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Ground game encouraging in Giants' preseason win

CANTON, Ohio -- Back in the spring, when the NFL decided to experiment with its extra point, it must have imagined something better than this: kickers booming their extra points in the first game of the season, making a mockery of the greater distance and the elongated goal posts.

In the first preseason game of the year, the kickers for the Bills and Giants easily converted their three extra-point attempts.

And so the extra point, which will measure 33 yards for the first two weeks of preseason games in a baby-step attempt to make the play more exciting after kickers missed just 18 attempts in the last three seasons, provided none of the competitiveness the league hoped for on a play that has become mind-numbingly routine.

The improvements, then, were left to the teams, most notably to the Giants' running game. It was a large part of the Giants' abysmal offense last season, finishing 29th in the league.

On Sunday, with the Giants unveiling their work in progress version of the West Coast offense under new coordinator Ben McAdoo, Eli Manning still looked shaky but the running game looked like it could be a bedrock. The Giants' first two offensive drives ended with a three-and-out (after what appeared to be considerable confusion about where to line up) and then with an all-too-familiar looking fumble by Manning (who finished 6 of 7 for 43 yards) following a sack. Manning said he had bad pocket movement and has to make sure he has two hands on the ball. But with the focus this season on eliminating those turnovers, the Giants could turn more often to an emerging running game.

"I thought eventually we got to where we ran the ball pretty well, we did have some consistency of runs, that's probably the first thing I saw," Coach Tom Coughlin said.

On the Giants' third drive, against the Bills' second team defense, the Giants ran 10 times in 12 plays, much of it behind the blocking of Henry Hynoski, using a combination of Rashad Jennings (five runs, 25 yards) and Andre Williams (five runs, 37 yards) on a drive that ended with Williams scoring the touchdown. Williams already was known for his power, but he also gave the Giants a glimpse of his burst as he went around the left edge for 21 yards. With the future of David Wilson in considerable question, the Giants can be reassured after Sunday that their running attack will not wither even if Wilson can not return. The other encouraging sign: the pace of the drive was quicker than the Giants moved last season, a source of scrutiny throughout the offseason workouts.

"I thought it all went well," Manning said. "The plays were coming in. Everybody on the same page. Watching the first game film will be great to study. It was big for our offense to get something going."

"It was good to get the running game going and get the offensive line firing off. That always helps the offense."

Williams' debut was especially encouraging because the Giants are seeking a suitable running back rotation. Jennings said when Williams first came in for him, Williams looked so nervous that Jennings could see the whites of his eyes.

"I'm glad I was able to get my feet wet," Williams said. "I was just so focused on scoring. We were trying to keep the energy and the momentum to get up to the end zone at that point. We had great push by the o-line, the fullback and the end zone was wide open."

The Giants couldn't say that much last season, and that forced the change in their offense. They have been talking up a more up-tempo, pass-intensive attack that will ramp up the number of plays they run per game, and this was certainly not that yet. But with the Giants still learning a new offensive system, the running game can provide the security blanket they need while they speed up their play. And, of course, if turnovers continue to be an issue, it can also provide an alternative while Manning settles down.

But Coughlin dismissed concerns about the apparent confusion on the offense and their slow start.

"It's the first game. It's the first game. I'm glad we got the center-quarterback exchange, so that was a plus," Coughlin said jokingly.

"We didn't throw it many times," Coughlin said. "As we get a little bit better with our pass protection the ball will end up going down the field a little bit more."

Follow Judy Battista on Twitter @judybattista.

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