With the love-fest surrounding our Earth, Wind, and Fire running back trio, now seems a good time to get on the record with this statement: Jacobs gets way too many carries, Bradshaw gets way too few, and this state of affairs is holding this team back.  And with the hyper-competitive state of the NFC East, we can’t afford not to maximize our potential.

In the Rams game, Jacobs got 15 carries (54%), Ward got 8 (29%), and Bradshaw got 5 (18%).  In last year’s playoffs, Jacobs got 56% of the carries to Bradshaw’s 44%, despite the fact that Bradshaw averaged 4.3 yards per carry to Jacobs’ 3.2.

Clearly Bradshaw is the better back, but Jacobs gets more carries, a situation that represents nothing less than an underutilization of resources.  I see no reason for why this is so, but apparently some people do.  Here are some common rationales for why Jacobs get so many more carries than the other two, and why I disagree.

 

Jacobs wears down/softens up the defense, so the defensive fronts Bradshaw and Ward see are diminished versions of what Jacobs sees.

On the surface, it makes sense that being forced to tackle a huge back like Jacobs would wear down a defense.  But what actually wears a defense down is being forced to stay on the field for a long time, absorbing blocks from offensive linemen bigger than Jacobs and running sideline-to-sideline wind sprints to catch a guy like Bradshaw.  The way to wear down a defense is not to punish the one or two defenders who happen to tackle the running back, but rather to accumulate first downs and keep drives going.  Therefore, the carries should go to the guy that gives us the best chance of getting first downs, and that guy is Bradshaw.

Despite Bradshaw’s markedly superior yards per carry average, you will still hear people proclaim that Jacobs, in fact, is the guy that gives us the best chance at sustaining drives.  This theory accepts the conventional wisdom that while Bradshaw is an exciting home-run hitter, Jacobs is the better between-the-tackles runner who uses his physicality to grind out the extra yards and put us in manageable situations.

But this isn’t true.  For as big as Jacobs is, and for all his impressive displays of masculinity (the Woodson play against Green Bay, the Landry play in the season opener), he doesn’t drive the pile because of his high center of gravity.  Ward, with his outstanding lower-body strength, is probably better for this purpose, and Bradshaw, though some typecast him as a scatback, isn’t too shabby in this department himself.  Just ask Ty Warren.

Also, Jacobs’ lack of short-area quickness precludes him from being the short-yardage runner often say he is.  Case in point was his 4th down carry on the last drive of the Super Bowl, when he got chopped down at the legs – a frequent phenomenon – and sort of happened to fall forward a few inches past the first down marker.

Lastly, there is a distinction between a guy who is hard to tackle, and a guy who tackling is a painful experience.  Sure, Jacobs is as bruising as they come, but unless it’s in the open field with a full head of steam, it doesn’t seem particularly difficult for NFL defenders to get the guy to the ground.  And if it’s the open field we’re talking about, I’ll take Ahmad or Ward any day.

 

We don’t want to overuse Bradshaw because he might get hurt.  Jacobs, as the bigger back, is better equipped to carry the load.

There’s some legitimacy to the fear about wearing Bradshaw down.  I’m don’t want to overstate the case here: yes, they should all split caries so that all three of them can be fresh and healthy.

But why do we assume that Bradshaw is this delicate flower who can’t be overused?  The guy was a featured back for two years at Marshall, racking up 214 and 249 carries his last two years.  Maybe it’s Jacobs who we should worry about overusing.  Last year, he missed five games with various injuries and definitely seemed to lose a half-step in the playoffs, which rendered him pretty ineffective.  Bradshaw, while small, is instinctive and maneuverable enough to avoid big hits.  Big Brandon’s penchant for relishing contact, on the other hand, leaves him exposed to hits, perpetually prone to the kind of nagging injuries that sidelined him for stretches last year.

 

Jacobs averaged 5 yards a carry last year and is averaging 5.8 yards a carry this year.  What’s wrong with that?  If it ain’t broke, why fix it?

Indeed, it’s hard to complain about the Giants running game.  But it can be better, and if we’re serious about contending for another Super Bowl, it needs to be better. 

Perhaps the stubborn insistence on giving Jacobs the majority of the carries comes down to the fact that he looks like a featured back, especially a feature back for the New York Football Giants.  He’s big, he’s physical, he’s tough, and we’re the G-Men.  Of course he’s our back. 

But he’s not our best back.  Jacobs is fine, but we have a good one in Ward and a potentially great one in Bradshaw.  (We haven’t even discussed pass-catching, by the way, but it’s clear that Bradshaw is a good receiver, Ward is at least a competent receiver, and Jacobs is a pretty horrendous receiver – by the time he corrals the ball, six defenders seem always to have descended on him already.)

We must not let our rigidity about these roles get in the way of improving this team.  I’m not advocating for Ahmad to get 25 carries a game, but a more equitable distribution of the carries seems reasonable.  How about 11 for Jacobs, 8 for Ward, and 11 for Ahmad?  Can we start with that?  Can we get our best back in the game?