Ben McAdoo has preached for a long time about his desire for a "heavy-handed" offensive football team. The Giants finally played like one on Sunday night in Denver.
And if they want to win any more games in this miserable season, they'll have to play that way again and again.
They really have no other choice after injuries robbed them of their best offensive weapon (Odell Beckham Jr.) and three other wide receivers (Brandon Marshall, Dwayne Harris and, at least temporarily, Sterling Shepard). Playing with three receivers who weren't on the roster one week earlier, the Giants had basically two options during their 23-10 win over the Broncos: run the ball into the heart of the Denver defense or throw it to their tight end.
For one night, at least, it worked. Running back Orleans Darkwa powered his way to 117 yards, and the Giants' reworked offensive line bullied their way to 148 rushing yards as the team. And in a passing attack that produced just 118 total yards and no actual receivers with more than one catch, rookie tight end Evan Engram led the way with five catches for 82 yards and the Giants' lone offensive touchdown.
It was a throwback game for the Giants, with a powerful run game, a dominant defense (three turnovers) and a tight end in the center of their passing attack. And it was a winning formula, whether it was by necessity or not.
"I thought we played hard-nosed, physical, heavy-handed football," McAdoo said on a conference call with reporters on Monday. "It's really the team we've seen in practice all year, and it was encouraging to see it carry over to game day."
McAdoo said "that was the formula going into the ballgame," and it was executed well by his new play-caller, offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan. It also helped that the rushing attack worked to the tune of 5.9 yards per carry in the first half, as the Giants -- with the help of a defensive touchdown -- built a 17-3 halftime lead. That allowed Sullivan to stick with the run much longer, something McAdoo has often been unable to do.
But the players had a lot to do with the physical style of play that McAdoo has been yearning for since he became the head coach last year. Darkwa has proven to be a powerful runner who hits the holes fast, and he may have finally taken the starting job away from the injured (and ineffective) Paul Perkins. And the Giants' new-look offensive line -- with Brett Jones at center in place of the injured Weston Richburg, John Jerry and D.J. Fluker at guards, and Justin Pugh in for the benched Bobby Hart at right tackle -- had its best game in the last two years.
And that wasn't easy against the Broncos defense, one of the strongest in the NFL.
"I thought (the offensive line) played hard," McAdoo said. "I thought they played physical. I thought that the defense we went up against last night is one of the best defenses in this league and playing them on the road on grass is a tremendous challenge. I thought our guys fought hard. The run blocking unit and the backs ran hard, including the tight ends. But the offensive line, they battled."
Whether or not they can sustain that remains to be seen. But it seems clear that with a receiving corps that currently features Roger Lewis as it's No. 1 receiver and Tavarres King, Travis Rudolph and Ed Eagan behind him, that's the way the Giants are going to have to play. Maybe when Shepard returns from his sprained ankle they can open things up more.
But even then, it seems pretty clear that the Giants' formula for success will have to be based on a "heavy-handed" dose of runs.
"Each game, each opponent, provides a new challenge and a new week," McAdoo said. "So it just depends on how the week goes and what we think we have to do to give us the best chance to win the ballgame."
That's a coach being coy, but he knows the truth. The Giants' depleted offense isn't going to win a lot of games trying to revive their dormant, high-powered passing attack. They need to run, and run hard, and hope that Darkwa and his linemen continue to play just as well as they did on Sunday night.