Who doesn’t love to feel vindicated? I have been trying to tell Giants head coach Ben McAdoo all year that Orleans Darkwa is the best running back the Giants own. But, McAdoo does not have a reputation as an obstinate man without reason. He announced before the preseason started that Paul Perkins was the Giants’ primary running back. He was not about to change his mind just because Perkins had a yards-per-carry about one third the size of his backup. McAdoo continued to blame offensive line issues and absolve Perkins of all fault, ignoring his inability to find holes and make quick decisions. Meanwhile, Darkwa and Shane Vereen were hit in the backfield occasionally, but just as often, they sidestepped the rush and made positive yardage.
When Darkwa hurt his back in Week 3, rookie Wayne Gallman was activated. Perkins hurt his ribs in that game. Darkwa returned for Week 5 and found himself splitting time with Gallman. Both backs had good games, combining for 126 yards on 19 carries; but Gallman’s superior pass catching gave him an edge. In that game, the Giants lost their entire slate of starting wide receivers. Week 6 would look very different.
But it was Darkwa in the lead back role, carrying 21 times for 117 yards against Denver’s leading run defense. Prior to Week 6, the Broncos had yielded fewer yards to Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, and LeSean McCoy combined. For good measure, Darkwa caught his only pass target for 13 yards.
Is this the newest star running back to come along? Is being the lead back for a previously running-phobic Giants team enough to become a must-start in Week 7? How about the rest of the year? It’s an interesting thought to ponder, so… let us.
How did he do it?
Opportunity is the key to putting up statistics and NFL fantasy points. Prior to Orleans Darkwa’s coming out party, the Giants offense completed exactly 100 running plays in five games, compared to 214 passing plays. It is hard to get going when you rarely run more than once per series. But McAdoo is a West Coast offense coach, and it didn’t matter if Manning only had time to throw dump-off passes. That was a better plan than trying to create a running game.
Week 6 was radically different for several reasons. As we mentioned, the Giants lost every starting wide receiver and their first man off the bench in Week 5. Without Odell Beckham, Brandon Marshall, Sterling Shepard, and Dwayne Harris, the Giants started the Broncos game with Roger Lewis, Tavarres King, Travis Rudolph, and Ed Eagan. That is two career special teams contributors and two undrafted rookie free agents.
Ben McAdoo could have been discouraged by this turn of events, but whatever the reason, he felt it would be a good week to stop calling the offensive plays on game day. Mike Sullivan took over the duties against Denver and everything was different. Run-heavy was the route they would take despite the Denver defensive rankings. Truth be told, the Broncos aren’t bad against the pass, either.
The third difference was the offensive line configuration. If the Giants would run, they would use their best run linemen. Justin Pugh moved to right tackle to take on Von Miller. DJ Fluker finally got his chance at left guard while John Jerry handled the other guard and Brett Jones was the center. Ereck Flowers, arguably better on run push than pocket protection, stayed at left tackle.
Pugh neutralized Miller, limiting him to one tackle and a late-game sack. Fluker was a force and both Jones and Jerry were right with him. Darkwa made good decisions and was through the holes quickly. The team still struggled when they tried to run the clock out, but considering they were against the leading run defense in that situation, they did a credible job.
Will it continue?
After all the plaudits McAdoo received for finally giving up play-calling duties, it’s hard to believe he would be so full of himself to take them back. But he has not announced his intentions yet, for the record. The line configuration will change when the Giants second-best lineman, center Weston Richburg, returns this week. Mike Sullivan seems content to leave the other changes intact for a while.
As far as Darkwa’s running ability and results, they should not have been a surprise. Even with the offensive line woes and an offensive scheme that had Perkins running for less than two yards per carry, Darkwa had success. In the games prior to his Week 6 breakout, Darkwa rushed for very similar results; 21 carries for 122 yards or 5.7 yards-per-carry.
Darkwa looks the part. He is fast, quick, and strong. He can race through a hole, carry a defender for a while, and get around the edge. If the Giants keep handing him the ball, he will continue to find success. That is the key. What are the Giants’ plans going forward? Will the obstinate west-coast coach insist on returning to a pass-first game plan as soon as his new receivers settle in? Sterling Shepard could be back as early as this week. Is that enough to make McAdoo move away from the run game?
So… what do you think?
The Giants play Seattle this week before taking their bye week. Seattle is a good defense against the run, but not great. They are not the Broncos and the Giants ran on Denver. After the bye week, the Giants face the two worst NFL fantasy defenses against running backs (Rams, 49ers). Shepard will be back, but rookies and journeymen will still fill out the rest of the wide receiver slots. McAdoo is receiving plenty of pressure to run the ball more. Even quarterback Eli Manning weighed in on how much easier it is on the passing game to run first.
So… yes. Darkwa is a must start this week. Unless we see indications from the Giants that are working on something different in their bye week, like if they sign veteran receivers, I would think to start the Giants’ premier running back will continue to make more sense now with Orleans Darkwa than it ever did with Paul Perkins.
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