats game from January 2001, the NFL confirmed afterwards that the officials made the right call, citing Rule 7, Section 2 (b) of the NFL Rule Book which covers "dead balls": "An official shall declare the ball dead and the down ended: (b) when a runner is held or otherwise restrained so that his forward progress ends." That was the immediate ruling yesterday, which is not subject to a replay review."

This isn't tuck-rule magnitude type stuff although we're certain that doesn't make Harbaugh feel any better. The problem with forward progress is that, like most rules, it's not consistently enforced. And that, no doubt, is the source of Harbaugh's frustration.

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Posted on: January 22, 2012 12:26 pm
 

49ers safety: We play physical...people get hurt

New York and San Francisco met on January 20, 1991 and Montana and Hostetler both took beatings that day. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

In the days leading up to Sunday's Giants-49ers NFC Championship game, New York running back Brandon Jacobs -- all 6-4, 265 pounds of him -- declared that "I wish like hell they'd hit me in the head. ... A helmet-to-helmet hit. I want one of those. Because that means they're staying high, you know. They're not going to the ground and trying to make tackles at the shoe strings."

Not long after, 49ers safety Donte Whitner, the man who knocked Saints running back Pierre Thomas out of last week's game with a concussion, spoke frankly about San Francisco's defense.

“We play physical,’’ he said according to the New York Post. “Whenever you play physical, people get hurt.’’

Whitner quickly qualified that it's not anyone's plan to injure or maim an opponent but football is a physical enterprise (just ask Joe Montana).

"We don’t want to go out and intentionally hurt anybody," he said. "But when you play this game the way we play, we play fast and carefree, some guys are going to end up getting injured. We are not going to stop playing physical. Guys come out of the game, hopefully it’s not too bad of an injury.’’

The Giants, unlike the Saints, aren't a finesse offense. In fact, they seem to welcome physical play. As we pointed out previously, they have a wide receiver who looks like a tight end (Hakeem Nicks), a tight end who looks like an offensive lineman (Jake Ballard), and a bruising running back who -- shocker -- likes to steamroll any defender unlucky enough to get in his way. (Of course, NFL Network analyst and former NFL defensive lineman Warren Sapp has called Jacobs the "tiptoe burglar" for his running style.)

But it's not Jacobs that concerns San Francisco's defense. It's his backfield partner, Ahmad Bradshaw.

“He’s going to be where our focus is this week,” Whitner said. “We have to take him out of the game.’’

Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh, a lock for NFL coach of the year honors, isn't short on confidence. And neither, is sounds, is his team.

“The only thing we have to fear is being unprepared,’’ Harbaugh said via the Post. “Like I’ve always said, you damn sure got to be confident. All these guys are.’’


After dominating the Green Bay Packers last week, the New York Giants will travel to Candlestick Park to square off against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. Join NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz as they break down this matchup.

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Posted on: January 18, 2012 5:20 pm
Edited on: January 20, 2012 12:16 pm
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Giants NFC CG preview

Can Smith and Harbaugh work some more magic Sunday? (Getty Images)
Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

These teams gave us a very good game back in Week 10 from which we came away truly believing for the first time that San Francisco’s old school style might actually still work in today’s pass-happy NFL. However, not much can be drawn on from that game, as the Giants were without Ahmad Bradshaw, hadn’t yet gelled on the O-line and were still trying to figure things out in their defensive back seven.

New York is healthy now and, as you’ve undoubtedly heard a thousand times, “playing with confidence”. Confidence does not breed success, it stems from success. Simply put, the Giants are a much better football team this time around.


1. Tougher task for Alex Smith
Alex Smith’s fourth quarter heroics last week might have been career-changing, at least pertaining to his public image. But lost in the excitement was the fact that Smith and his teammates struggled somewhat to identify blitzes throughout most of the contest.

And, until the final few minutes, Smith wasn’t comfortable against heavy coverage in the red zone. He caught fire once he started recognizing the one-on-one matchups for Vernon Davis BEFORE the snap (which wasn’t hard against the Saints’ Cover 0’s). Thus, after the snap, he didn’t have to worry about making the right decision – he just had to worry about throwing a good ball.  (To his credit, he did this extremely well.)

