New York giants coach Bill Parcells looks into the future, and what he sees is a solid wall of 290-pound linemen pounding defenders into submission, with a 225-pound tailback banging away behind them. He sees an offense with three tight ends and a quarterback who throws only enough to remind people that he's on the field. Parcells scans the stat sheet, and his finger stops at one number—time of possession.
"Here, look at this," he said after the Giants beat the Cardinals 20-13 in Phoenix to raise their record to 8-1, best in the NFL, though the San Francisco 49ers were in a position to match it by beating the New Orleans Saints on Monday night. "We controlled the ball for 38 minutes and 10 seconds. If we're not Number One in the league in time of possession now, we're close to it."
No other team this season has called as many running plays or thrown fewer passes. The ratio against the crippled Cards, who performed miracles by even making the game close, was 48 runs to 25 pass plays. O.J. Anderson did most of the ground work for New York, carrying 27 times for 89 yards. The Giants threw only five passes in the second half, which began with them sitting on a 14-3 lead. For the game, they ran on 25 of 27 first downs (aside from two-minute situations), including all 12 in the second half. They even ran when Phoenix went to a nine-man defensive front—four linemen and five linebackers—making the game look like something out of the 1930s.
O.K., you could say it made sense for New York to keep the ball on the ground because the Cards' defensive line was light and undermanned and because the Giants were playing without No. 1 quarterback Phil Simms, who was resting a sprained ankle. But the reasoning goes deeper than that. It's part of Parcells's long-range plan, which he began to implement two years ago, when New York drafted two oversized offensive linemen, 290-pound Eric Moore and 6'7", 305-pound Jumbo Elliott, in the first two rounds. This year the Giants added another pair of offensive biggies, 300-pound Brian Williams and 288-pound Bob Kratch, to their first two choices.
"I knew the game was changing, especially this year," says Parcells. "There are too many multiple defenses nowadays, too many different fronts. You can't run eight different schemes against eight different fronts. It's too difficult to practice. You're better off just lining up with your big guys and pounding away, and then stretching the defense by throwing downfield. I knew the game would come to this someday, and I started preparing for it."
"No defensive lineman is going to tell you he enjoys lining up against Jumbo Elliott, toe-to-toe, and playing the run block all day," says Giants defensive end Leonard Marshall, who has to face Elliott in practice every day.
New York's wideouts—Lionel Manuel, Odessa Turner, Mark Ingram, Stephen Baker—are merely role players. None of them has had a 100-yard day this year, and no Giants receiver is among the league's top 50 in catches. New York's second touchdown on Sunday came on a 35-yard crossing pattern from Jeff Hostetler to Baker. The catch was Baker's fourth of the year.
And what about Simms, who pulled rabbits out of a hat during the Giants' Super Bowl-winning season of 1986? Remember all those come-from-behind heroics, like the 22-yard completion on fourth-and-17 that set up a field goal to beat the Minnesota Vikings 22-20? And his near-perfect performance—22 completions in 25 attempts—in the Super Bowl itself? How does he see his place on this team? "All I want to do is play my role," he says.
Yeah, but how does he like merely being the guy who hands the ball off to Anderson and throws only when he has to? "I like being 8-1," he says with a smile. "Make that, I love it.
"Look, Coach Parcells has great football instincts. He has a formula for how to win. It doesn't please a lot of people. It's not pretty, and the genius types won't like it. But it's very solid. Play hard, have good special teams and a good defense, don't turn the ball over.