EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Coming into the regular season, the biggest question on the New York Giants was their offensive line.
While all five starters were returning from a year ago, the line did very little in the preseason. The running game accomplished nothing and Eli Manning did a lot of ducking in the few plays he was on the field.
It was the weak link to the offense, that is, until the Giants opened the regular season with a 20-19 win over the Dallas Cowboys.
Not only did Manning have time to throw for three touchdowns, the running game came out of nowhere and produced 113 yards on 24 carries, a 4.7 yard average.
Rashad Jennings led the way with 75 yards on 18 carries, and backup Shane Vereen had 38 yards on six carries.
Left guard Justin Pugh just smiled when asked where the running game came from. Throughout the preseason, he downplayed the running woes, saying things would work out once the offense started game planning and unit was on the field for more than a quarter.
“We weren’t running plays just to run plays,” Pugh said. “We found stuff that worked and guys made plays and ran hard. Obviously we had a chip on our shoulder and I still think we have a chip on our shoulder. We want to continue doing that the entire season. Doing it one game does not define you. You have to do it the entire season.”
The Giants are going to get a chance to show off the running game again this weekend, when they face the New Orleans Saints on Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
New Orleans allowed Oakland to gain 167 yards rushing in a 35-34 Raiders’ win.
Right guard John Jerry said the Saints have a different defense now than what the Giants faced last season in dropping a wild 52-49 decision.
Dennis Allen has taken over as New Orleans’ defensive coordinator and he is using a lot more multiple fronts.
“We are definitely going to have to be on the same page with our communication, that is going to be big,” Jerry said. “We did a real good job with that last week.”
Jennings said playing for keeps was one of the biggest differences in getting the running game going.
“We also got an opportunity to get some consistency in the game,” he said. “We were able to come back to the sideline and make the proper calls, and communicate. The offensive line was also very heavy-handed. Hey, it’s a new season. Everything is in the past. It’s a clean slate.”
The most impressive part of the running game came late in the fourth quarter when the Giants took over at their 23 with 3:57 left on the clock, leading by a point.
Jennings carried the ball on seven straight plays and gained 40 yards. Dallas had to use all three of its timeouts on the drive. His last run was an 11-yarder to the Cowboys 37 and it came up a yard short of allowing New York to run out the clock.
“We needed that running game to control the pace of the game in the second half and to close it out, to put us in the position where we can win the football game and not give them enough time to do some things,” receiver Victor Cruz said.
The Cowboys got to the Giants 40-yard line on the final play of the game before the clock ran out.
Center Weston Richburg said the line has practiced well in recent weeks and blocked out all the negative talk about it.
“I like the physicality we have,” he said. “But we have a ways to go and a lot to improve. We had too many negative yard runs. We had a couple of good ones, but there were a couple that were not where they need to be.”
NOTES: DT Robert Thomas did not practice because of an undisclosed illness. He was the only player on the roster not on the field. … Odell Beckham Jr. on whether the NFL will fine him for wearing shoes on Sunday to commemorate 9/11. “They’ll probably fine me. They fine me for everything. They fine me for smiling.”