This week, Smith will have to worry about both. Given the mediocrity of San Francisco’s offensive tackles, the Giants’ four-man rush should be able to get pressure and force the Niners to keep backs and tight ends in to block (or at least chip). When the Giants do blitz, it’s usually a zone pass-rushing concept involving a linebacker (see Michael Boley’s two sacks at Green Bay).

Thus, all game Smith will be throwing into a more crowded secondary and without quickly defined reads. Unless Joe Staley and Anthony Davis play the game of their lives, Smith will also be throwing under some duress. Post-snap decision-making from a crowded pocket has always been Smith’s greatest weakness.

As he’s done all season, Jim Harbaugh will ameliorate Smith’s deficiencies by giving him simplified quick throws off three-step drops, utilizing play-action and, perhaps, calling throws on first down (where the coverages tend to be more basic). The Niners did this with great success in Week 10. In fact, they did it was great success throughout the season; Smith’s passer rating on first down was 101.6.

But at some point, just like last week, Smith is going to have to make a big-time throw in an obvious passing situation.


After dominating the Green Bay Packers last week, the New York Giants will travel to Candlestick Park to square off against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship. Join NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz as they break down this matchup.

2. Smith’s targets
Smith isn’t the only passing game contributor who faces a tougher challenge this week. Michael Crabtree will likely be shadowed by Corey Webster, an outstanding all-around cover corner. Because Crabtree isn’t fast enough to run away from most corners, he has to beat them with body control and agility. Often, his best routes drag over the middle. When his routes go inside, it’s easy for the Giants to give Webster help (not that he needs much).

Smith’s top target, Vernon Davis, won’t be facing Roman Harper or Malcolm Jenkins in man coverage. Instead, he’ll go against Antrel Rolle, a more athletic cover artist whom the Arizona Cardinals originally drafted in the first round as a cornerback (the Saints drafted Jenkins as a corner, as well, but after a year they admitted what had been apparent from Day One: the stiff-hipped ex-Buckeye was better suited for safety).

And unlike last week, Davis won’t have just one defender to beat, as it’s highly unlikely the Giants will play only man and have Rolle constantly defend the 250-pound tight end one-on-one.

3. Gotta make it Gorey
Expect the run-first Niners to go back to the ground this week. Frank Gore got just 13 carries against New Orleans; he needs at least 22 against New York. If Gore can pound the rock against Perry Fewell’s big nickel defense (two linebackers, two safeties and Rolle playing a utility role as a third safety/linebacker/slot corner), the Giants may decide to go back to their base 4-3.

That would make for a less athletic front seven and present a greater possibility for Davis to draw matchups against linebackers.

Let’s keep it simple and also remember that, regardless of what the defense is doing, running is San Francisco’s bread and butter. They’re built around the power run, with booming and mobile left guard Mike Iupati pulling to the right of Pro Bowl center Jonathan Goodwin and working in unison with lead-blockers Bruce Miller and Justin Peelle (or Delanie Walker if he can get healthy).

That’s the formula that got this team here. And it happens to be the formula that can keep New York’s white hot quarterback off the field.

4. Giants passing game
New York’s rushing attack is nowhere near as dreadful as it was in September, October and November, but against the league’s stingiest run defense, it still can’t be counted on. The Giants will have to ride the golden right arm of Eli Manning. He isn’t facing a porous pass defense like he did a week ago. San Francisco has three corners who can stay with New York’s frighteningly athletic wide receivers.

In the last meeting, Carlos Rogers was sensational defending the slot, making a handful of great jumps on the ball and finishing with two interceptions. Rogers is good enough to handle Victor Cruz.

What really stood out in the first divisional round game was how well the Niner defensive backs – particularly safeties Dashon Goldson and Donte Whitner – tackled. Considering the DB’s penchant for forcing fumbles, the Giants may be hesitant to put Hakeem Nicks and Cruz in the catch-and-run situations that they enjoy.

5. San Fran’s defensive line
The 49ers were able to break down the Giants’ pass protection in the last meeting, but again, this Giants line has improved immensely since then.

