Why can't Johnny run?
Or, more accurately, why can't the Giants run?
Success of the ground game is one of the major ingredients in Tom Coughlin's recipe for winning, that along with stopping the run on defense. But for three out of the first five games of the season, the Giants' rushing attack has netted fewer than 100 yards. And last week's anemic 69-yard effort, coming on the heels of a 54-yard performance in a win over Arizona, only pointed to a growing problem.
Even though the schedule is still three games from the halfway mark, Coughlin has reason to worry. And it all goes beyond the injuries that put C David Baas and RB Brandon Jacobs on the bench against the Seahawks, or the concussion that forced RG Chris Snee out of that game.
There appears to be a" lack of physicality and mental toughness up front, which is inexplicable since that line is populated by three proud, lunch-pail guys who have been through the wars in David Diehl, Snee, and Kareem McKenzie. And yet, there was a key holding call and two illegal procedure penalties Sunday that cost the Giants dearly.
And that's not to mention the penetration opposing defenses have gotten. Nine of Ahmad Bradshaw's 17 rushes Sunday (for 58 yards) went for two yards or less. And can anyone forget the frontal collapse, highlighted by tight end Jake Ballard's failure to impede Anthony Hargrove on DJ Ware's safety, that kept the running game in check?
Coughlin said defenses loading up against the run was no excuse.
"Well, we're going to keep hammering away at it," Coughlin said. "We knew exactly what we were getting into with the safety down [in the box] and so on and so forth. We're just going to keep hammering away at it because that is philosophically what I hold to and believe in.
"I understand that you wouldn't be able to sense it at this point, but it's something that we feel that we have to do. Third down was terrible for us, offensively."
And so much of that has to do with what happens on first and second down. One-yard runs don't put you in great position. That's no secret.
That, in turn, forces Eli Manning into the air, which right now is an iffy proposition at best.
Manning can only hope the running game gets untracked, and soon. Even if it means running on third down.
"There are some runs that you can run," Manning said. "You can bring receivers in. There are different ways to keep the run on and towards the end of the game, we actually started running the ball a little bit better. We had a couple big runs and getting some first downs on the runs. We were getting seven or eight yards and that was good to see.
"Hopefully we can build off that, hopefully we will have a great mix of the run and the pass."
The fact is, the ground game just isn't there right now. The Giants' 83.8-yard average per game ranks them 28th, hardly the kind of numbers that sit well with a coach who wants his team to run.
If this is going to be a season-long issue, the wins won't be, either.
"There's no consistency," Coughlin said. "Let's put it that way. One play's pretty good, the next play's not. Let's give credit to the guy across the ball too. They're trying to block some pretty good football players. But you have some breakdowns."
Far too many at this point for the experience that works up front.