The Giants will likely be without RB Rashad Jennings (thumb) again this Sunday against the Packers, leaving the running game in the hands of Orleans Darkwa, Bobby Rainey and rookie Paul Perkins.
Darkwa is the top candidate to get carries in Jennings' absence. Last week, Darkwa carried the ball 12 times for 48 yards and a TD. Rainey had 22 yards on four carries and Perkins ran for eight yards on two carries for a team average of 4.3 YPC. Their average for the season is an unsatisfactory 3.9 YPC.
That was against the Vikings. This week, they face the NFL's top defense against the rush in Green Bay. The Packers are allowing just 42.7 yards per contest and 1.8 yards per attempt on the ground over their first three games. The longest run against them thus far has been for 12 yards.
"It is an eye opening stat right there," LG Justin Pugh said this week in a team release. "That is the first thing that we led with when we talked about installing our run game. We have to run the ball. They have some good guys, they do some good things, but we have some good players and we can do some good things. We have proven that, but we have to do it again. So I think it is a challenge for us, but it is an exciting one. We have to go out there and move the rock and give Eli [Manning] some time."
Darkwa called the Packers' stats "crazy" and "ridiculous" this week but is optimistic the Giants can make some headway against a unit that features DTs Mike Daniels and Letroy Guion.
"I think there are some holes there that we can exploit," Darkwa said in the same release, "but I am still just reading that number and trying to figure out how that is possible. But, from what I have seen, you get some good runs here and there and some teams are able to get some good runs, but just weren't able to maintain it the whole game."
Failure to run the ball will naturally put more pressure on the Giants to pass and that brings another challenge. With Odell Beckham, Jr. going through a rough time with personal issues and the Packers aiming to get under his skin, the Giants will surely be looking for other matchups to exploit.
Don't think rookie WR Sterling Shepard is the answer, especially if he lines up in the slot. Packers' CB Quinten Rollins has been shutting down slot receivers thus far this season.
"Giants WR Sterling Shepard has 257 receiving yards when lined up in the slot, third-most among receivers this season," writes Nathan Jahnke of Pro Football Focus. "As a rookie, Shepard has been a big part of the Giants' offense, seeing six to eight targets per game over the last three weeks and catching most everything thrown his way. All game long he should be up against Quinten Rollins. Rollins has allowed 0.51 yards per coverage snap when lined up in the slot this season, which is second-best for cornerbacks with 60 or more slot snaps. If Rollins can get the best of Shepard one-on-one, then the rest of the Packers' defense can focus on Odell Beckham Jr."
With that knowledge, it could end up being a big night for WR Victor Cruz, the Giants' third receiver. Unless Beckham and Shepard can get loose and make some plays.
The good news is the Giants still may be able to put the pressure on Green Bay through the air. The Packers have the fourth-worst passing defense in the NFL, allowing 307 yards per game and their 8.9 yards per pass play is second only to the Jets (9.7).
Sunday night should be interesting. This will be a true challenge for the Giants' offensive line, which continues to improve as each game passes.