Still, Aldon Smith, with his explosive first step and startlingly quick hands, is a nightmare matchup for David Diehl on the left side, while Kareem McKenzie will need a little help against the speed of Ahmad Brooks on the right. Then there’s Justin Smith, who makes four or five fantastic penetrative plays a game.

In addition to rushing the passer, the Niners’ front three/four is fast and athletic enough to hunt down screen passes outside the numbers. That’s assuming Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman don’t hunt them down first.

Against this dynamic front seven, the Giants won’t be able to count heavily on Ahmad Bradshaw or ancillary options like Jake Ballard and Travis Beckum. Manning and his wide receivers will have to find ways to make big plays.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Championship games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 12, 2012 6:32 pm
Edited on: January 13, 2012 8:43 am
 

Film Room: Packers vs. Giants divisional preview


Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit

We can only hope this game is as entertaining as the December 4th shootout, which Green Bay won on a brilliant last minute field goal drive.

Since that day the Packers have looked mortal and the Giants have grown white hot. Can Round II produce a different outcome? Here’s the breakdown.


1. Slowing the Pack’s aerial attack
The Giants used a diverse array of coverages against the Packers in the last meeting and actually had Aaron Rodgers a bit out of sorts early on. Still, even though he wasn’t as sharp as usual, Rodgers threw for 369 yards and four scores (not a bad “off day”).

New York’s two-deep safety zone looks gave Green Bay the most trouble, but the only way a defense can get away with playing zone against this offense a second time is if it sprinkles those zones with disguises and man concepts.

You can’t outsmart the Packers; you can only hope to out-execute them. Generally, that means winning press-man battles on the outside. That’s what Kansas City was able to do, though they have better press corners than New York and didn’t have to deal with Greg Jennings (out at the time with a knee).

The Packers do a great job creating one-on-one matchups for Greg Jennings through play design. In example A (left), Jennings ran his route against rookie Prince Amukamara to the outside, while Donald Drive ran down the seam. This combination eliminated the possibility of free safety Antrel Rolle helping the overmatched Amukamara, who was flagged for pass interference. In example B (right), Jennings aligned in the slot, away from the tight end and running back. Because Jennings was running an outside route from this alignment, there was no way a safety or linebacker could help cornerback Aaron Ross on this play.

Interesting side note: the Packers usually create one-on-one matchups for Jennings by lining him up as the X-receiver in a 1 x 3 set (in other words, Jennings all alone on the left side, three receivers on the right side). However, they did not throw a single pass to Jennings from this formation against the Giants in Week 13.


Without Jennings, a good secondary has a shot at stymieing this receiving corps (for not only are a Jennings-less Pack without their No. 1 receiver, but suddenly No. 2 receiver Jordy Nelson must face a No. 1 corner, No. 3 receiver Donald Driver must face a No. 2 corner and so on). With Jennings, a good secondary still isn’t enough; a defense needs help from up front.

Pressuring Rodgers is difficult with his speed. (Getty Images)

2. Pressuring Rodgers
It’s easy to say New York’s key is having its four-man pass-rush get to Rodgers. But that only matters if the pass-rush pressure equates to sacks.

In the last meeting, Jason Pierre-Paul absolutely owned backup left tackle Marshall Newhouse. Rodgers was under duress all afternoon. But all that meant was he ran around more before completing his throws. Rodgers is so athletic, so strong-armed and so good at keeping his eyes downfield that pass-rush pressure does not disrupt his rhythm, it merely alters it.

The Giants dominated the line of scrimmage last game and finished with just two sacks. Unless they get six or seven sacks (unlikely, especially with Green Bay getting Chad Clifton back), their pass-rush won’t be a difference-making factor.

3. Matching up to Finley
The Giants have shown a perplexing willingness to defend elite tight ends with linebacker Jacquian Williams this season. Against the Saints in Week 12, Williams at times defended Jimmy Graham while safety Antrel Rolle defended Darren Sproles.

The next week, Williams guarded Jermichael Finley while Rolle guarded ... James Starks. (Seriously?!) Finley wound up beating Williams’ in man coverage for 24 yards on the game-winning field goal drive and finished the day with six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown. (The damage would have been worse if he hadn’t dropped three balls.)

