KEVIN GILBRIDE made his bones as the kind of offensive coordinator who never saw a down and distance he wouldn't attack with a pass. In 1991 when he was with the Houston Oilers, he had Warren Moon spinning spirals all over the league, setting an NFL record with 655 pass attempts. In January 1994 he famously got into a sideline fight with Houston defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who took umbrage at Gilbride's penchant for the pass.
True to his nature, Gilbride, now the offensive coordinator with the Giants, spent much of last week's preparation for the Ravens' No. 1 run defense impressing upon his offense the need to succeed in the air. On the Giants' first play from scrimmage, Eli Manning threw incomplete. On the second play, 264-pound running back Brandon Jacobs started up the middle, bounced to the left and rambled for 36 yards. That run set the tone for the Giants' subsequent play-calling. "We came in talking about making big plays in the pass game, trying to get the ball downfield," said center Shaun O'Hara. "But the game kind of went a little different."
If the Giants' 30--10 trouncing of the Ravens on Sunday in East Rutherford, N.J., proved anything, it's that the reigning Super Bowl champs can beat teams by any means necessary—even by attacking an opponent's strength. Baltimore, after allowing just one rushing TD all season, gave up two to Jacobs in the first 15 minutes.
When Jacobs left in the third quarter with a sore knee, the Giants turned to their two other rushing weapons, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward, and continued to run downhill. In one of the game's signature moments, Bradshaw took a handoff from Manning on a fourth-quarter play designed to go off left tackle. Just as Bradshaw started to the left, Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis darted left too, reaching for Bradshaw as the running back slowed up and cut back to the right. Lewis only got a hand on him. Bradshaw sped 77 yards to the Ravens' two-yard line, setting up a field goal.
After holding opponents to 65.4 rushing yards a game, Baltimore watched the Giants trio, dubbed Earth (Jacobs), Wind (Ward) and Fire (Bradshaw), amass 210 yards on the ground. "[Coach Gilbride] does a great job of calling the game," said left tackle David Diehl. "He comes to the sideline, sees what's working, what's not working, and we make great halftime adjustments."
The Giants, of course, can throw too. On Sunday tight end Darcy Johnson scored on a one-yard reception from Manning in the second quarter after lining up on the right, throwing a block and releasing left.
"I just stayed close to the line and came out the back side," Johnson said. "Coach Gilbride called it and said that I was going to be wide open on the other side of the end zone, so just catch the ball."
It was just one more example of Gilbride's pushing the right buttons, remaining flexible and going with what works. "One of the things we're most proud of offensively is the ability to do what's necessary to move the ball," Gilbride said last week. "That's probably the way we've been best defined."
Easy to define, maybe, but almost impossible to stop.
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