Everybody's talking about MB3 and JJ, and whether MB3 is becoming the feature back and should he be starting. Several of you guys asked me to take a look at it during my film review. I watched each run in the Giants game by JJ and MB3 multiple times and decided to write a separate post on just those two. The full film review will be up by tonight, I promise.
In the game, MB3 had 12 carries for 76 yards while JJ had 11 carries for 24 yards. For the purpose of this review, I'm going to throw out a couple of MB3's runs. The reason is they came in specialty situations and are not indicative of everyday runs. Let me explain, Barber's longest run of the day was a 25-yard carry that came towards the end of the first half. The Giants were playing prevent defense and had 3 down linemen and only 6 players total in the box, and they were playing very loose. Consequently, Barber had a wide open lane to run through for big yards. The Cowboys ran the same thing on the play before, but Gurode couldn't get the NT blocked and the play only went for 3-4 yards. Running against a 6-man box in a prevent defense is not where I judge a running back, although I was happy to see Barber make the most of it.
Also, Barber had a big run the first time they lined him up at FB and had JJ as the tailback. This formation was new and I'm sure the Giants had been schooled that the Cowboys never hand it to the FB. They might've seen MB3 in there as the FB, but their brains were keyed on JJ as the tailback. JJ went parallel to the line, to the right, and a lot of the defense took a step that way leaving a huge hole on the other side that MB3 ran through. He did have to juke a LB before getting outside, but there was so much open space he had no problems. The Giants were caught off-guard by this brand new formation and fell asleep on MB3 at the FB position. The Cowboys tried to run the same play later in the game, but the DE didn't bite on JJ getting the ball going outside. He closed down the line and tackled MB3 for a short gain. The surprise of the formation was gone by the second time. I liked this formation though, and if they add a couple of different plays to it, like a toss to JJ or maybe a screen to either back, they might have something.
Both those runs by Barber were key to the Cowboys success on Sunday, but they aren't standard running plays, so I'm discounting them for this review. Still, even when you take away those two runs, MB3 outperformed JJ on the day. He gained close to twice the yards of JJ (42-24) on one less carry (10 - 11), but the difference isn't as great as it first appears. MB3 also got two TD's which also gives him more value in the game.
Now to the meat of the review. MB3 is running better than JJ right now and when I watched the plays I came away with these conclusions.
The Cowboys have a few basic run plays. One that they use a lot with JJ is to the right side; they pull Kyle Kosier over to the right and he and the FB come together just off Colombo's right hip where the TE lines up. The right side of the line blocks down, the TE hits the LB, and Kosier and Hoyte clean up the mess. When JJ runs this play, he's patient getting to the hole and waits for the blocks to set up, but when he gets there, he's running straight into traffic. The Giants know this play, every defense knows this play from the Cowboys, and they were doing a good job of getting people in the way. So JJ was barreling ahead and getting 3-yards instead of trying to make a cut inside or outside. It appeared that he was following the diagrams in the playbook like a robot. The arrows in the playbook show JJ where he's suppose to hit the hole and he does exactly that.
In general, JJ is not being very creative on his runs, he's not trying that extra-cut in the hole to try and break free for a big gain. He's determined to put his head down and pick up the 3-4 yards; he hasn't broken a long run in a few games now. To be fair, he also had some negative plays that were the fault of the run blocking. Flozell Adams completely whiffed on blocking Fred Robbins on an inside run and JJ was caught in the backfield before he had time to do anything. On another pitch to the outside, Anthony Fasano whiffed on blocking the safety and he made the play for no gain and on another play Jason Witten got toasted by Mathias Kiwanuka and JJ had nowhere to go. So that's three runs where the blocking failed JJ. On another, he picked up 5-yards or so, but it could've been so much more. Instead, Kosier picked the wrong defender to block in the hole and the Cowboys had three blockers on one player while another Giant was standing right next to them and made the tackle. Flozell missed another block later in the game, this time on a LB, and that stopped the play for a short gain instead of a big run. It's not all JJ's fault, there were some breakdowns in the blocking, but he has to be more creative on his runs, even if it raises the ire of Bill Parcells occasionally.
MB3 was taking a different approach to his running in this game. Whenever he was given the off-tackle plays, he was immediately breaking them off and getting north-south through the middle of the defense. He was doing this from the second he got the hand-off with little wasted time or motion. It looked like he was seeing the defense well from the snap of the ball, and was making a cut to daylight with little regard for the arrows in the playbook. But what he wasn't doing that drives Parcells crazy is dancing at the line of scrimmage, or trying to break everything to the outside. He was seeing the holes in the middle of the line, because the Giants were getting people out to the edges to stop the off-tackle runs, and he was hitting the holes quickly. Even on the middle runs, like on his second TD, he saw that the middle was clogged immediately and broke the run back to the right and got north-south for the score.
Barber also has a knack for squeezing between defenders when a hole is closing down and popping out the other side for a few extra yards. This is the difference between a 3-yard run and a 6-yard run. He moves his body in the hole so he doesn't get hit square and can stumble forward for extra yards. When JJ hits those same types of holes, he's usually squared up and goes down for a short gain.
Barber gets some extra-credit for his performances because he scores TD's while JJ doesn't and he also runs a lot of draws on 3rd and long situations against soft/prevent defenses. These runs enhance his stats and make it look like he's killing JJ in production when in reality it's closer than it looks. But, and this is the real bottom-line, in recent weeks MB3 has been the more productive back in the standard run offense. He's seeing the holes well, even before he gets the ball, and he's making quick decisions while hitting the holes hard. JJ seems to be following the blocks to a fault, and not making the extra-cut for longer gains, instead he's hitting the pile and taking the sure 3-yards.
Now, as for who should start and who should get the bulk of the carries, I'm actually quite content with what we've got going now. They are sharing carries and plays in the 50-50 ratio and it's keeping both backs fresh. Plus, it's working; we are winning, I'm not one to tinker with what's working. So JJ can remain the starter, MB3 can stay as the closer, and let them share the work in between.