Will the Giants take this approach again, or will they go to their dime defense and treat Finley as a wide receiver (which they’ve also done at times against elite tight ends this season)? Going dime would allow Rolle to defend Finley, though it would also put vulnerable rookie Prince Amukamara on either Donald Driver or Jordy Nelson.

4. Giants offense
As you might surmise, the Packers offense has too many weapons for the Giants to defend. Hence, Eli Manning will be compelled to once again light up the scoreboard. As we’ve explored the past several weeks, Manning is razor sharp against the blitz. The belief here is that an attack-oriented defensive approach will not work against the eighth-year veteran.

But Green Bay isn’t built to play any other way – at least not out of their nickel package. Dom Capers’ scheme is predicated on creating one-on-one matchups for Clay Matthews by blitzing others and using Charles Woodson as a joker. This might yield yards, but it can also create interceptions (the Packers had 31 on the season, which was at least eight more than any other team).

Manning is a virtual lock for 300 yards, but if he can be coaxed into at least two picks, the Pack are a virtual lock to host the NFC Title game.

5. Unless…
The Giants control the game on the ground. This idea seemed absurd a few weeks ago, but lately New York’s front five has gelled and Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs have rediscovered their ability to break tackles running downhill.

The Giants spent a lot of time in base personnel last game, though primarily for passing purposes (they ran the ball just 20 times). They wanted to limit Capers’ nickel blitzes and also throw against Packers backup inside linebackers Rob Francois and D.J. Smith (who were playing for the injured Desmond Bishop and A.J. Hawk).

With the Packers back to full strength and the Giants’ passing game having significantly improved in three-receiver sets, throwing from base personnel might not be as big a factor this time round. But the ground game might be a bigger factor – especially if the Giants don’t believe the return of defensive lineman Ryan Pickett can suddenly stabilize Green Bay’s wavering run defense.

It will be fascinating to see how Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride calls the game early on.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the Divisional Round games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 8, 2012 4:01 pm
 

Giants running game sets tone early vs. Falcons

Bradshaw and Jacobs pummeled Atlanta all day Sunday. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

When the Falcons declared cornerback Brent Grimes out for Sunday's wild-card matchup against the Giants, conventional wisdom suggested that New York and Eli Manning would do what they do best: throw the ball against a depleted Atlanta secondary. Further evidence that that would be the game plan, at least early: the Falcons lost safety William Moore to an injury in the first quarter.

Instead, the Giants' 20th-rated rushing attack controlled the line of scrimmage and the clock against the Falcons' No. 3 rush defense for the entire game, and most notably the first 30 minutes. Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs combined for 17 carries and 116 yards (6.8 YPC)in the first half. For some perspective, during the regular season, the Falcons allowed, on average, 97 yards per game (4.2 YPC). Manning, meanwhile, was 12 of 20 for 101 yards and one touchdown.

New York led 7-2 at the break but it might as well have been a three-score lead. Because in the second half, the Giants defense continued to harass Matt Ryan and stifle Michael Turner, and the offense continued with what worked in the first half: pounding the ball, on early downs, taking shots downfield when the situation was in their favor, and milking the clock through it all.

Hakeem Nicks, who along with Victor Cruz gave the Giants their first 1,000-yard receiving duo in team history, hauled in a 72-yard touchdown pass late in the third quarter that involved the ball traveling roughly 15 yards in the air and the remaining 57 on the ground came courtesy of Nicks. That made the score 17-2.

Another Manning touchdown pass, this time a 27-yarder to Mario Manningham in the fourth quarter, put the game away for good, but the rest of the half -- before Nicks' TD and after Manningham's -- consisted of Bradshaw and Jacobs running the ball down the Falcons' throat.

There's an old football saying about running games traveling well, especially this time of year, but there's a lot of truth to that. New York proved that Sunday. The Giants ended the day with 173 yards rushing (Jacobs had 14 carries for 92 yards and Bradshaw was good for 14/63), and held the ball for 34:34.

And next Sunday when they face the Packers in Lambeau Field (4:30 p.m. ET), their rushing attack could be the difference between keeping Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense off the field and getting blown out of the stadium.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com