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Eight minutes into his first group media interview of the season, Eli Penny had a thought that brought a smile to his face.
“Y’all got a lot of questions for the fullback,” he observed. “I appreciate y’all. This is really good. I feel important.”
Winners of three straight with more than 140 rushing yards in each game, the Giants are a smashmouth team again. Running back Wayne Gallman is back from depth-chart Siberia, the offensive line is steadily improving, and Penny’s snap count is increasing because there is more opportunity for a lead-blocker when trying to protect a lead than when playing from behind.
“We always tried to be a run heavy-type team,” Penny said. “Now, we’re just doing it out of different personnel and things like that. Power running team.”
Gallman has six touchdowns in the last five games — second-most in the NFL over that span — and has run behind Penny near the goal line on four of those scores. The Giants are averaging 4.8 yards per carry over the last six games, and Gallman’s ability to fall forward when tackled has kept the offense ahead of the chains.
“I think it’s a critical trait,” offensive coordinator Jason Garrett said. “In so many ways, your running backs can be the heartbeat of your team.
“I was fortunate to be on a Cowboys team in the ’90s for eight years, when our running back was Emmitt Smith. Every week, we would play against defenses whose No. 1 objective was to slow him down. Somehow, some way, he still made yards. He still made an impact on the defense. A big part of that was falling forward and really controlling the tempo of the game. I really think, in a lot of ways, Wayne Gallman has been doing that for our football team for the last month-and-a-half.”
The Giants rushing attack was supposed to flop when Saquon Barkley suffered a season-ending injury in Week 2. And it did until about Week 6, when there was a noticeable uptick in runs between the tackles rather than around the edges.
Now? The Giants thrive in short-yardage, averaging 3.8 yards per play on third or fourth down with two or fewer yards to gain.
“Those situations in a ballgame are all about mentality, all about want-to, and all about just beating your man one-on-one,” Penny said. “When we’re out there, the coaches do a good job of just harping on that area of the game: Being physical and having that grit to convert.”
The test gets stiffer Sunday against the Seahawks, who are allowing just 3.7 yards per carry (No. 3 in the league). Ex-Giant Damon Harrison joined the fold at midseason with the sole purpose of clogging running lanes, and he will be colliding with Penny and the “Wayne Train.”
“Wayne’s really done a good job running aggressive for us,” coach Joe Judge said. “He’s definitely doing that — falling forward. That really comes to me from just his will and effort at the end of the run to play through contact, keep his legs driving and push for that extra yard. The biggest thing he’s really shown improvement on.”
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