The New York Giants’ running game could have its best back available when it plays the San Francisco 49ers.
After missing the last four weeks with sprained knee, Rashad Jennings hopes to return to the lineup on Sunday when the Giants (3-6) face the 49ers (5-4) at MetLife Stadium.
Jennings practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, and both he and coach Tom Coughlin were optimistic that he would be able to play in what has become a must-win game for New York.
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The Giants have lost all four games since Jennings was injured against the Atlanta Falcons on Oct. 5, and the running game has been almost nonexistent.
"That’s what I am here for," Jennings said. "If I am on the field, there is no hesitation and wondering what if — I am picking up where I left off."
After a slow start, Jennings ran for 176 yards in a win over Houston and followed that with 55-yard performances in victories over Washington and Atlanta.
During the winning streak, Jennings averaged a little more than 5 yards, and New York looked like it would be a contender for a playoff spot for the first time in three seasons.
With him out of the lineup, the offense sputtered, the defense was on the field too long and New York was blown out in four straight games. The playoff hopes are dim.
Rookie Andre Williams started those games and carried 60 times for 165 yards, a 2.8 yard average.
"You can’t do it by yourself," Jennings warned. "Like I said before, if you ever see the run game being positive, it’s simply because the offensive line and quarterback are putting us in the right play and the receivers and tight ends are blocking downfield. If you don’t see it moving forward, I think it’s because of us in the backfield."
Coughlin believes having Jennings in the lineup will give the Giants a much-needed lift. He is a tough runner, who knows how to read defenses and pick his spots to get those "ugly hidden yards" to move the chains.
"Having Rashad back will definitely be helpful," quarterback Eli Manning said. "Andre’s done a great job at running back but having that one-two punch is going to be a good combination. He was playing well for us before he got injured, (he) does a lot of things in the pass game and in the run game."
Rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. also is excited about playing with a running game. He has had consecutive 100-yard games receiving and says his job will be easier if defensive backs have to worry about a runner getting to the second level.
"Any time you have a running game that can open up the passing game," Beckham said. "At the same time, we have to do better in the passing game and maybe that will open up the running game."
The line also has to help. Williams did not have many big holes over the past month.
"We have to be more physical up front and go out there and make room for the running backs," tackle Justin Pugh said.
NOTES: LB Jacquian Williams and RB Peyton Hillis are still bothered by concussions and did not practice along with DT Cullen Jenkins (calf) and DE Damontre Moore (shoulder). …Spencer Paysinger would proably fill in for Williams on the weakside spot except in passing situations. ….P Steve Weatherford and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie were not on the pre-practice injury record for the first time in more than a month. …G Geoff Schwartz is going to get more work this week and may make his Giants’ debut Sunday. The team has until Monday to decide whether to take him off recallable injured reserve.