I suppose this depends on how you define the word "answer," because the New York Giants have no choice but to make Brandon Jacobs the answer at running back on a short-term basis. That he performed surprisingly well in Thurday night's loss to the Chicago Bears is a positive, but by no means should the aging, lumbering Jacobs be considered a long-term solution.
Yes, Jacobs had his first 100-yard performance in nearly two years on Thursday, and that meant a lot, considering that the Giants' running game entered Week 6 ranked dead last in the NFL in rushing yards per game and 27th in yards per rushing attempt.
But a multitude of circumstances were at play here. Jacobs gained 106 yards on 22 carries, but 77 of those came on six attempts. The rest of the time, he was held to only 29 yards on 16 rushes.
Again, to his credit, he broke three tackles and looked like a human battering ram on a few semi-inspiring occasions. That he used a stiff arm and a shocking amount of speed to find the edge on this 12-yard fourth-quarter run was impressive:
But that was Jacobs' only run over five yards that wasn't aided almost entirely by superb offensive line play. That's right: superb offensive line play. From the New York Giants. It exists, people.
Here's what he was set up with on the five other carries on which he was able to gain six or more yards:
When the blocking wasn't as crisp, Jacobs generally disappeared. In fact, he was held to a yard or less on 37 percent of his carries Thursday night.
So the line had a good day, as did new fullback John Connor. Jacobs was good but was just a piece of what was a successful puzzle.
Factor No. 2: Chicago's defense.
With defensive tackles Henry Melton and Stephen Paea out with injuries, Lance Briggs banged up and defensive end Shea McClellin registering as the worst run-defending 4-3 end in football, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), this was a run defense that was asking to be plowed over on Thursday night.
Good on Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride for taking advantage of those circumstances despite the fact regular starter and 2012 first-round pick David Wilson is out with a neck injury.
The Chicago front seven entered this week having struggled in power, second-level and open-field situations, according to Football Outsiders. They ranked in the bottom 13 in all three areas, and that couldn't have been expected to change based on what happened with Corey Wootton and Landon Cohen starting in the interior defensive line.
Hell, Cohen wasn't even on the roster until two weeks ago.
The Bears weren't necessarily that much worse against the run than everyone else the Giants have played this year. Again, it was only a few big plays that cost them. Outside of that, they had Jacobs bottled up. And consider that this game was close—it was a lot harder for the G-Men to get Wilson or anyone else going on the ground, considering how lopsided some of their games have been thus far.
Jacobs, again, deserves some credit, but science itself indicates he's not the long-term solution. He can't be. Not at the age of 32. He'll celebrate that birthday this summer.
In modern NFL history (post-1970 merger), only nine running backs have run for 1,000 yards after turning 32. And only two—Mike Anderson in 2005 and Ricky Williams in 2009—have done so in the last decade. It's not likely in the cards for a guy like Jacobs. Thursday night was probably an aberration.
That doesn't mean he can't be a valuable contributor the rest of this season. In fact, he'll have to be. Da'Rel Scott suffered a hamstring injury Thursday night, Wilson could miss an extended period of time with a neck injury and Andre Brown remains out indefinitely with a broken leg.
The reality is that Wilson and Brown are still the only long-term options. And in a season that has now been completely lost, the Giants might as well give them the lion's share of the work when they're healthy enough to handle it.
This upcoming offseason, the Giants will have decisions to make. If Jacobs can keep up with what he did against Chicago, he'll earn the right to be considered as a member of the backfield in 2014. But no realistic scenario exists in which he enters next season as the lead man.
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